I woke up staring at a wall. A flat white emotionless blank slate two feet in front of my face. I considered this wall for a several minutes, its solemn emptiness, its tired monotonous purpose. I suddenly was overcome with great sympathy for the wall. “Thank you.” I said silently as I swung my legs around and started the day. Me and the wall. Both of us thinking the same blank thoughts and fulfilling the same blank purpose.
I heard voices down the hallway while I was getting dressed. My children were in the living room. A few moments later I crept down the stairs and found the three of them sitting in a large recliner in the corner of the room. Clara had her laptop propped open in her lap quietly playing a cartoon. Lydia was leaning up against her sideways, with her knees bent over the arm of the chair and her bare legs dangling over the side, her head rest on her older sister shoulder. Dark brown and light brown hair mixed together between them. Gideon was draped across the top of the chair, a thin cat in Superman pajamas. One at a time his legs kicked backwards into the air making the chair rock back and forth in the wrong direction.
They were eating a breakfast that Clara had prepared for them. It was a bag of potato chips. I had brought these chips home from the office the night before, late, after they had already all gone to bed. I had left the half eaten bag on the kitchen counter knowing that Clara would find it in the morning. She wakes up first. She enjoys preparing “breakfast” for her brother and sister, and always has something to share with them, a video, a game, a book, a lesson, and a snack. A bag of potato chips wasn’t much, but it’s all I could manage after staying late at work and not having time to stop at a store.
They didn’t look up when I walked by. Clara had transfixed them with the cartoon. I slowly padded in the kitchen, and then down the stairs to the guest bathroom where I keep my toothbrush and other supplies. I turned on the light and avoided eye contact with my reflection while I brushed my teeth and then ran the tap to wash my face and comb my hair.
I stepped out the door into the hallway and stopped for 30 seconds forcing myself to breath evenly. Up the stairs to my right were my children, to my left was the garage, in front of me was the wall, like a sheet of ice. I was frozen in a waist deep lake of ice water.
I remember a time, not so long ago, when my children use to follow me around as I got ready for work. Clara would sit on the bathroom counter and watch me shave. She would tell me about her dreams and stories about her life and ask me questions about who I was and what I was doing. I taught her in those early morning hours that I worked because I loved her. I left in the morning because I loved her mother. If I stayed late in the office it was because there were people I needed to make sacrifices for. And I wanted her to grow up to be the same way. To work hard and think about others. To give and expect nothing in return. Never wait for the thank you, just keep giving.
So, when the others came along, and she had a little sister and then a little brother to look after in the mornings, should I have been surprised to find that she no longer followed me from room to room? That she would instead give herself freely in the place where she was needed?
I chose to turn left. I quietly opened the garage and purposely closed the door tightly behind me, careful to not make a sound. I would see my children again when I came home. Whenever that was.
I sat in my car, in the dark garage and waited for the large rolling door to open to the outside. A veil surrounding my home rolled up and removed. I looked over my shoulder and started to back out.
Halfway out the door I looked back up and was startled to see that someone was standing in the headlights of my car. A 7-year old girl with her hands stuffed deep inside a bright red nightgown. I stopped the car and opened my door, motioning for her come near.
“Hi Dad,” she said cautiously. “You forgot your lunch.”
I reached across to the passenger seat and held up a tinfoil cube, “Actually, I didn’t. I snuck it out of the kitchen when you weren’t looking.”
She laughed, “Oh. Okay. I just wasn’t sure.”
I smiled, like walls sometimes do.
“I’m glad you were able to come home from work last night,” she said.
I nodded, “Me too.”
“I’m sorry you have to go again today.”
I nodded, “It’s what I do.”
“I know,” she smiled, “but I’m still sorry.”
I reached for her to come closer and gave her a hug.
She wrapped her arms around my neck. “Thank you,” she said.
and I said “Thank you.” back, but the words stuck in my throat.
I closed my door and waved one last time as the red nightgown disappeared into the house and the garage door drifted back down like a pulled curtain. My car fell away into the street and then sailed through the cold streets in the direction of my office.
I woke up staring at a wall. A little girl tore it down.