When she was six years old, I remember both of us standing in the street outside our house, looking at her birthday gift. A beautiful, brand new bicycle lay basking in the pale sunlight, the golden lustrous, metallic gleam of its body glowing soothingly on that summer morning in May. She stood transfixed; one tiny, petite hand clasping my index finger tightly, as she looked at the bicycle, almost petrified. “Where are the wheels on the side Daddy?” she asked me, her meek voice quivering and struggling to hide her anxiety. “Love, you’re a big girl now” I said, kissing her quietly on her forehead. As she warily clambered onto the bicycle seat, she looked at me; eyes swimming with tears but not a drop on her flawlessly, white cheeks. “Daddy, you won’t let go, will you?” she asked, while gazing continuously at me. “Never” I said, as I smiled at her, knowing perfectly well that sooner rather than later I would have to break my word.
Two days of skinned knees and bruised elbows later, she had finally learnt to find her feet. As she pedaled, smiling as the gentle breeze ruffled through her hair, I slowly let my hands slip off the bicycle. Unaware, she kept pedaling and then, she turned back. Her expression immediately turned from one of immense peace to morbid paranoia. Deserted by balance, abandoned by composure, her bicycle swerved dangerously to the left and she collided against a brick wall. Horrified, I sprinted by her side, as I saw the tears from two days ago flowing freely from her innocent green eyes. “Why did you do it daddy?” she asked, life’s first lesson in betrayal clearly shaking her steadfast beliefs in the ways of the world. I told her “Until you learn to let go, my love, you, I and us will never find peace or purpose.”
When she was 16 years old, I stood outside her bedroom, one day after her birthday. I gently knocked on the locked door, and heard a gentle click in return. The door quietly swung open, revealing a dark room, dimly lit by pale lights. The bed sheets lay strewn all over the place, as she stood by the door, traces of tears all over her face. “Why did he do this Daddy?” she asked me, her voice quivering like that day ten years ago. Gently letting my finger wipe her tears, I said “Love, you’re a big girl now.” I kissed her forehead and she hugged me and cried, broken emotions and gasps trying to soothe what was dying inside. I slowly slipped my hands onto her and clasped it, as our fingers reveled in each other’s familiar, warm touch. “Daddy, you won’t ever let go, will you?” she asked, her probing, green-eyed gaze searching the depth of my soul for any lies. “Never” I said, as I smiled, knowing perfectly well that my body was aging faster than my child’s.
Just as my eyes silently moved about her room, they immediately rested on a pile of papers on her bed. Instinctively, my fingers reached for one of them, as I opened the folded sheet to reveal an almost illegible, scrawny handwriting. Seeing the words “love” and “forever” repeated in every alternating sentence, there were no doubts in my head as to who these letters were from. I reached into my pocket, and pulled out my cigarette lighter. I flicked it on, and let the flame consume the paper; as the room grew a little brighter. As the black, carbon remnants disappeared into thin air; she looked at me and asked “Why did you do that daddy?” I just returned her gaze and repeated that lesson from a decade ago “Until you learn to let go, my love, you, I and us will never find peace or purpose.”
Two days after her 23rd birthday, I think she received the biggest birthday gift of her life. Her mellow, green eyes shone ever so bright; her enchanting, white wedding gown looked like it had been dipped in moonlight. Her laugh echoed in every corner of the church, her smile was the centre of the universe’s rapt attention. Of all the times I had told her to keep her tears at bay, I couldn’t keep mine away as they moistened my eyes. She walked up to me, as she saw me overwhelmed; she put one arm around me and asked “Why are you crying Daddy?” I fondly kissed her forehead, and said “Love, you’re a big girl now.” She smiled in relief, her beauty in the world, unparalleled. She held my hands together in hers and said “Daddy, you won’t let go, will you?” I used every ounce of restraint to stop from bursting into tears, as I managed to utter “Never.” In the midst of this atmosphere of harmony and tranquility, I knew I had lied because starting tonight, she would also be another man’s responsibility.
As I walked her down the aisle, I could see him standing at the end of the hall. She took tiny, nervous steps; just like when a bicycle stood waiting for her all those years ago. As I reached the end, I saw him take a few steps forward. I touched the silky, ebony coloured, tailored tuxedo he was wearing, gently squeezing his arm to try and make him feel the concoction of emotions bubbling inside my head. As he smiled at me, I raised my hand and slowly pulled off my wedding ring from my finger. As his expression changed to one of perplexed amusement, I handed him it to him. The weight of loyalty, the burden of responsibility would now be his. Today, I would give away the last fragment of a memory I could never make peace with. She looked at me in bewilderment, and incredulously asked “Why did you do that daddy?” I let my thumb caress her beautiful cheek, as I said “Until you learn to let go, my love, you, I and us will never find peace or purpose.”
At the age of 27, I remember standing outside her bedroom door. Same dusty walls, same musty floor. I knocked, and heard the familiar click I remembered from 11 years ago. She opened the door once more, dim room, heavy gloom hanging heavy inside it. The bed sheet was tidy though, as she stood in silence by the door. Black, blue, red and purple marks scarred her face and marred her beautiful skin; she sobbed and breathed heavily, like she was breaking from within. “Why did he do this daddy?” she asked me, the same question, wrapped with the weight of a million emotions. “Love, you’re a big girl now” I told her, as I gently brushed my lips against every scar on the realms of her skin. I could see her twitch in pain every time her hair fell over her face; so I brushed my fingers through her hair, holding her in a warm embrace. “Daddy, you won’t ever let go will you?” she asked me, breaking into exasperated tears. “Never,” I immediately quipped, despite knowing I had let her fall willingly, into a wife beater’s grip.
I let my hand slip over her hand, as it touched the wedding ring I gave her. I let my fingers grasp it, as I pulled it off her fingers. I put the ring in my right hand and asked her to walk with me. I helped her up as she rested her arm on my shoulder, hobbling on one foot on the cold marble floor. I opened the bathroom door as she let out dull moans and leaned against the wall. I walked right in, making sure her eyes were on me; as I stood right above the toilet. As she stared aghast, I dropped the ring into the toilet, as a faint clang shook both our hearts. One ring would flush down two memories now a distinct part of our past. Still numb from what I had done, she asked “Daddy, why did you do it?” Somehow, I felt she knew the answer even before I told her. “Until you learn to let go, my love, you, I and us will never find peace or purpose.”
At the age of 36, I remember both of us sitting on a bed facing the window on the street. The same street where 30 years ago, our little lessons all began. A saline drip lay attached to the bed’s base, the black, purple, blue marks from nine years ago, etched deeper and darker into her face. “Why did this happen daddy?” she asked him, with a hollow, resigned expression on her face. For the first time, in so many years, I did not have an answer to this.
She let her cold hands slide over mine and said “I’m a big girl now daddy,” gently rubbing my fingers against hers. In that moment, after 36 years, we finally found peace within the definitions of a curse. “Daddy, you won’t ever let go, will you?” her voice now reduced to a faint whisper. “Never” I said, as I finally broke, the floodgates within finally opened. “But you have to let go, daddy” she smiled at me, as her hand pulled out the drip attached to her vein. I looked on in terror, as the words in my throat died as quickly as they came. “Why did you do this love?” I asked, faltering for breaths; everything around me now slowly crumbling. “Until you learn to let go, daddy, you, I and us will never find peace or purpose.”
For the rest of the night we sat and we talked, about 30 years worth of memories. Of lines crossed and time lost, in the depths of our insecurities. At three in the morning she took that one breath, for which I spent an entire lifetime in dread. But today, I live my life in peace because she finally understood everything I’d said. The only thing that hurts me now is emptiness which I alone, have to nurse. All until that one day, when I learn to let go too, and find my purpose.