How easy it is to lose a year.
How simple it is to lose four.
In my time, four years is nothing. I’ve had the same employer. Lived in the same town, the same house. Same car, same ambitions, same wardrobe. Nothing changes in four years in my life these days.
Then I look at pictures of her from four years ago. She was starting real school. She still had zero adult teeth. She was still perfectly comfortable with being a baby … my baby.
Everything has changed since then. Everything has changed in four years when it comes to my little girl.
I sometimes forget I will always be her first love. I forget the feel of her little hands around my neck as I held her with one arm under her bottom, never lower than my ribs. I forget her baby hair.
If I want to feel like life’s going really fast, I just look at photos from a year ago. I remember the moments like they happened earlier in the day, before lunch or so. Why does she look so little?
Because time is flying. That’s why. She rides the bus to school now. She gets off on her own and walks almost a whole block back to the house without my help. Without anyone’s help. All by herself.
She watches her older cousin like a boy watches baseball, observing, noting and mimicking every move. Won’t be long until she, too, has friends over and avoids my affection in public at all costs. I should have spent the last year giving her more. How strange it started to feel on the rare occasions I did.
She was once the only thing in my world. I didn’t have to tell her so. She knew it. She counted on it. She lived for it. I took her love for granted; now these pictures torment me with reminders of the days she was 5, 6, 7 … bringing me flowers I’d put in plastic cups on the kitchen counter.
She doesn’t do that anymore.
I asked for it. Let another dictate the speed of her childhood and steal my right to savor these moments. It wasn’t stolen, actually. I am my own man. I gave it up without a fight. Without a fight.
I’ve only myself to blame.
Now there is no making up for lost time. The year is gone. Looking into her brown eyes this afternoon, I realized she is not the same. Not close. She grew up because I told her to and I missed it because I wasn’t watching and now I’ll spend my days regretting, regretting, regretting …
I never wanted her to grow up like this. Without a mother. Or a father. I didn’t just jump the tracks – the tracks disappeared.
When I began to raise her myself, I did not know what to do. But I knew if I loved her and had access to Google, I’d figure it out. It all came so naturally. Her hair wasn’t always more than pulled back into a pony tail, her shirt sometimes didn’t go with her pants, but she was always happy …
… because she always had her love …
… she always had her daddy.
The best I can do is learn from this mayhem and never, ever do it again. It won’t undo the last year, but it also won’t bring another like it. I thought she needed another in her life – a complement to me. Someone who could fix her hair right, take her shopping and teach what I didn’t know.
But all she really needed was love. That’s all she’s ever needed.
I’m sorry, my child. I let you down.