You find her hiding in a closet. She’s crying, behind the hanging clothes. She’s still wearing her black velvet dress. A hair ribbon. Shiny shoes.
You don’t blame her for hiding. After all, your house is full of visitors dressed in the same shade of funeral-black. They congregate around food, talking in quiet voices.
Hiding doesn’t sound like such a bad idea.
“What’re you doing in the closet?” you ask.
“Are you crying?”
So, you step inside. You sit beside her. Without saying anything, she crawls into your lap and rests her head against your chest.
“Is Daddy really dead?” she asks.
She’s not in the mood to talk, which is unlike her. This girl could chat the bark off a tree. But, not today. She’s had a busy afternoon.
Funeral visitations are endurance sports. She stood beside you while you pumped nine hundred hands. Folks who cried so hard they couldn’t keep their eyes open.
You heard things like, “Your daddy’s in a better place, son.” You got embraces. Kisses. Preachers reminded you that suicide is not an unforgivable sin.
When it’s over, it feels like someone beat you with a rolling pin.
And now your sister is asleep, drooling on your shirt, and you start wondering. You wonder who will braid her hair, tie her shoes, or help her navigate grade-school. You wonder who will teach her to drive.
So, you talk to God. Man to boy. You tell him that even though you’re an inadequate little cuss, you’re volunteering for the job.
You make promises to fix breakfasts, do laundry, tell bedtime stories. You swear to attend swim-meets, to cheer so hard your voice breaks. To treat her friends to ice cream.
And when she gets her first job, it will be you who visits Chick-Fil-A, unannounced, to snap a photo.
It will be you who walks her down the aisle.
And when you hook arms with the bride, she’ll laugh, saying, “Don’t cry, this is a happy day.”
You’ll do your damnedest not to, but you’ll fail.
Life isn’t going to be easy. She’s going to count on you. Sometimes, you’ll lay in bed feeling like you can’t breathe. Sometimes you’ll feel cheated. Overlooked. Insignificant.
Sometimes she’ll dog cuss you. Sometimes she’ll fall asleep in your arms.
Deal with it, kid. This girl deserved someone solid in her life, but she got you instead. And even though you aren’t qualified for the position, even though you’ll make more mistakes than victories, even though life will sometimes feel like one big practical joke…
Just look at her.
Ugly childhoods make beautiful girls.
Happy birthday, Sarah.