{image is one of my favorite photos of my dad and Brooke together. They have their arms behind each other’s backs and are both smiling.}

Not long after we moved into the apartment complex, we ran into a young lady from Brooke’s school. She couldn’t have been sweeter, and was thrilled to find out that Brooke had moved into her home.

When we heard that she rode the bus to school, we offered her a ride. Eventually, we fell into a routine. She’d text the night before to find out what time we’d be leaving (the determining factor being a stop at Dunks vs breakfast at home) and then meet us at the car the next morning. She came with us nearly every day and having her along was a delight, both for Brooke and for me.

A couple of months ago, she and her family moved out of the apartments. Although they’re just down the road, it’s not really feasible to drive together anymore. Our mornings have been appreciably quieter … and not nearly as much fun Until today.

Last week, J texted to ask if we could set up a time for her mom to drop her off here in the morning, just so that she could ride to school with us. Brooke couldn’t have been happier.

And so it was that she texted last night to ask what time, that we decided it was a Dunks morning (just for old time’s sake), and that we got into the same fight we had every time we went to Dunks for a year, in which she tried to give me $2 for her 68 cent donut, and I refused to take it.

This morning, our ‘fight’ escalated into utter hilarity. She tried to enlist Brooke’s help. I told Brooke that her mission was to avoid getting duped into taking the money. I gave her a script: “Nice try, J!” which she thought was the funniest thing she’d ever heard. And thus we spent the ride from Dunks to school engaged in a triangulated play fight over $2 (for a 68 cent donut).

Eventually, she got serious. “I just want to pay you back,” she said.

“Okay, kiddo,” I said, “in all seriousness, I’ll tell you how you can.”

And that’s when my voice became my father’s. The next words I spoke were literally his. I’ve heard them so many times over the years that they have become a script for me, just as mine have become a script for Brooke.

“If you really want to pay me back,” I said, “then when you are an adult, and a kid tries to give you money, don’t let them. That’s how you can pay me back for your 68 cent donut. Do the same for someone else. Okay?”

The last two years have been hard in myriad ways (okay, really hard), but without my dad and his boundless generosity, they would have been nearly impossible. When it became clear that I wasn’t going to be able to return to work and I was terrified about how to make our finances work, my dad said the following words to me:

Jessie, I will not let you sink.

You hear me?

I. Will. Not. Let. You. Sink.

It took me right back to the kitchen counter of my childhood. To that moment when he hoisted me up so that we were (nearly) eye to eye and said,

“Things between your mother and me haven’t been easy lately. You know that. And sometimes I get angry and I need to walk away. At some point, I might even leave for a night or two. (He never did.) But you need to understand … “

It took me back to when he grabbed my shoulders and clenched his jaw to fight the tears. To when I watched the vein in his temple throb and had to look away from his eyes because they were too much.

To when he said, “I need you to understand that no matter what happens, I will always be back for you. You hear me, kiddo?”

To when he looked straight into my eyes as he said, slowly, deliberately, “I. Will. Always. Be. Back. For. You.”

True to his word, he has always been there. Always. Through all the crap of the teenage years, the angst of a college journey that strayed far from its prescribed path, my twenties, my thirties, now. There’s been no time at which I turned to find him and he wasn’t there, ready and eager to help.

“Jessie,” he’s said again and again, “when you came into the world, I knew I was in it FOREVER.”

And so many times I’ve responded, “I don’t know how I can ever repay you.”

Enter the script:

“If you really want to pay me back,” he says, “then do it for yours. That’s how you can repay me. Do the same for yours.”

I don’t know how on earth I got so lucky to have this man as my dad, but every day I feel like I won the damned lottery. Not just because he’s been there to love and support us in so many ways, but because he’s still teaching us how to love and support each other. I can imagine no greater legacy.

Happy birthday, Papa.

The day is yours, but the real gift is ours.

10 thoughts on “payback

  1. Beautiful words and thanks for your amazing Papa.

    It must be very reassuring to know he has your back.

    I wish him the happiest of birthdays and send love to you all.

  2. How many days you’ve left me in tears – good tears, necessary tears. SO appropriate that he was born on the equinox! Thank you, again and again, for sharing your family with the world – you are my example to follow with my own. ❤

  3. Happy Birthday to your Dad!! What an incredible human being he truly is…thanks for always sharing a piece of him with all of us❤

  4. I have no words…just tears. Please thank your dad for letting you share his part in your family’s journey. His actions make this world A brighter place.

  5. Hi Jessie,

    The second attempt, hope it works this time.

    I didn’t want to post publicly to protect Brooke from embarrassment more than myself. Like I said I have not been on your facebook stream for a long time because Facebook altered the permissions without my knowledge.

    I hope I’m not being too invasive with this comment, and I certainly don’t want to upset anyone.

    One of the things that stood out to me when I saw a recent photo of Brooke, was the number of open scabs and blemishes on her arms, which looks a lot like she is picking at them a lot. I recognise this because I do it a lot myself, but in my case, it’s mostly my legs. It is something that frustrates and upsets me a lot, because even though I have an IQ of 145, and have recently started doing a degree in psychology/neuroscience (specialising in autism), I cannot stop myself from doing it.

    Its hard to explain, but I will be desperately shouting at myself internally not to do it, yet I still carry on and pick at any scabs or imperfections till my legs end up bleeding and sore. I will not go swimming or wear shorts because of it. It makes you feel angry with yourself, because you hate the fact that you cannot stop, and that can sometimes translate into self-hate for being ‘stupid’.

    If I have misunderstood the significance of the scabs, or am simply being out of order talking about it I sincerely apologise, I really don’t want to upset anyone.

    If I am right, then I wish I could give you advice on how to deal with it, but I cannot even stop myself never mind help anyone else. What I can do though is to ask you to tell Brooke that she is not alone, there are many others just like her compulsively picking at themselves. I would like to tell her not to be too hard on herself, I am 54 and still cannot stop myself despite knowing its unhealthy, so she should not hate herself for it. And most of all that I understand, that I truly know how it is to be out of control of your actions.

    Again if I am out of order, I apologise.

    Best wishes to you and all my Love to Brooke,


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