Here I am, returning to that place I left long ago. Only I am standing in the dining room, on that hideous red shag carpet, seeing myself in little-girl form… Fresh from my bath, auburn hair, wet and hanging to my waist in ringlets, barefoot as always, wearing the light green nightgown with the pink ruffle along the bottom, trimming the sleeves and forming what Mom called a Peter Pan collar. I can still see the pink pigs that were mercilessly scattered all over the fabric. Ugly, but my favorite. I always put it on when I needed to feel better, brave, reassured. It helped get rid of those pesky butterflies that were in my tummy. I am in first grade and have written a letter to my Daddy. I’m so proud of this letter because it’s my very best handwriting…big, fat printing with a two-finger space between each word. I meticulously wrote it several times so he would not see the thin spots in the paper. My eraser received the workout of an Olympian on this day. You see, this letter was not just for any Daddy… he who could do no wrong, Daddy. My teacher said I was supposed to tell Daddy what I admired about him. Can you admire someone who kept his distance and seemed like a stranger? He worked a lot. He was very important in our town and in our church. There were meetings and places to go, people who needed him. I tried my hardest to write nice, important things, things that would make him see how great I thought he was. But what came out on my paper each time was the cry of a little girl’s heart to be noticed and loved by her Daddy. I told him I knew he was very important to people and that they all liked him and wanted to have meetings with him. I told him it was okay if he needed to be late to my piano recital if he had things to do, because I would ask Mommy to save him a seat and I’d even ask her to bring him a sandwich if he missed dinner. I told him I wanted to go “knock on doors with him”. He was running for City Council that year and I would go out walking the neighborhoods with him, knocking on doors, campaigning, until my feet were blistered and I was exhausted. My seven year old self tried as hard as I could to tell my Daddy that I cared for him, I thought he was great, he was so good at everything, and I needed him. My hero.
Do you know how he responded? That man sat on that ugly red and gold couch and proceeded to correct my letter. CORRECT it. There were no thanks. No words of love or affirmation for his daughter. Only “Your grammar isn’t right” or “This needs a comma if you want it to make ANY sense” and, oh yes, my favorite one of all…”Honey, no one would DARE eat a sandwich at a piano recital! How ridiculous!” I could feel the shame and embarrassment coloring my freckled cheeks. Sadness filled these green eyes and spilled out, dotting the front of my nightgown. I tried to tell him how sorry I was, but I just choked on my tears and humiliation. I hugged him and bid him goodnight.
In the sanctuary of my room, I stood in front of my dresser mirror and tore the letter to shreds. My heart felt each rip, each insult to this work that had earlier given me so much joy. In the soft lamplight, I could see the pink pigs on my nightgown. Why had I never noticed that they had wings? The humor had been totally lost on me. My favorite nightgown, this suit of armor that had just failed me miserably, would be found the next morning in pieces, mingled with the remnants of the letter.