I’ve done a few things right in my life.
On the scale of good versus bad, I am certain it is tipped well to the good-side (at least so far, but no promises for my future). Now, left to my own devices… well… there’s no telling how I would have turned out but you can rest assured it would be much closer to the balance point. Which brings me to my first “right” thing. Sue, my wife. I just could not imagine a life without her. Simply put, she makes me better. I’m not special in that way because she makes everyone better. I’m just lucky as hell that she tolerated me enough to give me a chance. To disappoint her is my greatest fear. To love her with everything in me is my greatest pursuit.
The second “right” thing? Ryan.
The third “right” thing”? My beautiful daughter, inside and out, Kari. It is her that I am about to write about today.
Really, everything in my adult life has centered around these three people. They are family in the traditional definition, yes, but they are more. They are love… so deep… so unrelenting… so forever. I can feel the aura coming off them and I bask in the splendor that no one person deserves. Let alone me. Believe me, I don’t take this for granted. I never have.
I never will.
Kari Grows Up… Overnight.
Sue and I consider the relationship with our daughter to be like none other. We
have gone are going through hell together and our love grows stronger. When Ryan was on the brink of death — in peril for months — we looked to each other for strength and comfort. Kari always stood the tallest. Her resolve is something to behold. People say I’m the strongest person they know, but they never saw my daughter in action. She makes me look like a twiggy-limbed weakling.
There are so many times, over these past four years, that I could tell you about what I mean. But, you must remember, she was only a senior in high school when her character was tested beyond what many don’t experience in a lifetime. She never flinched. She squared-up to whatever faced her. She acted despite paralyzing fear. She composed herself against unimaginable sadness. She refused to be brought down and made damned sure no one else did either.
The first time I really took notice of this was the night when, just weeks after the attack in December 2009, Ryan was in grave danger of dying. He was battling for his life. His core body temperature was rising at an alarming rate because his brain’s basic survival mechanisms (regulatory system) were badly damaged. Ryan’s body simply could not control his internal temperature. Within the period of an hour it was over 105-degrees and still climbing. Sue was outside the room pleading with the ICU supervising nurse to get us a doctor, but the nurse was stalling; which caused Sue to call 9-1-1 on the ICU! Funny, we got plenty of Doctors, to include the Medical Director.
As all this was going on outside the room we took matters into our own hands (quite literally) before help arrived! Kari was running back-and-forth from the ice machine. She followed my lead and was plunging her hands into the ice buckets to fill-up bags that we could place on and around Ryan. She then grabbed ice-drenched towels and was wiping Ryan down. This went on for hours! I looked at my precious daughter’s hands and they were red, raw, swollen, and numb.
She refused to stop.
Then how about her being by my side through the criminal trial… the parole hearings… the depositions… the aggressive confrontations by the felon’s family outside the Courthouse?
Just the touch of her hand in mine was all the assurance I needed. I could feel her resolve coursing into me and she carried me through; something no daughter should ever be asked to do for her dad. She was just seventeen, but was more mature than a hundred lifetimes. She had her innocent, young life ripped from her.
Never once did she say a word about it even though she clearly knew she was robbed of so much. She was an adult before dancing at the prom. When she walked across the stage to get her diploma she had learned lessons that surely had her teachers in awe… the “girl” who completed her senior year in her brother’s ICU room… the girl who took the train home alone from Atlanta for twelve hours to take tests… the girl who spent nights in an empty house surrounded by the reminders of what was lost.
She endured when her world was falling in all around her. She never complained or asked for anything. She gave everything in her being for this family.
Oh, how I love her. She’ll always be my little Pumpkin Pie.
A Daughter. A Woman.
I look at her now, in the glory of womanhood and admire her beyond words… no, beyond belief.
Yet, I will never lose the image of her running around in her little, pink bathrobe as a 3-year old girl. Her hair all kinky, tangled, and wet. The sweet smell of baby shampoo surrounding her. Her jumping into my lap and wrapping her tiny arms around me. She is powerful and emotionally strong now, but has a sweetness that reminds me of her tender years. Qualities that will make her a wonderful mother, wife, and leader in the community and business. That type of rare person who has the intellect, emotional awareness, and social skills to make the world what they want.
My daughter, one who is now my best friend too. I trust her with my very life. Hell, I trust her with my son’s life (and I sure as hell hope that never happens)! That should tell you how intensely I respect her.
Like my wife and Ryan, Kari is my hero. Believe me when I tell you that she saved my world. She gave me the courage to face virtual hopelessness. To never quit when every fiber in my body is screaming at me to stop. To find a time to laugh amongst intolerable despair and grief. To still trust and believe in others, even though there are evil people forced into my life (for the rest of my life). To seek, unrelentingly, justice against those who have harmed one of our own.
To make this day and every tomorrow worth living.
My Little Girl.
I just hope that Kari knows that I would do the same for her if she were in Ryan’s situation. She will never need to worry about being safe and well-cared for as long as either her mother or I am alive. And I thank her for allowing me to shift my focus to Ryan in his dire need. I hate that I have to make this choice. Hate it! The guilt is sometimes too much to bear that she sacrifices, so graciously, so that I can tend to her brother. It shouldn’t be this way.
If there is a higher power or grand-master of the universe then I say damn you both, Austin Vantrease and Jonathan May. Be damned to the pits of misery for what you’ve done to this family’s bliss. No one here is forgiving you. Do you honestly think Ryan would after what you did to him and to the distress upon those he loves? You are forever bound until, that is, Ryan tells us otherwise.
So, Kari, listen to your “Pops”, I will always love you. More than all the grains of sand on all the beaches. More than all the stars and planets in the universe. More than all the universes in the multiverse (if Stephen Hawkings is correct in this theory, that is). My love for you is infinite. It fills every neutrino of space and time.
Thank you for making me look good as a father. You made it easy on me.
Oh, and you will forever be my little girl.