CAFFREY-WELLES AWARD SUBMISSION

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THE GIRL HE LOST

Kelis Quiller

           I wake up to an empty bed yet again. It’s been almost a month since the divorce and I still wake up in hopes that it was all just a dream. I think I set the record for the messiest divorce of all time. I walk into Molly’s room, of course she’s not in there, tears fill my eyes. I see Ken and Barbie lying by their dream car, just where she left them. I walk downstairs to find a few dishes in the sink and nothing in the fridge. I really need to mop this floor. I make a bowl of cereal, my last bowl I suppose because I’m out now. I sit down in this empty house that will never be the same again.

           I drive to Glendow’s Park, Molly’s favorite. She had her eighth birthday party here, her last actually. I remember she was so excited to decorate the picnic tables with Barbie themed covers and pink balloons. There had to be at least fifteen little girls running around, and Molly had the widest little smile when she blew out the candles that day. I think she wished for that overpriced plastic that they call a barbie dream house. She wanted one to match the dream car. As I go to sit down on the bench, I sit on a piece of pink bubblegum. Rotten kids. I look over and see this little girl that looks so much like my little Molly. She has a long blonde ponytail, with a sparkly pink bow, and bright green eyes. I then look at the many parents that fill the benches surrounding the playground. There’s a single mother who is trying, but failing, to put her baby to sleep. Next to her is a couple who is excitedly holding children’s lunches, as they watch their kids do the monkey bars. Then, there’s what looks like the little girl’s parents. They are too busy bickering to see that their precious little daughter is about to fall off of the ladder. “Mommy!” She falls and hits her head off of the ground. The parents have yet to notice. I watch her as she is crying. After a few moments, I walk over to the parents who are holding the kid’s lunches and ask for a band aid. They hand me a bright yellow band aid with smiley faces on it, I thank them and walk away. I go over the little girl and offer her a helping hand. I put the bandage on the small cut right below her hairline. Before she has the chance to walk away I say “that cut looks pretty bad, we should probably go clean that up.” The girl looks and me and denies the offer. “All I needed was a band aid, thank you mister.” She smiles and walk away.

           A short while later the parents of that beautiful little girl are still arguing about bills and what not. The little girl is settling down, looks like she needs a midday nap. Molly used to do the same thing. She’d be exploding with energy but after a little while of running around, she’d run out of gas. I walk near the swings and grab the girls attention. “You look tired” I say. She agrees and tells me about her growing hunger. I tell her that she should come with me to the convenience store across the street to get some snacks. She begins to tell me that her parents wouldn’t approve and before she can finish I tell her that I already got their permission. Her eyes light up and we begin to walk down the paved path across the park. We leave the playground, pass the pond, and as we approach the street a lady I have never seen before stops me. “Excuse me sir.” I turn around and smile nervously, and her attention shifts to the little girl. “Isabelle, do you know this man?” She says. The girl, Isabelle, says “I just met him, we are going to the store to get snacks Mrs. Hemming.” This is one sticky situation. The lady looks at me with horror like I’m some kind of monster. “How could you prey on such a small child? You are disgusting! Burn in hell!” She quickly grabs Isabelle’s arm and begins to walk in the opposite direction with her, telling her how I am some kind of “child predator.” I chase after them and without trying to threaten the lady, I tell her that my intentions were pure and that she has misinterpreted the situation. She sends Isabelle away, back to her parents. After talking for a few minutes, I convince Deborah Hemming that I simply wanted to get the girl something to eat since her parents were busy. Surprisingly, she believes me, even sincerely apologizes, and lets me off the hook without consequence.

           It doesn’t really hit me how close that was to serious trouble until I am in my car almost home. I mean, my intentions were pure, I wanted to give that little Isabelle something she didn’t have. Love. I loved Molly. I loved Katie. I loved our dog, our realtor, and all of the in-laws. That’s not easy to find in one guy. Katie seemed to really appreciate all that love until she came home one day and said that she couldn’t love me anymore. Something about the weight of Molly’s death being too much, and the toll it took on our marriage. She didn’t understand that the “toll” she described was all the love and memories I shared with our daughter, now being one of the past.

           I wasn’t going to harm Isabelle if that’s what Deborah thought. That little girl is too precious. She deserves the entire world. I get home to a voicemail from my wife. Ex-wife, sorry. “Please leave a message after the beep...hey, its Katie, are we still on for dinner tomorrow? Ron said he’d love to join us, thanks for inviting him by the way. We will be there around five if that’s alright. Anyway this is getting pretty long, and pretty awkward having a conversation with myself. I guess that’s just me, because it’s literally just me. Haha. Okay, love you, bye.” I listen to it a couple times more. She said “love you.” Love. Not “I love you.” Just “love you.” That’s divorce for you folks. Well Katie, I love you, and I hope I can fix this.

           After a long day of contemplating my divorce and my young daughter’s death, I decide that’s enough for today. Before I even reach the first step to go upstairs, I decide to do those dishes. At least I’ll be in control of something. After some time passes and I realize I cleaned everything possible except Molly’s room. I can’t clean her room. The only thing messier than that little girl’s bedroom is my life, so I decide to call it a night. I grab my blue toothbrush that sits in the holder next to Katie’s green one, and Molly’s pink one. I brush my teeth and stare at myself in the mirror. Life is tiring. I walk across the creaky floorboards to the bedroom and sit in the silence for a little while. Silence really gets your thoughts running. How did this happen? Eight years of a perfect marriage and a happy family all gone in less than a year. Admittedly it hurt to lose my wife and my daughter in such a short amount of time. My daughter is gone and there is nothing I could do about that. I know that.

            As I wake up I turn on my side to look for Katie’s lovely face still sleeping. It still hasn’t hit me that we got divorced. Before going downstairs, I go to Molly’s room. Ken and Barbie and their dream car still lying by the human sized princess bed. I walk downstairs, I need to do those dishes, and my god, this floor. I make myself a bowl of cereal like I do every day. Damnit, I’m out now. I really need to get back to work because staying home everyday is no good for me.

           On my drive to Glendow’s park I think about Molly. She loved this park. She had three birthday parties here and would ask to come here and play every Saturday morning. As I go to sit down, I sit on a piece of bubble gum. Don’t these kids know there’s a trash can right there? I look

over and see this beautiful little girl with her long blonde hair in a ponytail with a sparkly pink bow, and stunning green eyes. She reminds me so much of my little Molly, so full of life. As I sit on the bench, I watch as the little girl falls while climbing the ladder. She cries out for her mother, but to no avail because her mother is a little too busy arguing about finances and whatnot with her husband. After a bit, I walk around the park and up to set of parents who were holding their children’s lunch boxes. They give me a bandage that is yellow with smiley faces on it. I go over to the girl and introduce myself. She smiles as I place the bandaid on the minor cut on the top of her forehead. She thanks me and I return to my seat on the bench.

           Just a few minutes later I walk back over to the little girl who has just finished the monkey bars. “You look hungry” I say. She responds with a big nod and a rub on her tummy. I smile and say to her “there’s a place to get some snacks just across the street, I’m sure your parents wouldn’t mind. I’m a father myself.” Suddenly, there seems to be a mutual father-daughter trust. We begin to walk across the park. At the split in the paved path we choose to walk around the pond, to see the ducks. We cross the street and as we enter the convenience store I see a middle aged lady through the store window. We make direct eye contact and chills fall over me, I know her. The girl picks out two bags of chips and a candy bar. Molly would not have been allowed to have all this sugar at one time. Regardless, I purchase the snacks, and a water for myself. The familiar lady from across the street has made her way to the park now. The little girl and I go to cross the street, and then I suggest that it would be quicker if I just drove us around the park and to the playground. She hesitates at first, but without me saying anything else, she agrees. Molly was raised well enough to know not to accept offers like this from strangers, but this is not Molly.

           We cross the street and walk to my car. The blue respray I got not too long ago is holding strong, but needs a waxing. I open the back seat door opposite to the drivers side, this is just a habit of mine because I liked to keep an eye on Molly whenever she rode with me. She sits down gently in the backseat and is intrigued because of the first generation Ken doll peeking out of the compartment on the door. Tears fill my eyes. “What’s wrong mister?” I look at her and smile, holding back a single tear. “That was Molly’s, my little girl.” She apologizes and places it back where she found it, manners. I tell her that she is welcome to play with any of Molly’s toys that may be laying around, she wouldn’t mind, she was a very generous child. I start the car up and adjust the rear view mirror, watching her as she fixes Ken’s hawaiian shirt. I ask her name, it’s Isabelle. That name rings a bell. I make sure she is buckled up, safety first, and begin to drive.  We take a left and end up on the other side of the park, we continue on the straight road, far from the playground, before Isabelle mutters “mister, where are we going?” I stay silent because she wouldn’t understand.

           We arrive at my house, my first house that I just so happened to buy with Katie, and the one in which my first daughter was born. There is still a swing set and a sandbox set up in the yard, a family home. I walk around the car and open Isabelle’s door. She is crying quietly into her hands, with the Ken doll on the floor. I look at her, sadness consumes me. I understand why she is crying, but I will give her the world, she just has to see it. “Take me home. Please. Please, I want to go home.” I pick her up out of the car, she is too busy crying to fight back. She needs someone who will be there for her right now, that someone is me. I take her inside the house as she continues to cry into my shoulder. I place her down on the couch, lock the doors, and close the blinds. I make her a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, Molly’s favorite, and a glass of milk. I walk over gently to console the crying girl on the couch. “Isabelle honey, I like your bow.” She ignores me. “My little girl got sad sometimes too, but you know what? Whenever that happens I would make her favorite lunch, we would watch her favorite princess movie, and then we would play pretend with her dolls. And you know what? She always felt better after that, what do you say we try it?” She looks up at me with tears streaming down her face, my heart breaks a little, She walks over to the kitchen table and sits in front of the freshly prepared lunch, just staring at it. She cries and cries, until finally starting to eat. I then walk into the kitchen and do the dishes while telling her about dinner with Katie tomorrow. She is clearly disinterested and very upset, but listens. She finishes her lunch, and I take her over the collection of princess movies that I have built up over the past eight years. She chooses Rapunzel, a story of a beautiful princess with incredible long blonde hair, who has been locked away in a tower. As the movie plays I think about Molly, days like this were some of our fondest memories. I feel it in my chest. I miss my daughter so much.

           As the sun is setting the girl begins to cry again. I go over and comfort her, she hugs me, but she resents me. It is quiet in the house but there is no way to avoid it anymore. The dishes are done, the floor has been mopped, and the pictures dusted. I invite her upstairs and she begins to follow me. I walk one step at a time, my heart is beating out of my chest. I walk up the stairs and the girl looks at me with confusion, she’s never seen someone so nervous to walk through their own house. I turn the knob on a door to a room that is just down the hall from mine. It creaks open slowly, and I turn the light on. I look into the barbie filled, pink, glittery room. Isabelle’s eyes light up. I take a deep breath and allow her into the room that has remained untouched for so long. She sees the dolls in the car and the princess crowns. She picks one up and looks at me for approval. I just look at her and smile, this is refreshing.

           We play dolls for a little while, but this cannot go on for too long because it is time for bed. “Okay, well I think that is enough for tonight don’t you? Bedtime kiddo.” A wave of sadness wipes over her and she looks at me with disappointment. I untuck the pink sheets from the bed and allow her to lay down. She won’t even look at me now. I don’t say anything either. She puts her head on the pillow facing away from me. I say “goodnight Isabelle” with all sincerity. She whispers goodnight and then delivers a quiet sob.

           I walk down the hall quietly, even though it doesn’t seem like it because the floorboards sound like a dying cat. I grab my blue toothbrush sitting in the holder. I stare at myself the mirror. I’m not a monster. I’m not a monster. I’m not a monster. I care about this little girl, whole heartedly. As I set my toothbrush down, I knock Molly’s out of the holder and onto the floor. I just look at it and walk back to my room, ready to end this stressful day, but have a great tomorrow with Isabelle. This is my second chance and I am not going to mess this one up.

           I wake up to an empty bed yet again. It’s been almost a month since the divorce and I still wake up in hopes that it was all just a dream. I think I set the record for the messiest divorce of all time. I walk into Molly’s room and she’s not in there. Isabelle. Where is she? I look through the room frantically. Barbie and Ken are lying by their dream car again. I continue my search in the bathroom and downstairs. All of the toothbrushes are in the holder. I walk into the kitchen and there are those dishes. I have one bowl of cereal left. The floor needs to be mopped. Tears fill my eyes. I’ve lost my chance. What do I have to do? I finally found my happiness again and it gets ripped away every time I go to sleep. My daughter is dead, thanks God. My wife divorced me, god’s work. Now this, I am trying to rebuild, to be happy again, and I just keep living the same day over and over again. This is not god’s plan or destiny, this is a curse, this is torture. This universe gave me my entire world in the form of the most two beautiful women on this planet and ripped them both away so quickly. I didn’t have enough time. There wasn’t enough hugs, date nights, movie marathons, road trips, or “I love you’s.” There wasn’t enough memories to be shared or time to be had. Nobody around me truly understands my pain. They only say they do, and the only way for them to truly feel it, is if they go through it for themselves.

           I drive to Glendow’s Park, Molly’s favorite. Everything I ever do will be for you baby. I love you. I remember your last birthday party here, god you were so happy that day. I go to sit down on the bench, avoiding the bubble gum. I observe the parents sitting on the benches surrounding the park. The single mother who needs some tips on when is an appropriate time to try and put a baby to sleep, the couple with the lunches that looks more excited to be there than their own kids, and then there’s the infamous parents. The same parents who let their daughter walk off with a stranger twice without even noticing, but notably the ones who are too worried about work and bills to pay any level of attention to their own daughter. Little Isabelle with the green eyes and sparkly bow is going to fall and scrape her head any minute now. I walk over to the ladder and catch her just before she hits the ground. While her shock continues from her “near death experience” I tell her about the ducks at the pond down the path. I point out that her parents would not notice and that this is a perfect opportunity, then I walk away. After a few hesitant moments I see Isabelle sneak away from the playground. I stand up and trail about twenty feet behind her, trying not to be noticed. We reach the split and just as she starts running over because she sees the ducks, I pick her up and begin to walk briskly back to my car. I tell her that I know who she is and that I am sorry. She begins balling, but I ignore it and toss her into the back seat of my car. I roll the windows up and drive home.

           Before going into the house I instruct her that she is not to talk to anyone and that she must keep her head buried in my shoulder so that she could not be identified. I walk around the car, pick the girl up, and walk into my house. I take her down into the basement, it stays silent for a while. I return to the upstairs without her, I deadbolt the door. I press play on the answering machine to hear “Please leave a message after the beep...hey, its Katie, are we still on for dinner tomorrow? Ron said he’d love to join us, thanks for inviting him by the way. We will be there around five if that’s alright. Anyway this is getting pretty long, and pretty awkward having a conversation with myself. I guess that’s just me, because it’s literally just me. Haha. Okay, love you, bye.” Jesus Katie. I just want to be able to give you that happiness that I once did. Ever since Molly passed nothing has been the same. I am consistently living in today and never tomorrow. I do those dishes and mop the floor once more. The house was never dirty with Katie and Molly here. I think about Isabelle, who is still in the basement. I don’t know what to do, her parents need to learn their lesson, they need to appreciate what they have before it’s gone. I eat a bowl of cereal, surprise, we are out. I listen to that song by Cinderella called “Don’t Know What You Got Till It’s Gone.” That is right, words to live by. Isabelle’s parents need to know what they had because I will not be the only one that is getting tormented by this life. I go down into the basement, pull out a gun, and fire a single bullet. I walk back up the stairs, lock the door, and continue up the steps into the bathroom. This time I knock all of the tooth brushes onto the floor and into the sink. I rinse my face off with cold water but tears continue to stream down my face. I walk past Molly’s room and into my own. I lay down and the silence begins to eat me alive. I did what I had to do. I lost everything.

           I wake up and all that is on my mind is Katie and Molly. I miss them. This empty bed and empty house brings more sadness than I can bear. Yesterday was a mistake. I am a monster. I know how it feels to lose your daughter and I have put somebody else through that pain. I walk into the bathroom and the toothbrushes are in the holder. My heart starts to race. I walk downstairs to see a dirty floor and a sink full of dirty dishes, this is almost a relief. The basement door isn’t locked, good. I check in the basement and there is no sign of anything that has happened.

            I rush to the park and into the playground. I reminisce over Molly’s birthday party and avoid sitting on the pink bubble gum. I see all the typical parents and everything looks the same as it was yesterday. I look up to see that same little girl who I have put through so much and she has no idea. The one with the long blonde ponytail, the pink sparkly bow, and those stunning green eyes who I have seen cry one too many times. She looks over at me and smiles. She falls off of the ladder but I stay seated. After a minute or two she gets up and goes over to the parents with the lunches to get the bandaid herself, almost like she knew. We lock eyes, again exchanging just a smile. After a bit, I stand up and walk away from the playground. I walk pass the pond, still acknowledging the ducks. As I reach the street I see Mrs. Hemming, I give her a nod and she returns the favor. I get into my car and drive home.

           I listen to that voice mail again. “Please leave a message after the beep...hey, its Katie, are we still on for dinner tomorrow? Ron said he’d love to join us, thanks for inviting him by the way. We will be there around five if that’s alright. Anyway this is getting pretty long, and pretty awkward having a conversation with myself. I guess that’s just me, because it’s literally just me. Haha. Okay, love you, bye.” I miss you so much Katie, and I wish it could be tomorrow. I may as well stress eat that last bowl of everlasting cereal. I do the dirty dishes that will never stay clean, and mop the floor that will always have footprints on it. I watch both Molly and Katie’s favorite movie, Mulan. Strong empowered women, who wouldn’t love it? I walk upstairs and into Molly’s room. A wave of emotion comes over me. I stand in the center of the room with tears in my eyes as I begin to pick up toys one by one and put them into boxes. It is time. I spend the night packing up her pink bed set, and all of the toys that she never cleaned up. After a few hours the room is spotless and like I have never seen it before, empty. Just four pink walls with childrens themed furniture. I walk into the bathroom and realize that it is over. I toss the two toothbrushes that aren’t mine into the tiny garbage can next to the sink. I walk back into my room and sit on the bed. No contemplation tonight, I’m just going to go to sleep.

           I wake up and I feel refreshed for the first time in a long time. I walk down the hall and look into Molly’s room. Everything is packed up into the boxes. I rush down the steps to see a freshly mopped kitchen floor, no dishes in the sink, and I am officially out of cereal. If this all happened yesterday does that make today tomorrow?

           I listen to my one unheard voicemail saying “Please leave your message after the beep... Hey it’s Katie, again. Sorry for the last minute planning but Ron can’t make it today so is there any chance we could make it a lunch date at your place for just us? If there is any problems just call me back I guess, otherwise I’ll be over this afternoon.” Just as I finish listening I hear a knock at my door. It is Katie, she has soup and salads for lunch. I give her a more than friendly hug, and she smiles telling me that “nothing has changed.” We sit down and talk for awhile. About Molly and the divorce. We reflect on our days with our daughter, how unforgettable they were, and how heartbreaking they are now. We talk about the day I proposed to her, how beautiful it was, and how we were supposed to be the ones that made it. We continue to talk about our life together but the conversation begins to die down. I excuse myself from the table and go upstairs to Molly’s room. I pick up a single barbie doll that has not been boxed and take it downstairs to Katie. She begins to sob. I hug her, she hugs me, and between us is essence of our daughter. The immutable love we will always have for each other and our family.

           I have had everything that ever mattered to me ripped out of my arms in a matter of months. I lost the love of my life and the purpose of my life. I am still in the recovery process but I feel as though a weight has been lifted off of my shoulders. I feel free. It’s finally tomorrow.

 
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