The Years I Watched

I grew up in a family of military men, so when I turned eighteen there was no question of what I was going to do.  I enrolled in college and then the military.  It was simple.  I never had to make too many decisions but it also made me feel powerless.  Some people get a gun in their hands and they feel like they ruled the world.  I had no choice but to hold the gun, so it didn’t give me the rush.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret it.  I fought for our country and that’s something to be proud of.  I was honored to be able to and it was the most eye opening experience of my life.  Also the most important.  It wasn’t important because I saved people or helped the cause but because this is where I met Morley.

She was beautiful, stunning, had long brown hair that I only ever saw when it was out of it’s mandatory bun.  She had perfectly tan skin and she was a fast friend, and a faster lover.

It wasn’t long before things got serious but we didn’t do anything about it because of our special situation of being in a different country and having the responsibilities that we did.  Nevertheless, we got married once when we were both home and I got the most important title a man could,   her husband.  And she became my wife.

I was still working for the army but we decided to settle in Tennessee.  We had a tiny little house, with a tiny little yard and very soon after, we welcomed a tiny little baby.  Charlotte Quinn.  I held her like she was the most delicate thing in the world, and I promised her that nothing but happiness and kindness was expected of her.  She would choose her own path.  Which she did, without me.

When Charlie turned two, I had to go back to Afghanistan.  I did have the choice but my wife and I knew it was important and so we made the decision that I would only go for eight months.  But at month four, a few people showed up on our door step, on Charlie’s door step, to deliver a letter to her and her mother explaining that Daddy wasn’t coming home.

I had never thought that I wouldn’t grow old with my wife or watch my children grow up.  It was on my path, it was expected.  Dying was never part of my plan until I was old and worn out, and even then I would wonder if my time would ever come.

My wife and daughter survived, no matter how long it took them to realize that they could, they did.  And I got to watch my little girl grow.  That’s right, I could see them, and I could have emotions, and I never missed a thing.

Charlie turned five and my wife wasn’t quite sure how to send her off to kindergarten.  It was like it was college already.  She was hustling in circles getting lunch packed and put in a little pink backpack as Charlie sat on the stairs playing with her shoe laces not quite understanding the concept of the “bunny ears.”  On Fridays I would watch her march around in a little blue sash with her girl scout troop and once a year go door to door selling cookies.  Not a single person turned her down.

On her sixth birthday she opened up her first American girl doll.  It was practically the size of her because she was always very small.  She named it Kelly and Kelly made up for the sister she never had.  I watched her run around the yard making crowns of dandelions and little fairy houses with sticks and leaves, doll at her side.  Kelly went on every vacation and had her own suitcase waiting next to Charlie’s each time.

When she was seven, there was a father daughter dance with girl scouts from all over the area.  It broke my heart that I didn’t get to slip her feet into her little white sandals, give her her first corsage, or have her step on my toes when it was time to dance.  I was however very thankful that her uncle never let her feel as though she was left out without a dad.

At eight, I watched her close the door as her mother walked out with her first date.  She was alone with the baby sitter and stood there with her own bouquet of flowers that the man gave to her; identical to her mothers.  I don’t quite remember when my wife stopped wearing her wedding ring. It happened slowly- first forgetting to put it back on after washing the dishes, then forgetting to put it on before work.  She did talk to me when she put it in the back of her drawer of jewelry and I sent every sign to her that it was okay, that I understood.

When nine rolled around, I wasn’t prepared for saying goodbye to Charlie.  Because at ten, when she entered middle school, she decided it sounded like a little girls name, so she changed it to Char.

Eleven was when she held another bouquet of flowers and walked down the isle of a church with her mother in a stunning white gown following close behind.  The same man that gave them the matching flowers when she was eight was standing at the alter.  And I couldn’t be happier for them.

At thirteen she was sent off to her first school dance.  A light blue sparkly dress matched her light blue sparkly shoes and she had a white bow holding back her hair.  Even her brace’s color was blue.  Her middle school friends all got together for pictures and they all piled in cars together so that no one showed up alone.

That farewell Middle School dance meant High School next.  I saw her make the varsity field hockey team and get asked to homecoming by a sophomore boy in her math class- luckily her step father gave this kid the same message I would have given and was silently saying in my head.  Instead of blue and sparkles it was a black dress, and he showed up early and got her home early.  What happened at the dance, I don’t know, I figured I should probably tune that out.

During her Sophomore and Junior years I saw her make friends, participate in every club she could get her hands on, be inducted into the National Honors Society and all of this along side of that same boy.

Senior year was full of homecoming queen winning, team captain, and applying to college.  She got her first car- that was frightening and god bless her mother for taking the lead on that process.  She was promposal- ed for the second year in a row- same boy.  They went the year before for his senior prom and again for hers.  It was a crème colored floor length fitted lace dress and it went perfectly with her red and gold corsage.  He was the perfect gentleman, so perfect that Charlie’s step dad didn’t have to send him the threatening messages anymore- but I guess it had been four years.

I saw her walk across the graduation stage and I saw the tears in her mother’s eyes.  From my view I got to see the top of her cap that read, “I’m off to Wake Forest Dad.”

I saw the same tears from kindergarten drop off at college drop off.  Her mother was running around frantically while she sat on the steps watching her and laughing and successfully tying her shoes.  After an emotional goodbye with her puppy they were off, and she graduated in the top ten of her class.

The boy from her freshman year of High School stuck around and made it to the end, and to their new beginning.  They were married in May on the same day her mother and I did.  She wore her mothers first engagement ring and wedding band looked more beautiful than I had ever seen her.  I’m sure you’re wondering so yes, tears work up here too.  When it was time for the father daughter dance she danced with her mom’s husband, but also with my brother.  However, this time she didn’t have to step on his toes.

I watched her bring a beautiful child into the world.  He was the second of his name, because they named him after me.  That baby was loved by his parents, by his grandparents and their friends.  He then showed the same amount of love towards his twin sisters that followed.

Charlie, Char or Charlotte grew to be everything I wanted her to be.  Her own person, a kind person, and a happy person.  She shared her life with everyone she could and passed on those lessons to as many people as she could.  I was proud to be her father, I was proud when she made me a grandfather, and I’m proud of her and her mother.  I hear from them often and they make sure I don’t go forgotten.  My pictures remain up and standing among other family pictures, as if I’m a distant relative, but I’d like to believe that I was the beginning of both of their stories.