75: Void in My Heart

75: Void in My Heart

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just for Preteens

Void in My Heart

To live in hearts we leave behind
Is not to die.

~Thomas Campbell

I had vivid dreams about my dad the night before my world came crashing down. He and my mother had divorced when I was eight years old, and I dreamed about being with him at least once per night, sometimes more. I would wake up in the morning warm and comfortable, wrapped up like a human burrito in my soft down blanket.

But this morning, strips of warm sunlight slipped through my blinds, projecting bright, perfectly straight white lines onto my yellow-painted walls. I was suddenly confused. Wasn’t it Wednesday? I was wondering why it seemed so bright before it was even time to wake up for school. I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes, threw the covers off and glanced at the clock on my nightstand. It read 11:43 a.m.

I felt my heart do a back flip in my chest. I had made it all the way through the sixth grade without any absences or tardiness, a personal achievement that I was proud of. Mr. Stanley was surely planning to reward me at the end of the year for my perfect attendance record, and now it had been ruined.

I called for my mother as I angrily bolted down the stairs. “Mom? Mom! I’m so late!” I called, quickly peeking into her bedroom. She wasn’t in there, and her bed was made. Where was she? “Mom! It’s Wednesday! Why didn’t you wake me up for school?” I pulled my hair back into a messy ponytail and searched the rest of the house.

Finally, out of breath, I went into the kitchen, where my mother sat in a chair, staring like a zombie at the wall, her chin resting in her hands. Two boxes of tissues, one empty, sat on the table, and crumpled, used tissues littered the wooden tabletop.

My mom looked terrible. She was crying, and in that moment, she looked nearly ten years older than she had when I saw her the day before. My disappointment about spoiling my perfect attendance record turned into anxiety and dread that something far more serious had happened.

“Mom? What’s wrong?” It came out in a whisper. “What — what happened?”

She looked up quickly; I had startled her. She gazed at me as I stood there in my pajamas, an unnerving look of anguish in her eyes. She opened and closed her mouth a few times, but was clearly unable to find the right words. Finally, she rubbed her eyes and found her voice.

“Cassie,” she began, speaking slowly, “I have something very important to tell you. Please sit down.”

My heart pounded so hard that I could hear it in my ears and feel the blood pumping through my body. I took a seat across from her. She took my hands and held them in hers. I felt her shaking, and began trembling myself. The anticipation nearly killed me.

“Cassie, your father became very sick last night, out of nowhere...” she began. “He didn’t make it, Cass. The doctors at the hospital tried so hard to save him. They tried so, so hard, but...”

That was all I needed to hear before I lost it. I couldn’t see straight or think clearly. I jumped out of my chair and flipped it over. The heavy wood made a loud sound when it hit the tile floor. I kicked the wall and cried out in pain. I screamed, fell to my knees and sobbed in disbelief. Random questions that had no answers flooded my brain.

What about our weekends together?

What about the museum trip we had planned for this Saturday?

What about our ginormous rubber band ball, or our fake air guitar band, or our road trips together?

What about father-daughter day in gym class?

I looked at my mother and tried to compose myself. A few minutes later, when she felt I was calm enough to listen, she explained that he had a heart attack in the night. I thought about how I had never seen him come down with more than a head cold. I thought about how life could change in an instant.

The weeks that followed passed in a blur of anguish and tears. The funeral came and went, our relatives visited and left, we ate all of the food that our neighbors and friends graciously brought us when we didn’t have time or energy to cook. Eventually it was time for me to go back to school, where my teachers and friends were kind and thoughtful, and did their best to comfort me during the most difficult time of my life.

Growing up and being a kid without a father was at first impossible. After a few years it was difficult, but I learned to manage. By high school, I adjusted. My mom took me to the museum one day, and I added to our rubber band ball for years, until it was nearly as big as my head.

I am older now, and while the void has remained, it is getting better. My questions have changed with time. What about my wedding: who will walk me down the aisle? What about my children getting to know their grandfather? How would my life be different if he were still here? There are no answers, but one thing is for sure: Dad is with me every single day in my heart and thoughts, and I will love him for as long as I live.

I will always miss my daddy, but it is easier now to feel grateful for the short time I was given with him, rather than dwelling on the fact that he is gone.

~Cassie Goldberg

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