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October 8, 2010

Without continuous waving, the plastic flag collapses, its transparent red, white, and blue layered forlornly like the folds of a forgotten baby blanket. Why didn’t they hand out stiff paper flags like last time? I shake out my wrist. All the other flags still wave in anticipation, a sea of color crammed at the foot of the airport arrival escalator.

I haven’t seen my dad for nineteen months, not since I was ten. The only glimpse of his soldier’s life comes from four letters. I carry them in my backpack. I read them every night before bed.

A toddler squeals, spinning in front of the crowd. His chubby face tilts back, arms to the side, darkened cheeks a blurred miniature merry-go-round. He stops, totters, and waves whole-armed. “Hi!” He produces an animal cracker from his pocket and stuffs it into his mouth with such delight that the audience laughs even more. His eyes are like mine, so dark that the boundary between iris and pupil nearly disappears. I feel strange. His mom shoos him back into the crowd. I can now name the feeling: déjà vu.

Cheers erupt. I wave my flag as hard as I can, a steady bass beating my bloodstream. “Daddy!” I jump up and down and yell as soon as I see his burnished bronze head.

He doesn’t hear. His eyes scan the crowd and he walks to the left, waving and smiling. At the end of his walk is a camouflage embrace of the mother and performing toddler. He’s not my father.

There are no more soldiers left on the escalator. I sprint and run up its stairs, losing a step for every two I take. Someone grabs me around the waist. “Young lady, you aren’t allowed to do that.”

“My dad’s still on the plane!” I sob. I can’t help it. Curious eyes turn to watch. My dad rushes over. “What are you doing here, Debby?”

“I came—I came to meet you,” I sputter.

His face grows red. “Where is your mother? Nancy! Nancy!”

“She’s over there—˝ I point towards baggage claim.

He turns and says to the toddler’s mother, “Miranda, honey, take Sean. I have something to deal with.”

He grabs my elbow and pushes me through the crowd until we stand directly in front of my mom.



“What the hell are you doing bringing Debby down here?”

She smirks. “Debby’s all yours, Mark. A little gift for your new life.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” She doesn’t answer. She turns and walks towards the exit.

I run after her and catch up. She pushes me backwards and I nearly trip over a conveyor belt. I stand, shocked, and watch the automatic doors open. The stifling Atlanta heat hits my face.

“Let her go, Debby.” My dad, beside me. The woman with the toddler is with him, staring at me hard.

“Miranda, this is Debby. Nancy’s daughter.”

Miranda narrows her eyes before she shakes my hand, pulls my dad aside and almost spits her whisper. “I wouldn’t have married you if I thought this would happen.”

“Don’t worry. I’m sending her back tomorrow.”

I feel wetness on my cheeks and wipe it away quickly. Something in my chest is hollow, so hollow.

“C’mon, Debby.” My dad motions for me to walk towards the exit. Before I step forward, Sean, the toddler, tugs on my pants. I look into those seemingly bottomless eyes. He holds up an animal cracker. “Want one?” he asks and smiles.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. October 8, 2010 11:34 am

    Heart-wrenching. I didn’t see it coming, but the ending was like a punch to the gut. So sad. Very good story that I’ll think about all day.

  2. October 8, 2010 12:22 pm

    Oh wonderful writing, I just want to gather Debby up in my arms and hug her. Perfect ending, too…if we could all keep that childhood innocence. 😦

  3. October 8, 2010 12:39 pm

    Heartbreaking and so convincing. Very real little story and true to our times, sad to say. And finely crafted.

  4. October 8, 2010 12:56 pm

    Poor Debbie. At least she has Sean’s love. The adults show no concern for her well-being. Heartbreaking.

  5. October 8, 2010 12:57 pm

    Oh Melissa, such a heart-rending story. Beautifully written. But now I will be worrying about Debby all weekend. Peace…

  6. October 8, 2010 6:13 pm

    Thank god for toddlers and their clarity of vision. Stupid adults….

  7. October 8, 2010 9:02 pm

    And I’ll bet the flags were made in China. The contrast between the toddler’s behavior and her Dad’s – devastating. She’s caught in the middle – neither child nor adult, heartbreaking.

  8. October 9, 2010 9:25 am

    Very well written, it conveys the emotions of the situation strongly,the anticipation, hope,disappointment, and sadness.

    It is a reflection on our society that situations like this, where children become the shuttlecocks in a failed marriage, happen all too often.

  9. October 9, 2010 12:32 pm

    Poor girl caught in the middle of everything. At least the boy accepts her. Beautiful ending. If only the world could come together over animal crackers.

  10. October 9, 2010 4:35 pm

    Not much I can say that hasn’t been said already. Poor Debby. Very well written.

  11. October 10, 2010 7:09 pm

    Heartrending and beautifully written. This will stay with me…

  12. October 10, 2010 9:10 pm

    i just want to hold that little girl and cry with her. 😦 This is so heartbreaking. Very powerful emotions here.

  13. October 10, 2010 9:29 pm

    You conveyed the strong emotions in this so well. As other have said, poor Debby, and thank goodness for toddlers.

  14. October 11, 2010 6:34 pm

    Thanks, everyone! It is heartbreaking in that these things happen all the time, although not always so dramatically. 😉
    Tim-I love it. Yes, “Stupid adults…” !
    David-Wouldn’t it be great if we all could get together over animal crackers. My vote is for chocolate, though. Think I can convince the toddlers? 😉
    Mark-Yeah, I bet the flags were made in China, too…

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