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Monday, 15 February 2010

Daddy's Little Girl

When I was five, maybe I was six, I don't know. My family took me to the beach. My mom, she picked up her book and laid there beneath the shade, not wanting to tan her skin. And my dad...he was still living with us then. They didn't get along. Not even that day at the beach. He told my mom to get a tan because she looked like a corpse or something. He laughed at himself, his joke. He was drunk already. He drove us there, the three of us in the front of the pickup, with me between them. I was always between them, my mom and dad. You know? My dad had a beer between his knees the whole way. If he finished one I was to replace it and I did, because I wanted to be daddy's little girl. And I felt like it, that day at the beach.

My dad stood at the edge of the water waving as I yelled, "Watch this, daddy!" I was doing hand-stands under the water. I thought I impressed him. I didn't even notice at first how his eyes were wandering to the teenage girls in bikinis. But even at five...No six...At six you notice when your dad's not watching.

So, I swam as far as I could, to show him how good I was at swimming. I wanted to wave at the little version of my dad, standing on the shore. I swam as hard and as fast as I could. It seemed really far to me. Now I probably could have walked all the way out there.

When I turned back the first time, my dad was still standing there, smiling, waving, drunk and unstable on his feet. I waved back and kept going. The sounds of the beach seemed to disappear. I felt like I could swim forever. But when you're six, or five, you don't think about needing energy to swim back. I just wanted to show my dad that his little girl was good at something.

My arms and legs began to burn. My heart felt like it had moved up into my throat and was pumping blood into my ears. All I could hear was the sound of my desperate breath and my heart beat.

I turned around and waved and smiled and shouted as much as I could, which wasn't a lot. I was using all my strength to stay afloat. I had to strain my eyes. I squinted, trying to see my dad. He was standing on the shore, hands on his hips. Maybe I had swum so far that he couldn't see me. How proud would he be? I decided to swim back and surprise him, but after a meter or two I couldn't make it anymore. The pounding of my heart was distracting me. I couldn't suck in any air, because water kept filling my mouth.

But my dad was coming. I saw him, in the distance, splashing through the water. I tried to fight myself back up to the surface when I went under, but I had nothing to push myself back up with. I didn't know it would be so hard to swim. I reached up, so my dad would know where I was before I went back under the water. He wouldn't be long, I told myself, because I knew my dad was a great swimmer. I could already her him splashing and calling out to me when I came up for another mouthful of air. I tried to yell that I was so close, but look how far I swam!

He grabbed me under my arms when my head went under one last time. I flung my arms around his neck, just like they did in the movies and on TV. I rested my chin on his shoulder and looked back over the water as we came closer to the shore. I just smiled. He must have been so proud that I made it so far, I thought.

But when I was set into the sand, when my mom came running up to me, screaming and yelling about me dying or drowning, I noticed that my dad was asleep on his towel already. His arm draped over his eyes, blocking out the light and anything else that might disturb his sleep.

The man that carried me from the water was someone else's father. His wife and children came to my side, to see if I was okay. They touched my head, my face, my arms, my shoulders. They told me that I needed to save the same amount of energy that I wasted swimming out to come back. My dad opened his mouth, from his towel in the sand, with a beer beside him. He went to say something, because his mouth dropped open, but only the noise that came out was a snore.

The kids invited me to play, to build their sand castles with them, to running through the shallow water and scare away the little fish. They waved me over, called out to me, but I sat down beside my mom and asked her what she was reading. She shook her head and said, "What does it look like? A book! Go play."

But I sat beside her, watching the other kids building sand castles and splashing in the water. My father went on snoring. My mother went on reading. And I just sat, wondering how much energy I should have saved for the way back.

Copyright © 2010 by Andrea Simmons, All Rights Reserved, "Daddy's Little Girl"


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