Prose by Ben Callahan |||

She turned the head of every nurse in the maternity wing the moment she was born. Not because of her looks—although, she was about as cute as human babies can be. It was her lungs. She screamed so loud, as if to say, Hey people, I’m here!”

When she was two and a half, she’d wait by the door for her Dad to come home from work. She wanted to get out of the house and she learned pretty quickly that, if she caught him first thing, he would take her little hand and turn right around for a walk around the block. What she really wanted was to see all the other people out for a stroll or heading someplace important. She would wave the way toddlers wave and offer them the same smile she used on her Dad to get out of the house in the first place.

At six, it was clear that she could make friends with anyone. There were the kids at school—all of whom wanted to sit next to her at lunch. There were also the kids on her street who all met up at a park behind one of the houses at the end of her cul-de-sac. Her mom would let her go as long as one of the older Fisher girls were willing to go. They sometimes babysat her when her parents had an evening work function. These after-school meet-ups were her favorite because there were often other kids she hadn’t met before. Inevitably, she would find a way to include these new kids in the games she and her friends were playing. For her, seeing kids alone was unacceptable. There was a perfectly fine game happening and games were always better with more people.

In middle school, things got a little tougher. Not all of the kids wanted to be her friend. In fact, some were straight-up not nice. Oddly, they were rarely mean to her, they always focused on one of a few select kids. And they always picked things about these kids that couldn’t be changed. The color of their hair or the size of their nose or something. Because she was friends with most of the kids this upset her quite a bit, sometimes even to the point of being sick. When she stuck up for her classmates, these bullies would direct their anger toward her. There were a few days she went home in tears. On these days, her Dad knew just how to respond—“Wanna go for a walk” he would ask? And she always said yes. And it always worked.

High school was like an inflated version of middle school. She still connected with people easily, her peers were naturally drawn to her. Ironically, while most of her friends disliked pretty much all the adults in their lives, she found comfort in conversations with those she thought of as more mature.” Mostly, those were friends of her parents and a few select teachers. As a junior, she was involuntarily elected to be the President of the French Club. Deep down she knew this was more on the merit of her kindness than her pronunciation, but she was proud that the other kids felt she could handle the role. It was during these years that a few of her many friendships developed much deeper than the others. While she still had the ability to easily move between the different friend-groups that were forming, she mostly spent her time with two other girls—both one year behind her in school. These girls seemed unafraid to talk about the stuff that really mattered to them, which was what she craved. On the weekends they were always together. They would hang out at her house on Friday evenings after football. Staying up late talking, dreaming. And Dad would make them chocolate milkshakes—he always tried to convince them to have chocolate malts. Why have a shake when you can have a malt?”, he would ask.

Selecting a college was uniquely difficult for her. Because she was the first of these three girls to have to decide, she felt more pressure than she guessed they would. In the end, her parents talked her into a private school just a few hours away. It seemed like a good distance from home—close enough that she could get back for weekends if she needed to, but far enough that everyone would understand if she didn’t make it home regularly.

College was not an inflated version of high school. People there seemed to have (or at least, to pretend to have) more confidence. Like they knew where they were going, what they were going to do. This intimidated her because she definitely did not know where she was going or what she was going to do. This upset her mother greatly. Her Dad said, Of course you don’t know yet! Give it some time.” While she was applying to schools, it was clear to her that she needed to work with people. Some had suggested social work, others communication. A few even counseled her to think about politics. She had tried to pick a major, but had ended up undeclared. How could she make a decision when the choices were as broad as social work or poli-sci?

Four years later she graduated with a degree in Psychology, hoping to become a counselor. On the day of her graduation her Dad had a stroke which left him mostly incapable of taking care of himself. He never got to congratulate her. It made for a memorable day.

Last month her husband turned fifty. Half a century. Fifty was like a stake in the ground making it very clear to everyone that, even though she was six years his junior, they would never have kids.

Today was a beautiful day, so she was going to visit her Dad. When her Mom passed, it seemed best to put him in a place where he’d be well taken care of. For the first three months, she visited him every week. These days the best she could do was once a month. The home he was in had a beautiful garden which she liked to wheel him through. Most days, they would make the loop two or three times, but today, she was thinking they could go for four.

She walked down the long hallway and knocked on his door. It was usually propped open, but not today. She heard shuffling. A caretaker opened the door just enough to peek out and smile broadly at her. We’re just getting dressed,” she said. Wait another quick minute?” She nodded and stepped back.

Suddenly, a moment of deja vu. She was waiting for her father by the door. She felt it more than she remembered it. How the sun would blind her for a moment when she first stepped out, but it was OK because Dad had her by the hand. How the wind would catch her hair just after the second step down from their porch. The smiles and waves of the passers by.

And now, she was doing the leading, Dad would get the looks.

The door knob turned. The caretaker wheeled him out and paused, expecting to be relieved. As she looked at him, sitting silent, staring directly at her, she could tell he knew her.

She wiped her eyes and said, Wanna go for a walk?”

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