Martin stared at the planner he held in his hand. Dale had given it to him for Christmas in, he quickly flipped back to the cover, 2008. She thought it was the greatest gift ever. He remembered opening it as she watched him through her big brown eyes. Sitting in excited anticipation of his reaction. Would he like it?
He remembered thinking, “What am I going to do with a calendar book?” as he exposed the planner from beneath the red and white Santa paper that concealed it.
Martin worked on the assembly line at Ford. The routine rarely if ever changed. He’d arrive at the plant at 6:30am and head into the locker room to pull on his coveralls and work boots. Next, he’d trek to the staff cafeteria and put his lunch bag in one of the employee fridges. Finally, he’d make his way out onto the floor and arrive at his post with about five minutes to spare.
When the whistle sounded Steve, his overnight counterpart would step aside and he’d take his place. His task, complete the same four welds on the door assembly before the line shuttled the next door along. Repeat over and over and over again, break for lunch, and then repeat all afternoon until the whistle signalled the end of the day.
Calendars, planners and organizers weren’t much use when every day was like groundhog day but with Dale’s eyes fixed on him it was only fitting to make her feel like it was the best gift he’d ever received. It was everything to see his daughter smile in delight at his approval. Her reaction was the real Christmas gift.
Over the years he’d often recalled that little girl’s smile. He didn’t know where the calendar had gone, it was lost much like that happy little girl who’d given it to him all those years earlier. He wondered where that girl had gone. Martin didn’t understand the ghosts that would haunt her as she grew up, instead choosing to believe she lacked the will or desire to control her urges, or stop her self-destructive behaviours. The last time they spoke he scolded her for whatever trouble she was in and warned her about coming around unless she’d got her shit together.
Now as he looked around her apartment, forced to sift through the remains of a life interrupted, the demons he’d refused to acknowledge filled the empty spaces of her tiny apartment with darkness. Beneath the shattered fragments that exposed his girl’s pain lay a planner. He recognized it immediately as the one she’d given him all those years ago. He leafed through the empty pages until he came across a single entry written in the neatest print of a seven-year-old girl.
July 14th, 2008: Happy Birthday Daddy, I love you. The “i” in birthday dotted with an oversized heart.
He’d never even opened it back then, but now as his lip began to quiver and tears fell from his eyes he couldn’t look away. If he could only see that smile from a Christmas so long ago…
They say losing a child is the worse pain anyone can bear, but he knew this wasn’t true. It was worse knowing that maybe, just maybe if you’d tried to understand, to help, instead of being too blind to notice.
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