By Shanda Connolly
A balloon floated over the redwoods to where I was standing in the pool, right when I had taken a break from swimming to check on my baby daughter who, as it turned out, wasn’t crying. A balloon with a matching satin ribbon, in pink, probably her favorite color and mine, too, at least secretly. What a colossal coincidence. Too colossal, in fact.
No pink balloon had ever dropped out of the sky to where I was standing before and I expect none ever would again. In my gut, I knew there was more to this balloon than coincidence because my dad was heading into his third week in hospice care. So I wasn’t surprised when he died that evening.
Tonight, my daughter, now six years old, erupts in tears. After the credits at the end of a movie, there’s a cartoon bunny being fed pancake after pancake by a cartoon man until the bunny, off camera, explodes. She shrieks and sobs, and we both drop everything. My husband gets there first, torn up by her pain. You should never be mean to animals, she explains. That’s right -- he tells her -- and that moment, in her small world, the rain stops, the clouds roll away, the sun comes back out. Just like magic.
To my mind, I am looking at a snapshot of myself and my dad at the same age. I remember then thinking how my father, a carpenter by trade, could fix anything, and maybe a decade or so later, how he seemed to break everything. When caring for animals, it’s straightforward: be gentle with them, be firm when necessary but never hurt them. Feed them, protect them, comfort them when they’re hurt or sick. So simple even a six-year-old understands. Far less simple, though, with tender-hearted girls.
I also think back to a night about eight months after we got the pink balloon. On the eve of my dad’s birthday, after putting my baby daughter to bed, I laid down with my poor old cat, my failing and fragile friend who’d shepherded me for nearly two decades through changes of job, house, and spouse and, finally, into motherhood. Sometime in the early hours of the morning while we slept, the cat passed away. Another too colossal coincidence. Comfort, without hands to fix, without arms to hold, without words.
Shanda Connolly is a writer and attorney living in Los Angeles. Her writing has appeared in “Prairie Schooner,” barnesandnoble.com, and “Door Is a Jar,” and was recently selected for “Runner’s World” and "Mosaic."
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