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Pink Hair and Fur Boots
“You’re grounded,” the words leave my lips and twirl a few times before going into her ears.
Her eyes get so wide that I can see myself reflected in her enlarged pupils. “What? Just for a C? Not fair!”
“Yes, but you promised me that you would study for this test until you knew for sure that you would get an A and you didn’t,” I lean forward and whisper into her young, discouraged face. “And that, my dear, is very fair.”
I lean back and get a good look at my daughter. From the tip of her clip-on pink hair extension down to her fur-lined boots that she insists on wearing inside, even though they drive me crazy because they leave perfect little footprints on the beige carpeting.
“Dad!” she whines. “Tonight is Zeke’s party and all my friends are all expecting me!”
“Well,” I lift and drop my arms, “you got a C on your Science test and you guaranteed me an A. I guess you’ll spend tonight watching some television show about teenage angst,” I smile with my fatherly grin.
She glares, sucking in her lips a little. “I wish my mom was still alive. She would let me go!” She turns around and runs up the stairs up to her bedroom, those boots I hate slamming every stair until the sound of her door slamming fills the house. Just before she slams it, though, she yells, her voice angry and ear-splitting: “I hate you!”
We’re all alone now. Ever since my wife died, it’s just been me and my angry teenage daughter. We have a pretty big house for just the two of us, and mostly we stay in the living room, the upstairs bathrooms, our bedrooms, and the kitchen, and that’s about it. We don’t really go into the dining room or the backyard.
My wife used to like to use the dining room whenever she could. She always invited friends over for Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Years, because she loved our beautiful house. She picked out everything: the carpeting and the expensive counters in the kitchen, everything that’s beautiful in here, she picked it.
I walk into the living room and lay down on the couch, flipping on the television. I don’t feel like arguing with her right now. There’s so much hatred between us, and I hate it, but sometimes we have good times.
Sometimes we’ll go out together to see a movie or go to dinner, and then things are good. She’s very smart, you know, socially. Academically, she gets very frustrated and annoyed and never applies herself.
I don’t ever really tell her what I think, but I don’t think that grades really matter. I mean, right now, I’m a therapist and I got horrible grades. I just found that I was good at listening and giving advice. I know that I hassle her about her grades, but that’s part of my paternal duty. She could be whatever she wants to be and fail out of school. She’s a fantastic piano player, so maybe she’ll be a musician someday. I won’t tell her that grades don’t matter to me until the day that she really gets herself stressed over a test, not because she cares about what she’ll get, but because she’ll want me to be proud of her. I will be so proud of her when that day comes.
Before I know it, I’ve fallen asleep, and when I wake up, it’s to the familiar bells of a Breaking News segment interrupting the program that I’ve fallen asleep during. I sit up, sniffing, rubbing my eyes with the back of my hands.
“We have just received news of a devastating car accident during which a Suzuki Samurai crashed through the backyard of private residence 2816 Patton Drive and drove into the swimming pool.”
The words go into my head, ready to pass right through, but they don’t. The address is familiar, and without thinking, I’m on my feet, pounding my way to the kitchen. On the refrigerator is a sticky note with my daughter’s familiar scrawl saying, "October 2: Party at Zeke’s! 8:00 -- 11:45: 2816 Patton Drive."
My heart stops for about a second before returning to normal. She isn’t there, I just know it. She isn’t that much of a delinquent, she just wants to be popular! She doesn’t like piercings and hates tattoos and has only had one boyfriend who was a good boy whose mother was a librarian and his father a security guard. She’s my little girl and she would never sneak out. I just know it.
I decide that this is silly to be worried about, so I let out a loud nervous laugh. “Hey, I just heard on the news that there was a car accident at the party you were going to go to.”
I wait for her to open her bedroom door and run down the stairs, that ridiculous pink hair extension in her hand as she demands, “What?”
I lean against the kitchen counter and wait for her to come in.
I’m still waiting.
I’m still waiting.
She’s not coming.
Suddenly I feel my throat tighten. I walk towards the stairs and touch the cold railing, looking up at the brightly lit hallway. I can see from here light around the edge of her bedroom door. “Hey? Are you deaf or something?” I try to laugh. She would have had to hear that.
I tighten my grip on the cold railing, slowly feeling it get cooler and cooler. My stomach knots and my heart heats up. “Hello?” I call softly. Why can’t she hear me? She’s got to be asleep or something, or watching television, or listening to music.
I’m sweating so hard I can’t believe as I jog up the stairs and stand outside her room. I hesitate.
Something’s definitely wrong, because I can’t hear anything. Just the sound of the air conditioner humming and vibrating somewhere in the house. I knock, wait for any sound.
I knock harder, knowing that she’s not going to answer.
I smack my fist repeatedly on the door and begin to yell, I just want some kind of response!
Nothing at all.
I throw open the door and run in, look around. She’s definitely not there. It looks like she should be, though. The little lava lamp by her bed is glowing, sending up blobs of green up through the blue liquid. And her nail polish bottles are scattered on the floor and the towel she uses is in a ball by the door. And her iPod is sitting on her pillow, the wires of the ear phones are knotted as usual. But she’s not here. I look up and see what I prayed to god I wouldn’t see. The door to the tiny balcony she has to herself is wide open.
I stand there, staring. She snuck out, I can’t believe it!
I take one step towards the open door and step on something. Frightened, I jump back and see the piece of paper lying on the floor. A message is written in dark purple nail polish.
"Hi dad, I’m going to that party. It’s about 8:00 right now and I’ll be back in two hours. My friend Naomi is gonna drive me there; she’s a senior at my school. This would have been so much easier if you had just let me go in the first place. Just leave me to make my own choices for once! I don’t care about school and I never will, so please just get used to it. See you later."
Then she signs her name at the bottom. She snuck out and left me a note. Not the teenage anger I expected, but bad enough for at least a month’s grounding.
In a flash, my horror is back. That car accident!
I run downstairs back into the family room and grab the remote. The piece about the car accident has ended, but thank god for TiVo. I rewind back to the bulletin and listen, the remote clutched in hand.
“We have just received news of a devastating car accident during which a Suzuki Samurai crashed through the backyard of private residence 2816 Patton Drive and drove into the swimming pool. The teenage driver was through out of the car during the crash through the fence and several teenagers were injured when the car broke down the fence dividing the backyard from the street. The other girl in the car, trapped in her seat, was driven into the pool. Trying to escape, she found herself restrained by her seatbelt. She drowned before medical assistance could arrive.”
My heart is thumping at the speed of light. My daughter is in ninth grade, and too young to drive. She’s only fourteen! She said her friend was a senior, so she could have been the one driving.
Oh my god, what if my daughter died in that car accident?
What am I saying? That can’t be her. The driver must have been drinking, and I know that my daughter knows right from wrong, she would never let her friend drink and drive.
The camera shows a man speaking confidently and professionally. I can’t believe he can deliver the news without even a hint of sadness or desperation to find the girls and make sure that they are in fact not dead, but alive.
I don’t stay for any longer. I run to the coat hooks by the door and grab my coat. As I wrestle it on, I notice that her hook is empty and her purple coat isn’t there, hanging depressed and weary as usual. She’s really gone. I have to go find her.
I throw on my shoes and run out into the night. I’m running to the police station, I don’t care how far away it is. I just can’t be in a car right now, running just seems right.
"Sir, please wait just a minute, we're calling one of the officers on the scene," a young woman tells me. Her voice is moving quickly up and down, as though by channeling the panic I am expressing through her voice I can understand how outrageous I sound. Nothing is going to make me calm down until I can go to that house and look for her.
The woman hurries away and goes and talks to somebody on the phone. They put their hand on the receiver and say something to the woman.
I feel my heart moving slowly now. I know that she isn't there. My daughter would not drink, I know her, and she would never let any friends of hers drink while driving. Now I can't hold back anymore. The tears rush from my eyes and they ripple down my cheeks. I close my eyes, press my palm onto the cold wooden desk as I lean all my weight on it. If she's dead, my life is over.
"Please get out of the way!" a voice booms as I hear two heavy doors swinging open. "We're carrying evidence here!"
I feel the men carrying the objects in a large box whoosh past me and stomp down a hallway. I don't even look up, because I just can't. Nothing in that box is going to help me find my daughter.
"Sir," the woman says, her voice kind of quiet. I look up, peeling my eyes open to look at the woman. She blinks when she sees the tears on my face and the pain in my eyes. "Um, we have the officer on the phone and he's at the scene now. He would like to talk to you."
I swallow hard and rub my eyes. She jerks her head in the direction of the hallway and she begins walking in that direction, her hands clasped around a manila folder. I follow her, taking slow strides.
My hope is slowly draining from me. My daughter is sand stuck to me after a long day at the beach. The soft bits of sand are the proof that I was there, and I want to carry it on my body forever, show everybody that I do have a reason to live, and I’ll keep living no matter what. Slowly, though, the wind blows the sand off of me and blows the particles into the wind. I twist and writhe and reach and clasp my fingers around where the sand used to be, until there is one piece of sand left. All that is left of my sweet daughter.
The girl I held in my hands after hours of listening to groaning and struggling in a chilly, chemical-smelling hospital.
The girl who told me that she never wanted to grow up because it meant that she would never be able to be my baby anymore.
The girl who pretended that she was a mermaid and I was a pirate as she played with her sticky hair, sitting on the floaty-dolphin in the middle of the swimming pool.
The girl who never let me look at her text messages and emails because she didn’t want me to see that she knew how to curse.
The girl who made fun of me in front of her boyfriend so that she would look cool, but who made me cookies later that night to say that she was sorry.
There’s no way that I can hold onto her anymore, because it’s so clear now. I bet you’re wondering how I can be so sure that she’s dead. Well I’ll tell you.
As I followed that woman into the office where I talked to that police officer on the phone, we passed by a table where those two officers unloaded that box full of bloody, bagged evidence. In two bags, side by side, splotched with little clouds of blood, lay a soggy pink hair extension, and a pair of fur-lined boots.
Hoffman Estates, Illinois
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