JANUARY 2006 – NO. 2
After I drop off my daughter with her mother, I have a lot of time to think, and already I recognize a pattern in these drives.
The snow dances as if choreographed. I watch the flakes flit and flutter ahead of me. The mass moves slowly, each flake spinning and swirling without direction. The flakes shoot downward with great velocity; seconds later they stop and seem to rise. Then the mass moves steadily to my right for a few seconds before wafting aimlessly again. I watch the flakes as I drive, mesmerized by their movement.
It's a cold and snowy Sunday evening and a miserable time to be on the road. After I drop off my daughter, Anna, with her mother, I have a lot of time to think in the hour and 20 minutes it takes to return to my small, unadorned apartment.
I already recognize a pattern in these drives. The first part of the journey usually involves some sort of grieving. I try not to feel sorry for myself, but sometimes wallowing in self-pity makes me feel better. I wonder what Anna will be doing at preschool. I miss reading books to her. I miss her big brown eyes, curly hair, great smile, and her laugh. Anna has a laugh that seems to well up from her soul and take flight out of her mouth. When she laughs in a crowded room, everyone smiles. You cannot help but smile.
As I look into the cold air ahead of me, I think of Anna. As she drifts off to dream in her warm bed, does she remember the good times we had together and know that I love her dearly? Or does she stare at her ceiling, thinking, wondering, filled with uncertainty about her future, concerned that she "travels more than any other kid she knows," as she told me just today? Does her ping-ponging back and forth make her realize that two people love her and want to spend time with her, or does it make her wonder; if two people truly cared for her, then why wouldn't they make the effort to all be together?
In this arrangement of joint custody, it's primarily a one-sided situation. Sure I get to see Anna regularly, but every other weekend is not enough. My own father, a machinist for the Tennessee Valley Authority, was on the road much of the time, traveling to steam plants to fix massive turbines. I often saw him only on weekends, when he was too busy with household projects or too tired from a hard week's work and from the drive back home to make the effort to throw a ball with me or play a game. I vowed when Anna was born to always be there for her. Now I am breaking that promise 11 days out of every 14.
But on a few occasions, I do get to see Anna for more than just a weekend. She was just with me for six nights after Christmas. On the day before she would return to her mother's, she gave me a piece of paper that was folded and taped shut — a little hand-made card. She told me not to open it until after she left.
I finally return home and knock the snow off my shoes on a welcome mat I bought before the holidays — an effort to make me feel more welcome here. I'm already melancholy because of the dreary weather combined with the loss of Anna, a feeling that I worry about getting used to. I break the card's seal, thinking it might cheer me up, and carefully unfold the paper to see that my little five-year-old has drawn a butterfly. At the top of the page she has written "NOONE LOVE ME."
The snow has nearly stopped now save for a few forlorn flakes, meandering left and right, up and down, slowly, silently falling to the ground.
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