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One Small Act Changes The Way He Approaches His Life Forever
September 26, 2014
Just because we are physically in a place does not mean we are mentally present in that place. We must not forget the difference between these two states of being; it makes all the difference.
He reached up for the cabinet above the sink. She knew before he even opened the door that he was reaching for the scotch.
"Kaleigh wrote her first essay today," she gently urged the words towards her husband. He didn't even turn to look at her as he poured the scotch over two glossy ice cubes. She had gotten all too used to the sound of crackling ice cubes breaking the silence between the two of them.
"Good for her." Still he didn't turn to look at his wife. He just casually sipped from his glass and placed the scotch back in its rightful place, paying more attention to that bottle than he did to the woman he shared his life with.
"I think you should read it. She left it out on the coffee table so we could see how well she did." She wondered if it was a lost cause. He finally turned his head towards her, glass still in hand, and gave her that weak smile, the one that crushed her every time she acknowledged how empty it felt. She turned away from him to stare into the dishes in the sink thinking that it was easier to get lost in there than it was to feel lost with him.
"I will in a little bit," he immediately read her sadness, "I promise." He added it like it would fix everything. It didn't. "I just have so much work to do for the Hirsch case, my head is all crowded, and I want to look at her paper when I'm less scattered."
He slowly walked up next to her and placed a single, delicate kiss on her cheek. She let him leave the room before she let two endlessly heavy tears roll off of her cheeks and into the dishwater.
When they got married, she loved that he had worked so incredibly hard to put himself through law school. He accepted a job at a prestigious firm right out of school, and he had always promised that someday when he had climbed a little higher up the ladder, he wouldn't have to devote all of his time to his work. Back then, she believed him.
Now he was partner at his own firm. He was wildly successful and well revered in his world. She was proud of him, but there were days when she wished he had never been quite so smart, quite so charming--maybe then she would feel like he was married to her and not to his job. She went to bed that night by herself, like most nights, while he slaved away over mountains of paperwork, the glass of scotch his constant companion.
2:00 AM slowly crept onto the clock in his office, and he started to admit to himself that his eyelids were going to sneak shut whether he wanted them to or not. He could feel his bones creak just a little when he stood up; he hadn't moved from that spot in almost five hours. He crept stealthily across the second floor hallway and down the stairs barely making a sound. He had learned to be a shadow in the night while his family was sleeping. As he walked past the living room, something caught his eye. Kaleigh's paper still sat neatly in the middle of the coffee table, begging for his attention.
At first he chuckled, just noticing the length of what his daughter had written. He thought it was comical that teachers were telling eight year-olds that they were writing essays. Kaleigh was in second grade, and she was definitely still learning to write, so this 'essay' was half a page of her slightly sloppy hand-writing.
He first read the prompt at the top of the page: Talk about your father or another male role model in your life who you look up to.
His heart immediately sank.
"I wanted to write about my daddy but I don't see him that much. He's almost always working. It makes me sad so I'm going to talk about my big brother Ryan instead. He's a lot older than me. He's 17. One time I heard my mommy say he was an accident, but I don't think he was an accident at all. He's the one who always cheers me up when I'm sad. He taught me how to play basketball so I could beat all the other kids at school. On Thursday nights he drives me to ballet class, and he always makes me practice my dance once before bed so I don't forget the new parts that I learned. A lot of my friends who have big brothers don't like them that much. They say they fight a lot. That's why I know that I'm lucky to have Ryan. He's the best big brother ever and I don't know what I would do without him."
He sat and stared down at the paper, head hung, for almost a minute before he realized he was sobbing and his tears were staining the page.
He would never forget that night.
He would never forget the next day. It was the day he apologized to his eight year-old daughter for missing her childhood. It was also the day he thanked his 17 year-old son for being the father he himself had failed to be. It was the day he started once again telling his wife, each and every day, how much he loved her, something he hadn't done in years. It was the day he started being present in his own life again.
That day he told his daughter that she had saved him. She giggled at the time and didn't quite understand what it meant.
Twenty years later at her wedding, he gave a toast to his beautiful daughter, which closed:
"When Kaleigh was only eight years-old, she saved me from myself. She didn't know at the time, but she turned my entire world upside down with a few short sentences. I was more devoted to my work than I was to my family, and I was breaking their hearts. She snapped me back to reality in an instant, and I've held on to that sense of reality with everything I have for the past twenty years. It has delivered me to happiness that I would have never have known otherwise. So as I wish you two the absolute best in this life and the most love that you can possibly feel, I want to remind you that no amount of success nor wealth, no prestige nor notoriety, no accomplishment will mean anything if you lose sight of each other. Do not make the same mistake I did; I cannot promise there will be an 8 year-old angel who comes to your rescue. Love fully, each and every day, and I promise you will always be happy."
§ SF Globe Original