She didn’t realize I was referring to my own feelings about her leaving.
“No, but I’ve moved away before. It can be scary, but when I moved here to Kansas from Oklahoma, I met some really great people who changed my life. Some amazing things happened. I don’t regret any of it. For one, if I hadn’t moved, I wouldn’t be here with you right now.”
Of course, she didn’t really get it. She wasn’t supposed to.
“You wouldn’t be eating peanut butter and jelly.”
“Right…yeah.” I grinned. “Just remember that sometimes, good can come out of things that seem bad or scary at first.”
“Like my arm? How I’m missing half? Someday, I’ll be happy about it?”
I had to think about how to respond to that.
Unable to really answer her question, I simply answered, “I saw the way you play baseball. You should be very proud of yourself.”
In typical fashion, Rose suddenly jumped off the seat and turned to Genia. “Can I play a little longer?”
She ran off toward the jungle gym.
We watched her quietly for several minutes while Genia packed up the cooler. At one point, Rose was standing at the bottom of the monkey bars, looking up. She was watching another girl climb. It broke my heart because she looked like she wanted to do it so badly.
I got up and ran over to her. “You want some help?”
I lifted her up as she grasped the first bar with her right hand. She let herself hang, and when she started to lose strength, I’d balance her up for a bit before moving her along to the next bar. She’d hang for as long as her one little arm could sustain on each one. We did the monkey bars like this a few times until she tired of it.
“What did you think?”
She shrugged her shoulders. “It wasn’t all that.”
I bent my head back in laughter at her response. “It was more fun when you thought you couldn’t do it, huh?”
When she giggled, it caused a dull ache inside of my chest.
Genia waved her hand at us. “We’d better get going, honey.”
The sun shined into Rose’s big brown eyes as she looked up at me. “I don’t want to go.”
It pained me to say, “I know, but you have to listen to your mom.”
Feeling defeated, I walked ever so slowly with Rose back to the bench where Genia and Evangeline were waiting.
Rose was drinking some water when I pulled Genia aside.
“There’s something I’d like to give you for her before you leave. How can I get it to you?”
“What is it?”
“It’s a letter and a family heirloom. If you ever decide to tell her, I’d like her to have it.”
“I can drop by alone to pick it up sometime this week before we leave town.”
“Thank you. I really appreciate it.”
Rose ran to a recycling bin to throw out her water. When she returned, she waved her little hand and said, “Well…bye.” As if her leaving right then wasn’t about to devastate our world.
Genia lingered, knowing that we would need more than just a casual goodbye.
“Can I have a hug?” I asked. Without waiting for her response, I knelt down as she walked toward me and into my arms without hesitation.
Please be careful, Rose.
Before finding out about Rose, I never truly vocalized my prayers. Now, I prayed every single night, asking God to watch over her. Maybe I never truly believed in God until Rose. She was my first living proof of his miracles—the personification of love. Maybe for me, God was love.
She smelled liked peanut butter and fresh air. Burying my nose in her pigtail, I tried to burn her scent into memory while praying for the tears stinging my eyes to just go away. I didn’t want to scare her. As much as I was holding back, there was another part of me that had the urge to just blurt out, “I’m your Daddy.” I’d always thought the love I had for Evangeline was the strongest kind; it didn’t compare to my love for Rose, which seemed infinite.
She was the true love of my life.
Pursing my lips together to grab my composure, I cherished the last seconds of our hug before pulling away.
Evangeline hadn’t said a word in a while. She surprised me when she asked, “Can I have one, too?”
Rose’s back was facing me, so all I could see was Evangeline as she shut her eyes so tightly to fend off the tears. When she released Rose, she turned around ever so quickly to wipe her eyes before anyone could see.
“Take care,” Genia said as she took Rose by the hand, leading her to the parking lot.
Evangeline and I stood frozen, watching every last movement they made until Rose disappeared from sight into the car.
Knowing that they would be driving by our spot again in order to exit the lot, I stayed in place. When the green Subaru passed, Rose waved at us one final time from the backseat. I smiled at her, but then a second later when she was gone, the tears finally came. Evangeline buried her face in my chest, and we both let out everything we’d been holding in.
When I released her, I wiped the tears from her eyes and said, “She’ll come back to us someday. I know it. They’ll tell her.”
Sniffling, she cried out, “What if she hates us?”
“Then, we’ll explain everything the best we can.”