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The last dance | Chuck's World

 

Last updated 12/14/2016 at Noon



I have four rose bushes, planted nearly a decade ago and apparently of a particularly hardy variety. They seem perfectly willing to grow and bloom and repeat each year, all without any effort from me.

And after a couple of wet and warm months, we’ve still got a few stragglers, a few flashes of pink that were prominent enough last week, with a nice backdrop of maybe an inch of snow for a day, that I took a couple of pictures.

It just looked funny, a single blossom sticking up in the middle of ice, like a guy who shows up at his high school prom with a much younger date three years after he graduated. It’s time to move on.

I have a strong sense of this, helped along by wintry weather and a birthday coming up, although not mine.

Fifteen years ago, I went to the well for the first time. I was a rookie writer, having a grand total of eight columns under my belt by the time the middle of December rolled around, and there it was. I had a story.

It’s a story I share with many of you, which hasn’t kept me from sharing it quite a few more times. But now I’m through. Moving on, as I said.

After this column, I mean. If a rose can survive freezing temperatures and a dusting of snow, I can squeeze a tiny bit of story out of this week, one final time.

I went back and read that original column, from way back when. I was making the same jokes, which is a little depressing. I was dancing around feelings in the superficial, limited fashion that usually results in sentimentality, an unfinished emotion. Sentiment is a business card for real feelings, a quick sense but not too many details, and I’ve done this more often than I’m comfortable with.

I wrote about one particular night, coming home with my wife after a long day of work, ready to relax with a few beers and some tacos while I watched a football game. I was heating the oil and opening my second beer when my wife came out of the bathroom with a funny look on her face.

She would make more funny faces as the night went on, although to be honest I don’t think she was trying to be humorous.

So we went to the hospital, the same journey any number of expectant parents were probably making at the same time. After a long night of labor and many interesting faces, as I mentioned, I held a baby up to a window, the dawn just beginning to creep into the day. “This is morning,” I murmured, secure in my ability to explain the ways of the world to a sleeping infant.

I kept it up, too, this ongoing conversation with a baby, and then a toddler, and then a little girl. I waited patiently until she could talk so I could explain everything, demonstrating why it gets darker and colder in the winter by using spare pieces of fruit, a grape orbiting an orange in a slightly irregular ellipse.

We’d play our own little game show, “Answer Girl,” in which I’d quiz her on numbers and colors, cheating not allowed but occasionally tolerated.

I learned to cook out of necessity, and if she held up her arms we’d become impromptu dance partners, gliding across the living room of a small apartment, belonging for a few moments only to each other.

And then one day on the way to school, I caught her checking out her appearance in the mirror, and that was that. If you’re the father of a daughter, you know. Your life wisdom is irrelevant, if it even ever existed. All she needs is a ride and maybe your money. You will do this.

But that was a long time ago. I wrote that first column on the occasion of her 17th birthday, when she was a junior in high school and I suddenly saw where she was going, which was away from me. I grieved over this a bit, often in public, embarrassing ways, but now I’m done.

My daughter turns 32 this week. My memories remain mostly intact, but they’re creaky, their season long passed. She’s still my daughter, but a grown woman with a child of her own, a husband, a home. A business to run. She’s got a handle on her numbers and colors by now. I grieve no longer, or really remember why I ever did. I know only the adult now, and the life she leads, away from me. She’s been grown longer than she was growing, and doesn’t deserve her dad hauling out dusty details from childhood.

So I’ll just hope she has a nice day, just glad we both survived and that she has a good life, happy and fulfilled. I could always look at photos or the dozens of hours of videotape I have, but the past sometimes just belongs in the past. We’ve all moved on. No more birthday columns. We’re all adults now, which is as it should be.

It just struck me today that I wish I could remember when that very last game of “Answer Girl” was. Or the last time I picked her up and danced around the living room, when for a brief moment she was my whole world, and I was hers.

 

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