Her stricken eyes looked at me, anxious for an answer to the question I didn’t want anyone to ask her. Not yet, anyway. It’s too soon.
The other child waited for her to speak, so young, not knowing the question was too raw.
God, help me answer this. Help me guide my girl through these glass shard words splintering her heart:
“Hey, where’s your daddy?”
I knew she didn’t want to answer. Her eyes – her beautiful, Kevin-blue eyes, begged me to do something.
“He’s in heaven, isn’t he, baby girl?” I jumped in, my swift answer twofold: satisfy the child’s question and comfort my daughter. “He was very sick and he died, but he lives in heaven now…and he even throws bits of clouds at you to play, doesn’t he, Beary?”
I carried on, forcing cheer to my voice, pressing a smile on my face. Terrified that my voice would crack and betray the grief that permeates me. I can’t fall apart now, not in front of them.
She’s so attuned to me. She picked right up where I left off, gaining confidence with each word.
“Yeah, he does! And he sent me a cat. My cat’s name is Rafael. Daddy gave him to me.”
She looked up and smiled, her Daddy’s grin pasted across her face. Thinking about the cat brings her joy, though I know we’re not done with this question yet. Not inside her, anyway, where she will mull it over with far more reflection than she should muster at the age of seven. I know we’ll have to come back to it, more than once, and we’ll have to figure out how to be comfortable with the question. We know where Daddy is…but we’re still trying to be here, where he isn’t.
Yes, we muddled through it this time and the kids seem okay.
But it’s really not okay because what do the words heaven and sick and died mean to a child her age? To a child younger than her? To someone older than her, like me? Those words are so inadequate to describe the cavernous Kevin-sized abyss in my life. Acceptable as an answer to that question, but desperately unfulfilling as an answer to my life, to our life, right now.
“Where’s he at?”
How do I explain the absence of someone whose presence I still very much feel? How do I explain I can’t figure out how someone simply no longer exists, even though every experience I had over the last ten years was with him by my side? He was here. And now he’s not? How does that even happen? How did everything about the life I loved cease to exist at 3:42 p.m. on April 16, 2013, yet somehow I’m still here?
He’s in my heart, he’s in our house, he’s in every photo I cry over, every home movie I watch through weeping eyes. He’s in my recipe box, from appetizer sausage balls and Magic Cookie Bars to deep dish pizza and French silk pie. He’s in the bookshelves, where bookmarks stand guard over the last words he read. He’s in his truck, in the bits of detritus I find: gas station receipts, business cards, pennies flung in the console.
He’s in the face with the Kevin-blue eyes that looks to me for everything now.
Maybe that’s my answer.
“Where’s your daddy?”
He’s here. He’s right here. He never left. But you have to look carefully. Look at the curve of her smile and you can see his cheeky grin. Listen to the mischievous joke she just told and you can hear him roar with laughter. Marvel at the insatiable curiosity in her mind that forgets nothing and understand he’s in our every thought.
She can tell others that her daddy is in heaven, that he was very sick with cancer and he died. That he throws bits of clouds to her and sent her a golden cat. Those things are all true.
But this is true, too: If she wants to know where Daddy is, she only needs to look in a mirror.
He’s right there.
And that’s where he’ll always be.