She Came Home Quiet
This is part one of a series of stories I don’t think quite work. To see the context for this story, bounce over to When A Story Doesn’t Quite Work.
Her room is the same. Hand-me-down dresser, wood-barked from past moves; the bed far too thin, now almost too short for her. The six foot nine cardboard hockey player is there. It surprises me in the night when I let the dog out. I could have packed it all away, made it a guest room, but I didn’t. It’s Audrey’s room, it will be as long as she comes home. I count on one hand the years that’d still be true.
She’s not the same. It’s not that she’s grown up, though that’s part of it. It’s not the influence of college and education — not the same thing — though that’s part of it too. Something happened to her this semester, something I’m afraid to ask about.
“Hey, I’ve got a game with the guys. You want to come along and teach us geezers a thing or two?” I asked the second night she was back. Her gear bag was still in the kitchen, next to the island; reeking of sweat and plastic and neoprene. I didn’t push her about leaving it, I’m not that kind of dad.
“Nah, think I’ll just hang out and veg,” she said. It was almost her usual lazy brush off, almost. She curled up with a book on the couch. I let it go. God damn me, I let it go.
“I don’t know Ler, she seems different; too quiet,” I said lacing my skates at the rink. We’re too old to play hockey, too fragile, too prone to break; and yet here we are.
“Didn’t she have a concussion in the BU game?” My partner asked. He watches all her games too. He’s her un-uncle, taught her to backcheck when he still coached; when we still coached.
“I don’t think that’s it.” Maybe, maybe it was. The docs said she was fine, no symptoms for a month. She was back on the ice, playing for BC. That meant she was fine, right?
“Let’s go ladies,” the goalie roared. My worry would wait.
She slept on the couch; too early for bed. I was all for Saturday afternoon naps, but my twenty year old daughter? I looked at her, really looked at her, for the first time in a long time. She was my little girl, but not. Tall and thin and young and lovely? That fit. She didn’t fit the cadence of The Girl From Ipanema, she was a dirge with blonde hair.
“Hey dad,” she woke as I watched her. She smiled, the first smile I’d seen since she got home. But it faded. “I fell asleep?”
“So the docs said you’re okay, after that boarding?” I asked, trying not to sound concerned; failing.
“Yeah. The headaches are gone. The neurologist said I’m asymptomatic.” Was she? Wasn’t depression a symptom too?
“I worry Aud. You seem quiet,” it hung there in the quiet afternoon, the bright sun reflected off the snow outside, into the living room; almost too bright. She thought about what to say. I could see it in her face. It was just lingering concussion symptoms, wasn’t it? Please?
“I’m… just tired Dad.”
“Okay,” damn me. You’re supposed to give them space, especially when they’re grown up? Do they ever grow up? “I’m gonna start dinner. You want anything special?”
“Oh. Um. Can we just do salad?” she asked. This, I expected. Audrey’s serious about nutrition. She has her ‘hockey player diet,’ and sticks to it religiously.
“Cesar?” I asked.
“Yeah, but the dressing…”
“On the side, yes.” I completed her thought.
“Thanks Dad,” she hopped up and hugged me, enveloped me in arms that were stronger than they had any right to be. I used to be self-consious about my daughter, a head taller than me. I wasn’t anymore. The hug lasted longer than it should. We both noticed. I didn’t care.
It’s snowed overnight. Light, fluffy snow; big flakes. They floated down like ash, dusting the deck and the yard as the dog did his thing. It would get heavier over night. For now the world was quiet, the snow a blanket on sound, dulling the cars and the factories over the ridge.
“Dad?” she asked, walking down stairs.
“Yeah?” I asked back, a mug of water in my hand; waiting for Junior, my Frenchie.
“I didn’t realize you were up.”
“Junior, you know.” he trotted out of the yard, looked at us both in the light from the street lamps, licked his nose of the snowflakes that had fallen there. Audrey carried a dumbbell, ready to strike. She half-heartedly hid it.
“Your Chara still scares me,” I said, ignoring the dumbbell. “At least once a week.”
“You could just close the door,” she said.
“Oh, I could, but I think of you every time I see him.”
“So you’re scared of me?”
“Heh, sometimes, mostly on the ice. You check like a freight train.”
“I met him, you know,” she said. He was her hero, the tall Bruins Defenseman, tallest in the league, like her.
“What? When?” I asked. Why hadn’t she told me?
“The BU game. He was there in the stands. He came down and met everyone at the first intermission.” She been run into the boards at the start of the second period. “They say we talked for a while. I don’t remember.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. What must that be like, to meet your childhood hero, have that memory stripped away?
“It’s not just — ” she started, she wanted to tell me. There, in the kitchen with the snow falling outside, in our pajamas, the dog lapping his water.
“It wasn’t just a concussion dad, it was a miscarriage too.” It was a what? I hadn’t heard that right. But I had.
“Oh baby,” I whispered. I wrapped my arms around her. The dumbbell fell the the floor with a thud.
She’d tell me about the boy. She’d tell me about the worry. She’d tell me about the guilt. She’d tell me about the relief, and the guilt about that.
That night I just held her, was there, loved her as a father should. There would be plenty of time for telling. Right then there was not enough hug in the world to fill her need, but I tried.