By Kaya Costom
Lila held the photograph in her hand. A wooden frame surrounded her one and only precious memory with her dad. In neat block letters the words “I’m so proud of you” were etched out. She wished more than anything that her dad had written them. Instead, Lila had. She said it was just so that she could rip it to pieces, hoping that in the process she would rip her feelings too. She never brought herself to do it. She shoved the photograph back in the trunk under her bed. Inside that trunk was a box full of emotions, or more specifically Lila’s secrets. Shredded pieces of notebook diaries explaining how all she wanted was to have a dad who was proud of her flooded the old trunk. Lila stomped down the stairs extra loud, creating a big fuss so that her dad might check to see if everything was all right.
“What was I expecting?” Lila murmured under her breath. “He wouldn’t come check on me to save his own life,” she commented stepping off of the old winding staircase.
Lila sat down on the windowsill. Her eyes deeply fixated on all of the happy families. Fathers racing their kids into school. Dads lifting chubby cheeked toddlers onto their shoulders, dads who cared. For a fraction of a second, Lila saw her dad lifting her onto her shoulders and happily walking her to school, but then it was all over. Lila walked to school alone, nothing out of the ordinary. There never was, there never will be, she decided. Lila drifted into her past. She thought about the time when she had begged her dad to come and watch her soccer game. He didn’t even look away from the television screen.
“I don’t have time.”
Hours passed, (sluggishly though), in the fifth-grade hall. Lila couldn’t help feel the suffocation of her thoughts closing in on her. “Why doesn’t he care about me?” she thought over and over again. “Why aren’t I good enough?” She knew if she let her guard down, and let go of the rage inside of her, it would never stop pouring out.
“Lila, what’s wrong with you today” Miss Grechel beckoned. Lila felt heat rise up inside of her. She was so filled with anger that there was simply no room left for kindness. So without thinking she stood up stiffly and shot miss Grechel a look full of daggers. Then, Lila did something she had never dreamed of doing. She spat on the floor. Thirty jaws dropped as tension rose between the two. No kid dared look Miss Grechel in the eye. Only quiet murmurs broke the silence. When Lila’s sanity returned she was already being dragged down the hall and thrown into the principal’s office.
Lila looked at the principal pleadingly. A look that said, “Please don’t punish me” without saying anything at all. Lila felt her world fall apart as the principal picked up the phone.
“Who do you want me to call,” the principal asked? Lila flicked ideas through her mind.
“My dad,” she said grimly, knowing he wouldn’t have the time to come. He never did.
Ten agonizing minutes passed. When Lila heard the faint creaking of the floorboards nearby she held her breath. It was him, and when she saw the look of pure disappointment on his face, she instantly wished it wasn’t. He hasn’t earned the right to judge me, Lila thought.
There was total silence. Feelings of anger, shame and guilt filled Lila as her dad just stared at her. It was only for a few seconds, but it seemed as if he had looked at her like that since the day Lila was born.
“You have about one second to explain yourself young lady,” he said gritting his teeth.
I spat on the floor,” Lila growled nearly spitting out each word.
“This is so typical of you,” he said almost laughing. Lila was irate. He had pumped too much air into her and she was about to explode.
“How do you know what is typical of me… You don’t even know me? I mean, where were you when I played all of my soccer games or when I won the honorary student award? Where were you when I had my first day of school or when I tried my first apple? Where were you when I spoke my first word, dad.”
His scolding eyes and gritted teeth softened. He looked stunned and disappointed, but this time not at Lila. She felt a swarm of tears roll down her cheek. More than anything, she wanted to bury her head into her dad’s chest, but he beat her to it. He gently wrapped his arms around her and enveloped her in a hug. Trembling, He said;
“I’m so sorry, I do love you with all of my heart. It’s just that ever since your mother died, I’m not good at expressing it.” It was as if the weight of a thousand bricks was lifted off of Lila’s shoulders. She never wanted to let go.
That night as Lila lay in bed the words Lila’s dad had spoken floated above her. They stayed there, circling above her like badges of pride. Lila reached under her bed and pulled out the photo. Something was different. In her dad’s neat handwriting, the very same words, “ I’m so proud of you,” were copied.