I think he knows that I know.
I’m standing on the threshold of these oak doors that lead to my new life, the hair dresser, make up artist, and other fussers having finally deemed me fit to embark on the journey. I turn my head slightly to the left and my eyes fix on the man walking towards me, his characteristic slight stoop in place. He briefly looks up from the phone clutched tightly in his hand, and in that moment when he is able to keep his head up long enough for our eyes to meet, I know he knows that I know. And I resent him for it. More for the fact that I know, and that he knows I know, than for what I actually know.
In the one minute it takes him to reach me, my mind drifts back to a time when he was the only man I saw. Not literally, of course, but in that manner of seeing with one’s heart, he was that man and more. Perfect by my standards, which were the only standards that mattered to me at the time. He was the ideal picture of what a man should be, and we -mum, him and me- were the ideal picture of what a family should be.
But that’s the thing about pictures isn’t it? They capture only moments in time, without reference to the fact that time in itself is a continuum, and so captured moments hold true only for that moment in which they were captured.
He’s almost in front of me now and he still won’t look me in the eye. I’m not even sure that I want him to. Instead, he fixes his gaze on his phone screen and pretends like he’s reading something important. This takes me back nine years, to that day when I picked up his phone; the day that changed everything. I really wasn’t looking for anything. I’d been a little restless that night and figured I’d play a quick game of (Snake) before heading to bed. I don’t know why I decided to read his text messages that day, but till this day, even as I’m about to walk down this aisle to start forever with the one whom my heart has chosen, I have a healthy fear of reading other peoples’ messages.
(“Darling this afternoon was awesome. I wish your husby wasn’t back for another month sef! “)
He’s beside me now. He raises his head again and in that instant when our eyes meet, the emotion that overtakes me is so intense, my lips tremble slightly. It’s not anger, hurt or sadness, as one would imagine. It’s pity. Pity because I imagine the weight of knowing that I, his little girl, see him in his weakness. Not her perfect, super hero daddy; just…a man. The look of intense shame I see in his eyes makes me want to weep for him, and scream at him at the same time. I’ve come a long way from the 13-year old girl who stumbled across her dad’s cheating via his text messages. In the nine years after that, I’ve learned that life is…well, life and if there’s one thing we all are, it’s human.
And so I need him to know that it’s okay. I mean it’s not okay, but it is. Especially now, as he’s about to give me away to another man. I take a deep breath and stretch out my hand to him, with a genuine smile on my lips to match the one in my eyes.
He sees and understands. With a deep intake of breath, he takes my hand in his and squeezes ever so slightly, grateful for my acceptance, as the chords begin to belt out softly (“here comes the bride… all dressed in white. “)
I failed her.
Sitting in this car a few metres away from where she stands, an angel bathed in white, I can’t but think about how much I’ve failed her. It’ the happiest day of her life- at least I hope it is- and instead of me rejoicing with her, I’m sitting in this car, grieving over my failures. Not in giving her every material thing she needed, or in making sure she went to the best schools, or had the best vacations. For a good part of her growing years, she had my time and full attention. She was my princess, my only child and daughter; she deserved only the best.
(And the best of fathers too), that small voice whispered in my ear. I’ll never forget that evening when she handed me my phone. She didn’t say anything, just handed it to me with a slight tremble. Maybe that was it, the fact that my ever so chatty munchkin was quiet as a mouse, couldn’t even bring herself to look at me for more than a second before she fled. But one second was enough, the way she looked at me. Checking the messages on my phone to see if there were any I’d forgotten to delete was just confirming what I already knew.
I need to get out of this car though. I can’t sit here and try to hide from her like I’ve been doing the last nine years. A part of me wishes she’d confronted me. Maybe the burden would have lifted somehow, I don’t know. Another part of me is grateful to her for not confronting me. I cannot imagine how the conversation would have gone. I mean how do you explain being caught in the murkiest of greys to someone you’d taught to believe in the existence of only black and white? Do you beg? Do you plead? Or do you even shout? How do you ever look her in the eye again when trying to correct her, or tell her to stay away from boys and sex? How do you enforce a curfew? Or tell her about God and sin and hell? How do you just not die from humiliation every time you draw a moral line with her?
So we avoided it, and acted like nothing had happened.
I do hope that she forgives me. I hope I never again see that look of absolute despair I saw in her eyes all those years ago. It kills me to know that I put it there. I’d gotten away with breaking hearts (including her mother’s) all my life, and I’d gone and done the same to the one person I held dearest in the world. I could make the excuse of how things hadn’t been going well between her mother and I, but that’s all it would be; an excuse.
I need to get out of this car now.