When she was about seven years old, my little girl came into my room one morning before she left to walk to school. I’d been up late, writing, and was fast asleep. I half-awoke to her voice.
“I’m going, Daddy,” she said, and kissed me lightly on the cheek.
She giggled. I came out of my daze, and grinned sheepishly. She skipped off to school, laughing.
The next morning it was my turn to make breakfast, braid her hair, check her lunch, nip at her heels like a border collie as she got ready for her day. As she opened the door to leave, I called out to her.
“Drive carefully,” I said, and she giggled as she ran off.
It became our thing, hers and mine.
It was “Have a nice day”, “Goodbye”, Be safe”, and “I love you”, all rolled into two silly words. Later, it became “Don’t drink and drive”, “Good luck on your exam”, “Don’t stay out too late, we don’t know this young man”. And, of course, it could also just be “Drive carefully”, because hey, that’s important, too.
I’ve said those two words to her every single time we’ve parted. Called them to her from my office as she’s bolting out the door to meet her friends at the Mall. Spoken them while leaning over to give her a kiss as I drop her off for classes. Whispered them while sitting on the edge of her bed as I nudge her from sleep at six in the morning to say goodbye before an early flight. Always the same two words.
A few years ago, we moved her into her new apartment. On the actual moving day, there wasn’t much to do, partly because she was young and it was her first place and she had almost no furniture. Mostly, though, it was because in the week or so before the scheduled moving day, she and her sister had begun to quietly spirit her childhood stuff – dolls, puzzles, teddy bears and the like – out of the house and into the new place. They knew it would be heart-wrenching for their Mom to have to pack up her entire childhood and release it into the world, so they conspired together to save her the tears.
We took over her dresser and bed that day in a truck borrowed from a friend. We put the furniture in the bedroom and her Mom bustled around, making her bed, unwrapping plates, unpacking boxes, keeping busy so she didn’t have to think too much about what she was busy doing.
But after a while there was no more unpacking left to do, and we loitered in the living room, making small talk until finally I figured it was time she was left on her own. As we left, I turned to her at the door. She grinned.
“Drive carefully,” she said.
She got married last year. In the time leading up to the wedding, she and her sister laughed gleefully about how they were going to make me cry “… like a little girl!”. I took it as a challenge, and if I do say so myself, I held up pretty well for a guy who is an admitted softie.
The first look at her in her wedding dress took my breath away – seriously, it quite literally winded me. But I was able to scramble and scrape and gather together enough composure to carry on with the ceremony. I walked her to the altar, and as we got there, I turned to her.
I hesitated. And tried. But … it wouldn’t come out.
She smiled and leaned close to my ear. “I will,” she whispered, and left my arm to go be with her husband.
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