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Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Morning Ritual

I finish getting dressed and go to collect Lily.  The monitor told me she woke up about the same time I did this morning, a blessing, frankly, since it's been 4:00 a.m. for the past three or four weeks.   Emma's light halos her closed bedroom door and I say, "Good morning, Em," waiting for her answer before pushing open Lily's door.  When I enter her room she is sitting up in her bed waiting for me pleasantly.  I fold down the bed rail and she swings her legs over the side, holding my hand as we walk down the stairs. We walk carefully.  Her socks are slick on the hardwood steps and there have been many near-falls.

I help her into the bathroom and she sits as I start switching lights on.  Bathroom light, office Christmas tree, family room, kitchen, family room christmas tree. 

Every morning I feel like I forget a hundred little things.  This morning I see laundry baskets filled with folded clothes as I enter the family room.  My dad had folded the laundry in the baskets.  I chose not to put them away last night, tired from homework and housework and...workwork.  I forgot that choice until this morning.  This reminds me of the laundry needing to be transferred from the washing machine into the dryer, and the dry clothes waiting to be basketed.

"I'll be right back," I call to Lily, and I walk downstairs to my basement laundry room to pile the clean dry clothes into an empty basket from the dryer.  Then I transfer wet clothes from the washer into it.  Some days I rewash these because I forget they're there for a day or more, but today I judge that they hadn't sat long enough to need it.  I walk back upstairs and deposit the basket of clean clothes on the couch next to the baskets of folded clothes. 

The cat twines himself between my legs and meows softly, reminding me he needs to be fed.  I'll wait for Emma to do that. 

Lily gets up from the toilet and I hustle in to help her get dressed.  She finds the ipad and busies herself with YouTube videos of the Wiggles performing a skit about a princess who falls asleep for a hundred years.

Also forgotten were some dishes I left in the sink.  I start Emma's breakfast then begin rinsing plates to put in the dishwasher as Emma hurries through the room headed down into the basement. 

"What are you doing, Em?" I holler down to her.
"Looking for my clothes!" she replies.
"Did you try the couch first?" I ask her ironically, "I'd hate to see you waste a trip into the basement." 

There is silence for a moment, then, "Yeah, thanks," as I hear her climbing the stairs again.  She briefly rummages through the clothes in one of the baskets before grabbing joggers and a sweatshirt and heading back to her room.

 Something smells like it's burning, and I hurry to check the poptart in the toaster oven.  It seems fine, but I remove it anyway and put it on a plate.  The day before yesterday I forgot that Lily's lunch bag was sitting on top of the toaster oven and smelled it melting before I rescued it...mostly.

Lily is placing her ipad on top of the napkin rack at the kitchen table now.  Each time she places it atop the napkins it is slightly off to her eye.  And she picks it up and places it down again over and over.  Most of the time I can put this out of my mind and focus on what I'm doing.  This morning, though, she's knocked the napkins out of the rack and as she continues to try to place the iPad atop the rack she's scattering the napkins further and further across the table, widening her mess, increasing the entropy in the room.

I tell her to go into the family room and sit down with her iPad, something I'm not spectacular about being consistent with.  She obeys as I clean up the napkins, stacking and tidying them until they're in a neat pile, placing them into the napkin rack.  Lily is back now though, and immediately resumes her placing and replacing, hovering with her face a foot from the screen.  A periodic stream of questions that must be answered cycle from her lips.  I answer these automatically, without thought, sometimes incorrectly.  It doesn't seem to matter, this correctness.  If I'm wrong, she'll let me know.  If I'm right, she'll move to the next question.

"What is Lachey wearing?"
"Purple, like a snurple" (I add the snurple because it makes her laugh.  Now it belongs to the script)
"What color is Emma wearing?"
"Yellow," I reply.
"Like a marshmallow," she continues.  This is somewhat new and surprises me.
"Yeah, baby, that's a good one!  Yellow like a marshmallow."
And so on.

I send her back to the family room, telling her it's because she made a mess of the napkins.  She ignores this but goes and sits down anyway. 

I return to the fridge and get out the milk and cream.  I had forgotten to set the coffee maker to automatically brew, but blessedly did NOT forget to get it ready.  I mentally rejoice that I wasn't too lazy to do this and add one more thing to my growing list of "stuff to do before leaving for work".  I push the button to the coffee machine and the grinder begins to growl as it prepares the beans, scaring the cat, who has returned to rub against my legs, between and around them in a figure eight.

"Your mommy will feed you," I tell him, nudging him gently out of my way with my foot as I get my coffee mug and Emma's glass out of the cabinet.  I pour then set the drinks at the table when they're done and get out our vitamins.

Emma is back downstairs from getting dressed.  She sits.  Lily is back at the table. 

"How'd you sleep, baby?" I ask Emma.
"What's Lachey doing?" Lily asks
"Fine thanks," Emma responds, "How'd you sleep"
"He's waking up the princess," I say to to Lily, "I slept fine," I tell Emma.
"No he's holding her hand," Lily replies.
"Good," Emma replies.

Lily hovers a bit too close to Emma's chocolate milk and I pick it up and place it closer to my side of the table.

"Daddy," Lily says.
"What, baby?" I reply.  But she doesn't answer.
"Daddy," she repeats.
"What, Lily?"  Again no answer
"Daddy," Lily again says, this time drawing the a sound out...daaaaaaaaaddy.
"Ugh...WHAT, Lily?" my answer is loud, my tone irritated.  This doesn't appear to have any negative impact on Lily who simply replies, "What's the prince doing?"
I sigh heavily and respond without looking, "He's kissing the princess, honey"
"No, he's waking her up."
"Em, did you feed your cat?" I ask
"Go feed your cat."
"Is Lachey a prince?" Lily asks.
"I'm eating," Emma replies.
"Yes, Lily, Lachey is a prince," I tell Lily. "Go feed him," I tell Emma.

She gets up from the table with a dramatic (but not particularly irritated) sounding sigh and feeds her cat before returning to the table.

More of the same.  We finish our breakfasts.  Emma mounts the stairs to finish getting ready.  She has Keystone Exams this morning and wants to get there early.  She doesn't know what room she's being tested in.  We worked on her math homework and Keystone review from 9:30 until close to 11:00.  Boxplots and slope, y-intercepts.  I was exhausted when we were done.  I'm sure she was too. 

I ask Lily whether she would like a poptart too, and she says yes.  I cut it with a pizza cutter into 16 easily-chewable bites, learning long ago that she will hold larger pieces in her hands and squeeze them.  Perhaps she gets some sort of pleasant sensory feedback from the act.  Perhaps she's unaware of how easily poptarts are rendered into goo, or how hard that goo is to clean off of fingers, and tables and chairs and clothing.  Regardless, this works.  I prop the ipad against the napkin holder at an angle and help her restart the video.  She begins to eat independently as I finish the dishes in the sink.

Her plate is clean as I load the rinsed dishes into the dishwasher and eventually wanders back into the family room, grows tired of her ipad, and asks for TV.  I join her and cycle through the old familiar options. 

"Apple store" she requests.

I arrow over the options on the youtube apple tv screen, finding what I know to be "Apple Store".  It is a video of the Wiggles performing live at the Apple Store in Sydney.  I sigh in relief.  This particular performance is 20 minutes long, so Lily doesn't require my help to restart it over and over and over again the way she does with the Wiggle princess live performances, some of which only last 3 minutes. 

"What's Lachey wearing?" she asks.
"Purple like a snurple," I reply and she giggles.
"Where's Lachey, daddy?" she asks.
"Right there, baby," I say, pointing to the screen.

 I get her supplements ready.  Her developmental pediatrician has me giving her EFA powder, zinc, magnesium, folic acid, probiotics and Vitamin D.  In the five (six?  seven?) years I've been giving them to her I've never noticed any positive (or negative for that matter) impact from giving them to her or from forgetting to give them to her.  I do it because it can't hurt.  I do it because he says it helps a statistically significant percent of children with an autism diagnosis.  How long do I keep this up? 

I mix the zinc into her 'red drink', pulling it into a syringe from the bottle cap, then pulling in her drink to mix it in.  I hold the tip of the dosing syringe to her lips and she closes her mouth.  I push the plunger in.  I mix the magnesium in a shot glass, dumping a measured 1/2 teaspoon into maybe a half teaspoon of red drink, mixing it with the tip of the dosing syringe before pulling it in and repeating the process.  The wafer, vitamin D and folic acid are chewable.  I give them to her one after the other and she chews them up. 

The EFA powder goes in her yogurt.  I'll do that in a minute, but run upstairs first to get her clothes.  She's asked for "green" clothes, but she doesn't have any green clothes suitable for how cold it is today so I get her a red sweater, a white cami, a pair of white socks and blue jeggins and run back downstairs. 

"I don't like that white dress," she says pointing to the cami.  It must not feel good when she wears it.  I'm not sure.  Or maybe it's just how she has to push her arms through it. 

She's starting to grow, and I don't feel comfortable sending her to school without it, so I simply tell her, "I know, baby, but you have to," fending off her arms as she tries to push it away before finally surrendering and allowing it over her head. 

"Sit please," I tell her, and she sits on the couch while I pull her pajama bottoms off.
"Foot," I say.  She holds out her right foot and I put one leg of her jeggins on her.
"Foot" I say again and she holds out her left.
"Stand up please" I say, and she stands.  I pull the jeggins up.
"Sit down please" I say and she sits.
"Foot" I say again, this time for her sock.
"Foot" I say again to complete the ritual.

I glance at the clock.  The bus will be at our house in 5 minutes.  Still plenty of time to get her on the potty, and get shoes and coat on and...I remember I forgot to pack her lunch but breathe a huge sigh of relief when I see my parents have packed me one, as they (and my in-laws) always do when they get her off the bus for me at the end of each school day.  I open it and see that it's missing water.  Way easier than packing the lunch.  I fill a sippy cup with water, push it into the lunch bag, zip it closed and place it in the backpack. 

"Time to go potty!" I say as I walk the backpack to the front door.

This time she willingly comes with me to the bathroom.  It is her last potty break for at least the 40 minutes it will take to get her to school.  I hear her go.  When she stands I clean her up, help her get dressed, brush her teeth, wipe her face off, then hold her hand and walk with her into the family room to get her shoes on her. 

"Where's Lachey?" she asks me, and this time I glance up to see that Lachey is off-camera. 
I point and say, "Just off camera, baby...there he is" as the camera zooms out to show all four Wiggles on stage.

I grab her coat from the hook and I wrap it around her as she insinuates herself into it.  I zip it up just under her chin, brushing the stray hairs from the front of her face so they won't get caught in it as I do.  I switch off the television and the christmas tree. 

"I want to watch Lachey," she says. 
"After school we can watch him again," I reply, as always.

We walk to the front door to wait for the bus. It's not long, but the bus is late.  I get her on and tell her I love her.  I tell her to be good and have fun.  The bus driver grabs the backpack from me, smiling and telling me to have a good day and the aid helps her to her seat and buckles her in.  She looks out the window at me and I smile at her and wave.  She is saying something.  Possibly wondering what color Lachey is wearing, or whether the princess is asleep, maybe saying goodbye.  Probably not though.  She looks away and I watch the bus drive just around the curve of the cul-de-sac before turning away to head back inside. 

I forgot to give her the EFA powder.  It'll be fine.  It'll keep. 

I go up to my room and make my bed.  I open the blinds to the bedroom and let the light spill in.  I brush my teeth. 

I walk to Lily's room.  The bed is unmade.  On a chair across the room is a stack of clothes that a friend of Emma's gave to Lily.  I need to organize Lily's drawers.  They are already full.  Some of the clothes are too small, but I haven't made time to clean it.  Until I organize the drawers I can't put away the clothes on the chair.  I'm disgusted with myself not for first time.  Not for the twenty first.  They've been on the chair over a month.  It'll be fine. 

I make the bed.  Lily's TSS will be here tonight.  Sometimes that's the only reason the bed gets made.  Because I need people to see that I'm taking care of the kids.  I know I am.  I'm doing pretty well, I think, but I'm aware of appearances.

I go back downstairs to get my coat and get ready to go to work.  I look around the room and see again the baskets of laundry.  Multiplied now that I added the load this morning.  I'm running late.  I curse under my breath.  I think about who is coming to pick up Lily.  It's my dad.  Sometimes the only thing that gets me to put away the laundry is knowing that it's still sitting in the same place it was when my parents or in-laws left the house.  I gather one stack of Lily's folded clothes and run upstairs to put them away in her drawers.  It'll keep.  It'll be fine.  I'll do it tonight. 

I look around the family room and the stairwell and the office and the kitchen.  Christmas decorations are stacked in piles.  I haven't gotten them up yet.  It'll be fine.  It'll keep.  I'll do it tonight. 

I'm aware of how it looks.  The clothes on the chair.  The baskets on the couch.  The decorations on the floor.  The plant in the dining room dead from lack of water.  The box of tshirts in my office from the charity walk in May.  I'm aware.  It'll keep.  I'll do it tonight.

Tonight is enchiladas.  When I get home at 6:30 I'll grill the chicken and preheat the oven.  If I work quickly I'll have it done by 7:00 and we'll finish eating at 7:30.  It's bath night for Lily, so I'll probably pile the dishes into the sink and just run water so that I can give her the bath, dry her hair and put her to bed on time before I help Emma with homework.  And tomorrow morning...well...forgotten dishes and laundry.  It'll be fine.  It'll keep.

Thursday, November 17, 2016


Emma is reading "Night" by Elie Wiesel in her English class.  I realized when i was talking to a friend of mine that I had never read anything about the Holocaust.  Yes, this includes the Diary of Anne Frank.  I'm not sure how I escaped High School without having done so. 

Anyway, in an effort to aid her studies, I'm reading along with her so we can chat about it. 

Okay...the least well-received stuff I write is where I preach, so I promise I will try not to preach.  But I just can't help feeling alarmed at current events, and it's so timely that I'm reading this book at the same time and it probably makes me more sensitive to the parallels than I would typically be which makes me MORE worried.  Anyway.  This is a bit of a rant.

I haven't turned this into a Trump says this/does this sort of life lesson for Emma, but I do see some interesting parallels between what's rumored in the news about Trumps plans, this book about Mr. Wiesel's experiences being shipped off to Auschwitz, and several everyday anecdotal experiences that I shared with Emma.

So we're reading this book.  Have you read it?  I'm talking out some of the main points I took from the first two chapters with Emma and I just keep coming back to this one thing that really sticks in my head and my heart. 

They thought nothing like this could ever happen to them.  In "this day and age".  It was too inconvenient.  Too costly.  The Germans were on the verge of losing the war anyway, they thought. 

They talk about a foreign Jew, Moishe the Beadle.  He, and all the other foreign jews are forced to leave Elie's hometown of Sighet, then in Transylvania.  They send them away, but Moishe returns.  And he returns to tell the story about how they were sent to Ukraine and forced to dig a trench that they ultimately murdered the jews and shoved them in.  He returns to tell the Jews of Sighet how a father begged them to kill him so that he wouldn't have to watch them kill his sons in front of his eyes.  I guess he escaped.  I have to reread that piece.


Nobody believes him.  They think he wants attention.  That he's crazy.  Whatever...That was in 1942.  Two years passed.  The book talks about how even Moishe stopped talking about his experience.  I guess by then he was tired of talking to people who wouldn't listen. 

The Germans come to Sighet though.  They come to Sighet and they're billeted with families in their homes.  Even in the Jews' homes.  And it's inconvenient but they're pretty polite and everyone seems to get along, so they just sort of adjust to the new normal.

Then they're forbidden to keep gold or valuables, forced to wear a star to show that they're jewish, forbidden to leave their homes for three days...and all that sucks...but you's not like they're going to systematically murder them.  Right?

And then they pushed the Jews out of their homes and into two ghettos.  Moishe the Beadle runs door to door basically yelling "I TOLD YOU FUCKERS!!" and runs off without waiting for a reply.  That quote is mine, by the way, but Wiesel talks about it happening.  Families living with families.  They black out the windows facing out into the city.  They surround the ghetto with barbed wire. I tried to put that into context for Emma.  Someone comes to our house and tells us we have to move.  Right away.  We all have to move to one community and live in a house with other families.  They're taking our house.  

And the Jews...some of them think...this is actually a good thing.  Now we don't have to see all their glaring angry faces.  Now we're all together.  We can be with our own people.  This is okay.  And they adjust.  It's not like we're being systematically murdered.  We're good.  We've got this.

And everyone gets used to it.  Until they tell them they're getting on transports.  Everyone is to leave their homes.  Stand outside.  Roll call.  They're forbidden to get food or water.  They stand in the summer sun for hours waiting to be called.  Some are and off they go on the train.  Some stay behind waiting for the next day.

And the they're speculating...where are we being sent.  And some of them are like "Hey...this could be for our own safety.  They're sending us away from the fighting.  The Red Army is marching here...we'd have been on the front.  This is actually a good thing."

Elie and his family don't get sent on the first transports.  They're sent to the other ghetto to live.  Their family's old maid makes an appearance and tells them that she has a safe place outside Sighet where they can all stay, but Elie's father is like "Nah, we're good.  The kids can go if they want but I'm staying with my wife here."  And I want to shout at the book.  GO YOU FOOL!  But I also get it.  They really think..."this can't possibly be as bad as all that." 

So a few days go by and again the Jewish community settles down.  This is cool.  We've got this.  It's too late, they think.  It took too long, they think.  They're just going to keep us here.  But they didn't.  They loaded them on the train after roll calls for hours in the hot summer sun without water. 

And I won't tell all of the story of chapters 1 - 3, but...the train ride is standing room only.  80 to a car.  You can't lie down.  All of them can't sit at once.  They have to sit in shifts.  For DAYS.  DAYS!!!  And I again try to put it into perspective for Emma.  How hard it is to sit...SIT in an airport waiting for the plane.  And it's delayed for a few hours.  And it's boring and sucks and Lily is pissed and we're all frustrated.  But...instead of hours it's days.  Instead of sitting it's standing.  Instead of a comfortable chair it's standing shoulder to shoulder with other people.  No air. 

One last little bit from the book.  They get to Auschwitz.  They see the chimney.  Choke on the smoke of their dead.  SEE children fed to the fire like logs.  They are interviewed.  Marched.  They don't know where.  Did they say the right stuff or the wrong.  They've already been separated men from women, so Elie's mother and three sisters are nowhere to be found.  And the young men in the group start finally thinking...REALLY thinking about their mortality.  And that this is it.  That they really are truly going to their deaths.  And they start thinking...fuck this, we'll get these Nazi bastards...BUT....

The older members of the group TALKED THEM DOWN!  Relax...this isn't as bad as it looks.  Don't die for nothing. 

Okay...end of book report for Chapters 1 - 3 of "Night".  Now on to my own experience. 

At once I am both amazed and understanding of their failure to rise up.  The herd mentality I suppose. I enumerated all these "signs" to Emma.  They ignored Moishe, and giving up their valuables, and barbed wire and ghettos and transports and even smoking chimneys.  It couldn't happen to them.  How could it??

Sometimes I would take Leslie to Chemo treatments at Magee hospital in Pittsburgh.  We were on the fourth floor I think.  I can't really remember.  One week the fire alarm went off.  I looked around.  Nobody moved.  It continued to ring.  Finally I got up and talked to the nurse.  "Oh, they'll probably make an announcement about it in a minute or two."  They never did.  The fire alarm was going off and nobody even BUDGED.  Couldn't be a fire.  We all waited for someone to tell us that the alarm was actually real.  Like that shrieking klaxon couldn't be believed because..."it can't REALLY be a fire."

And the uprising too...everyone waiting for someone else to make a move.  Someone else to step forward and make a stand.  I was telling Emma how when I was going to college I worked in a mine.  They made you watch like two hours of safety videos.  One of the videos talked about how in a crisis everyone will stand around and watch but do nothing.  Even if someone is...say administering CPR to an unconscious victim, if that person says, "Call 911!" to the group, nobody will move...because everyone is thinking...'someone else will do it'...or 'someone else probably already did it'.  And I told her they teach you to point to a person and say, "YOU!  Call 911!" because that's the only way anyone will move. 

And so now we're talking about building walls.  And we're scared of terrorism so we're talking about registering Muslims like they're Jews in Nazi Germany.  And random racial violence and rejoicing seems like it's sporadically bursting out all over the country because people see our president-elect's silence to be tacit approval of their "making America great" by shouting racial epithets or spray painting people's houses, or leaving them notes about how they should go back to Africa or "get the fuck out" of our country because that's apparently what will make it great in their minds.

Today I was looking up Martin Niem├Âller's poem.  Do you know it?  I think it's pretty telling.  Niem├Âller was a protestant in Germany who felt good people were complicit in the atrocities that happened to the Jews in Nazi Germany.  They were complicit because they were "good" but didn't do more to stop it all from happening.  His poem:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Are we on the cusp of that?  Are we on the cusp of people "coming for the _________"?  It could never happen here.  Never!  You know...just like the Jews of Sighet said before the trains came to carry them to the fucking FURNACE.  I've seen a lot of heinous racist bullshit on facebook this past week.  Basically people pointing out know how everyone feels like this is an enlightened age and racism is soooo much better than it ever was...that sort of thing...these sorts of posts fly in the face of that blissful ignorance.  There are PLENTY of racists still alive and well and happy to raise a little hell in the name of their 

White Supremacists praised Trump's appointment of Stephen Bannon.  Glenn Beck...let me say that again...GLENN BECK even knows that's ridiculous.  He says of Bannon...Stephen Bannon gave a voice to white nationalists.  Awesome choice.  What the fuck.

Everyone loves Jon Stewart.  He's talking me down.  A little.  He said, "We also have to caution ourselves to the complexity of that history,” he said. “I thought Donald Trump disqualified himself at numerous points. But there is now this idea that anyone who voted for him has to be defined by the worst of his rhetoric. There are guys in my neighborhood who I love, I respect, that I think have incredible qualities – that are not afraid of Mexicans and not afraid of Muslims and not afraid of blacks. They’re afraid of their insurance premiums.”

So yeah...people voted for Trump for a lot of different reasons. we are.

And while insurance premiums are important, and a good economy is important, and free enterprise and homeland security and all that is important.  I see a guy with no plan to achieve that.  I see what's happening in the news and think..."Did you all just basically sign a deal with the devil?"  The ink is still wet on the signature that implies..."I don't care what happens to the rest of the country, as long as I have a solid interest rate, don't have to send my kids to war, and can hold onto my job, amen."

I'm not ready to claim that Trump will be Hitler.  I'm just saying...are you afraid at ALL of what this country could look like in four years?  I kinda am.

I just don't want to be writing poems or books about how we all ignored the know the signs I mean, right?  Basically everything Trump has said or done in the past two years plus his body of work prior.  Those kinds of signs.  I just don't want to ignore the signs when something even worse starts happening here.  Like we all did in cancer ward.  Like the Jews of Sighet did. 

Thursday, November 3, 2016


This is probably my longest hiatus.  I started and stopped writing a few times.  I haven't stopped writing permanently...just had a long break.  It happens to me sometimes.

In the meantime Emma went to homecoming. I was asked to speak at AC of PA's gala.  The local paper did a story about my tattoo (for Les).  Lily rocked Halloween (three houses worth).  My cousin got married.  Probably lots of stories I'm forgetting.

But first...homecoming (Hoco if you're hip.  Hip like I am).  How to write this respectfully of Emma's privacy...fuckit...she belongs to me until she's 18.  I'll try...but no guarantees.

Emma's a freshman now.  She really seems to have taken to high school.  Her grades could use some work, but in terms of fitting in and finding a happy place she seems to have insinuated herself into the ebb and flow of social circles like she always does.  Never the focus.  Never one person or one group.  Just sort of shifting from circle to circle.  She doesn't know this is supposed to be "hard".  Maybe it will be as school goes on, but right now it seems pretty effortless.

She was asked to go to homecoming.  They were going as friends.  She's known the boy for years.  They've been friends for years.  She was happy to be going.  He surprised her with a sign at the mall.

When did this become a thing?  It's a thing.  You can't just ask girls to go to dances anymore.  You have to be creative.  You have to have a flash mob or have confetti bombs that transform into doves that fly in formation to form the words, "will you go to homecoming with me" or something.  Kids are judging each other on these things.  Best step up your game, boys. 

We went to my sister's house to celebrate a dad's, I think, or maybe it was my father-in-law's.  I can't remember.  Emma and Dawn went to my niece's closet to look at the ghosts of homecoming dresses past.  Emma did a little impromptu fashion show for us.  She looked so pretty in the dresses.  We decided we could alter one of them for homecoming that she really liked.

I won't bore you with the minutia of the fitting and altering.  The dress looked great.

Plans were in place.  The girls with dates would meet early to get pictures taken.  The girls going as a group without dates would join up with them later to get a group photo.  Homecoming was two days away.

And her friend backed out.  Which...honestly, I was like...okay...that's pretty sucky, but at least she's going with a bunch of her friends, and they were just buddies anyway, so this shouldn't be a big deal, right?  Wrong.

She had this image in her head, I think; this image of the quintessential dance experience.  And that image became extremely important to her, I learned when she came to me, crying.  I corralled her into a hug.

"Do you remember the day you and mama told me she was going to die," she started, breathing into my shoulder, her words muffled?

"Yes, baby." My eyes closed tightly at this.  I braced myself.

"You left the room so that we could talk alone together."

I nodded, a pressure building in my chest.

"Mama said she was going to watch me at homecoming.  She was going to look down at me at the dance and that she'd be with me and she'd be smiling"

Fuck.  Me.  It started as an ache around my eyes and then they were brimming with unshed tears and I sniffed and said, "Oh baby...and now you're afraid she won't see you having fun at the dance."

And she nodded then into my shirt, words impossible.

And I couldn't do anything to defuse the tension.  No joke to make her laugh out of her mood as I so often can, because I couldn't fix anything.

So we talked for a while.  About why he might have backed out.  About what she could do.  He had no way of knowing just how important this dance (THIS DANCE, goddammit!) was to her.   As we talked she calmed.  I am always amazed at her resilience.  She wanted to know what was up, but it was late so she had resigned herself to talking to him the next day.

They talked at school.  I won't air that piece.  He was going.  He had his own reasons for wanting to back out, but he told her he still wanted to go.  It wasn't about Emma.  There are pressures on young men in high school that I remember all too well.  I can speculate all day on any number of reasons he might have gotten cold feet, and all of them would be "good" reasons.  But I didn't care in little girl had a dance to attend, her mother looking down at her and smiling I'm certain.

She looked beautiful.  The girls with dates got together early and had their pictures taken.  As planned.  The other girls joined them and had their pictures taken.  And then they all went to the dance together.  They were laughing, Emma hamming it up per usual.

I texted her that night a little after the dance started.  I knew she wouldn't see it then, but hoped she would later, and know I was thinking about her.

"I hope you are having a blast!"

A couple hours later she replied, "I had a great time"

"I'm so happy for you"

"Ah it was so great"

And I could hear her saying the words, sort of laughing the word "ah" out the way she does.  I looked at that last message on my screen for a while.  And I thought about Leslie.  And then I let out a long contented sigh and the pressure in my chest went away.