To Hazel: From Daddy
Grandma’s funeral fell the same weekend as Mom’s annual trip to Cedar City with her feminine family. We had tried everything short of black magic to keep you awake all day so that you would sleep through the drive back to Provo. We had a secret plan to drop Mom off in Cedar while you slept, then you would awake in your bed in Provo the next morning and, before you had time to be sad about Mom’s absence, I would whisk you away to Wonderland with Alice and the Cheshire Cat and all would be forgotten, with considerable help from assorted treats and toys. It did not pan out as planned.
You were fast asleep when Mom deserted us around 7:00. As I got on the freeway, I saw visions of getting in at 10:00, unloading you into your crib, and settling down for a nice movie (or two, if I was lucky). 20 miles or so outside of Beaver, you awoke. It didn’t take you a minute to assess that the lesser half of your parents was the only other being in the car, and you were spitting mad. You screamed all the way to McDonald’s. In my panic to gain your trust (but mostly to help you forget about Mom) I bought you a pile of junk food and thrust it upon you in the germ-ridden fluorescence of the play land. We stayed there for an hour. We played the anxiety out of you. You plugged up the tunnels and screamed at all the dirty kids that came near you. And you were happy.
The play land had long since closed when we left, I could see the girl mopping the floor trying to locate her courage to ask us to leave. I was prepared to tell her that I had already spent too much on their poisonous food and that she was going to let you play until you begged me to leave. Lucky for the girl mopping the floor, you left of your own volition with a smile on your grimy face.
We got you a daddy-drink at the Chevron before leaving Beaver and you seemed content to work on it in the back while we listened to the Kings of Convenience. It was 9:30 or more and I was settling in to the idea of pulling in around midnight and seeing only the one movie when you started throwing up behind me. I should have known; we had just entered the cursed mountain passes between Beaver and Fillmore. [You’ll come to know that there is a very real curse on your family in that stretch of land. Your mom and I almost died there, my brothers and I have had multiple cars break there, and if you are going to throw up anywhere on I-15 it will be—and has been (twice)—right there. All of this within a 5 mile radius, I’m not kidding.]
I pulled off the road as fast as physics would let me, but not before you had wretched a few more times. I raced around the car, threw the door open and cupped my hands under your chin, catching the warm liquid as it spilled out of your tiny mouth. You paused between bouts; I slung the filth into the sage behind me then returned, poised to catch anything else that might come out. We repeated this two or three times until you were done. I could scarcely make out your most general features through the darkness, heaving and gulping for air. You started to cry, weakly, as if only now you were catching up to the idea that this was unpleasant. I fumbled around to release you from your restraints and found you swimming in vomit. I began scooping the matter from your lap and tossing it out the door while you pawed at my face blindly. You sputtered and cried, pleading, “Daddy…out.” When I could feel that there was not so much a pool anymore, I unbuckled your belts and pulled you from the car.
This was not the first time in a week that you had vomited unexpectedly, nor was it the first time that week that I had been there to catch it. The warmth of the mucous and acid and bits of your latest meal was becoming a familiar sensation in my bare hands. As I seemed to be repeating this action, I began to wonder for whom else I’d be willing to do it. It seemed a knee-jerk reaction with you. Without consideration of the consequences I had thrust my clean hands into the stream of muck more than once now. Granted, my aim may have been to keep it off the carpet or the car seat. But I can’t help but wonder, if someone else’s child was about to ruin my carpet, how quickly I could find a plastic bag.
I concluded that this was love. This disgusting little activity was as sweet and fulfilling to me as any event worth recording on videotape. It’s easy to say I love someone and that I will protect them at any cost, but on one or two occasions I have been tested—sometimes on a smaller scale than others—and I have been pleased to find that I passed. Albeit this was one of those small-scale tests, it taught me something about my perceived limits versus the reality of my willingness to act out of love for you.
I removed your dripping nightgown and used all the remaining diaper wipes to clean your quivering, naked little body. We held each other tightly there in the thick night by the side of the freeway, the Kings of Convenience still cooing peacefully from the car. Every now and then a pair of headlights would illuminate our huddled, singular figure as they flew past. I caressed your pretty head; your blonde curls spiraling into the black. You stopped crying, but you maintained a healthy grip around my neck. I prayed silently at the blank sky, then I spelled out our options into your ear. You seemed to understand every word I said.
I buckled you into the front passenger’s seat and covered you with your favorite blanket (the which miraculously escaped the messy ordeal unscathed). You sat next to me, quiet and content, and held my hand. We drove the 20 miles to Fillmore in silence. Once or twice I glanced over to catch you looking at me, the dim light from the dash traced your cheeks. Your brown eyes penetrated the dark and, for that fleeting couple of seconds, I could see into your soul.