I blinked as we stepped out of the gift store into the bright sunshine. When I spotted the gray Dallas Cowboys t-shirt across the plaza, I headed toward it, ready to tell Kevin all about Beary’s excitement over her new pin.
Then I blinked.
And realized that the guy wearing the gray Dallas Cowboys shirt wasn’t Kevin, after all. Mid-stride, I slowed. Faltered. Stopped.
And admitted to myself that Kevin isn’t here. No matter how much I wish it were so and pretend it is so, he isn’t waiting at the next bench, or at the ice cream stand, or holding our place in line. He isn’t going to laugh as Beary dances with Goofy, or wave wildly from the pixie-dusted pirate ship as we soar over London, or beam with pride as his little princess guides the Jungle Cruise through the dark tunnel, carefully listening to the guide’s directions.
He’s not here.
But we are.
We’re at the magical world of Disney, the happiest place on earth, and I feel neither joy nor cheer. I’m following my girl around, and she’s glowing with excitement and anticipation, and making plans right and left, and I keep hoping that her glee will rub off, but it doesn’t work that way. I paste a smile to my face and push the sadness down, down, farther into the Kevin-sized hole inside me, try to keep my grief from tainting her delight.
But she feels it, too. I hear the wistful tinge in her voice when she explains how Daddy pushed the accelerator in the racecar at Tomorrowland Speedway, but she always manned the steering wheel. She’s a little irritated with my ineptness at the Dumbo ride; Daddy knew to hand her his side of the seat belt so she could push it together with her side and hear the satisfying click and know she was safe. We’re both flailing, reaching blindly for what’s not there. For Daddy.
I knew it would be hard, our first family vacation without Kevin, but I never imagined the deluge of emotions that would swamp our days. I didn’t know I would cry and panic and withdraw, folding more into myself with each cheery smile from a cast member. I didn’t know how small, how lost and alone, two people would feel, clinging to each other, surrounded by boisterous, laughing, matching t-shirted families. I knew we would miss him and remember him…but I didn’t know how much.
As the week went on, we found our balance. We carried him with us, his spirit providing a comforting stability to our shaky emotions. Our memories of Daddy brought more laughter and fewer tears. Disney World is always evolving and we found new places to explore and we imagined he was with us, marveling at our grand adventures. New characters, new rides. New levels of sharing, as she asked questions about her Daddy, wondering if he’d done this or thought that. We giggled and remembered and hugged him so tightly to us.
And then it was there. A flicker. A faint glow. A sparkle of pixie dust on my Little Bear’s face. Enchanting. Exquisite. Swirling and glittering and weaving the old memories with the new, entwining our grief and our giggles, our heartbreak and our hope. Twirling and shimmering, whirling faster and then bursting into a brilliant radiance and I saw him, and us, and the beautiful magic, the life we created.
She clasped my hand and tucked herself into my side. “We’re okay, right, Mama?” she asked.
I squeezed her close and nodded and hope twinkled around us.