I rented a car the other day at this company that always smells like an elevator. The workers in suits are always very awkwardly nice to me and hand me keys to a car, but not before trying to combatively, yet, passively trying to up sell insurance to me. Am I that bad of a driver? Or maybe I just look like one? Whatever.
I was renting a car because my car was totaled and I needed a new one for the time being until I can figure out how I can get to work from now on. But something happened as I was driving out of the parking lot. The last time I rented a car was the first time my wife and I adopted our first child and we needed a car to go and pick her up from the hospital.
Emma was a beautiful six pound baby, with gorgeous light brown skin and light brown eyes. She smiled as we stared at her in her crib, but she immediately cried once I carried her for the first time. Of course, my eyebrows make my face look like I’m ready to stab someone, so why wouldn’t she cry?
Emma’s thirteen years old now and we live together in our house, just me and her. She’s always telling me how much she misses her mom, and although I try work up strength not to overreact to it, it gets overwhelming and I end up with tears in my eyes.
Emma is nothing like her mom in a sense where she picked up some genetic characteristic from her, but in every way on a level I can’t quite explain, she is just like her; from her laugh all the way to how she responds to my lack of a sense of style.
I drove out of the parking lot of the rental car company, and the first thing I had to do was pick up Emma from school. She left her group of friends, walked over to the car and looked at it for a quick minute, tilting her head as if to attempt to disapprove the color of it, so that she can tell me to go back and pick a better color.
“Just get in”, I said.
“Dad, when’s the last time you rented a car?” she asked me. I told her it was the day when her mom and I went to pick her up from the hospital, to adopt her as our daughter.
“Oh . . . are you okay?”, she responded back with careful concern.
“Yeah, it should be fine.” I said.
“It should be fine?” she darted back. ‘What do you mean by ‘it’? Do you mean the car itself or do you mean the situation by which you are the participant and in such a situation you have aggravated an emotion that you’ve longed to avoid altogether for as long as your living?’
‘It’s probably the second one’, I said.
“Okay.” She said softly.
I knew she felt uncomfortable. We both knew how I felt, but she always had a way of helping me move on in the moment. And she made it look very easy.
“It’ll be alright… You want to get some ice cream? I’m craving something cold and sweet. Whattaya say?”
‘Cold and sweet? Wouldn’t your attitude do just fine?’, I responded with a kind smirk.
She rolled her eyes and said nothing.
After a short but lingering silence, she told me she misses mom too, but then looked up in frustration, turned towards me and asked, ‘why do I miss her so much, dad? She’s gone and there’s really nothing I can do about it. I mean, I have all these images of her when she was alive, how she used to laugh, how she used to cry, how she loved to smell her cooking longer than it took her to actually finish the cooking. Yet, sometimes I wonder if I’m really just starting to create my own image of her in my head. For all I know, her body is buried in a ground somewhere and her body is probably halfway decayed and is just a dead corpse, but it’s not her that I miss, it’s the image in my head; my concept of her. Sometimes I wonder if the longer I entertain these thoughts of her in my head, the more I lose my sense of who she actually was. Am I just being crazy? This is why I don’t understand how someone could ‘miss’ someone after they’ve passed. What are they missing, the dead corpse or the altered image they make of them in their own head? There’s nothing in between.’
The freeway was fairly empty. I couldn’t look at her as I was driving mostly because one, I was driving, and two, I just didn’t know how to answer that question. Her concern was legit. I pondered at it for a while as I was staring at the road.
‘No, you’re not crazy’, I responded in a broken tone. “Look, I can see what you mean and I agree, I can’t say that I miss her any more than the image I create of her in my head as well. But I think what’s more important in all of this is that where there is despair for someone, there is also growth. I’m not sure in what exactly yet, but there’s a type of growth we experience when we lose someone.
Like a seed that dies, when it dies, it grows into something more beautiful. A part of us dies when we lose someone. But that death shapes us into something we never thought was possible. That growth is a part of life, and therefore, despair for other people is also a way of life.
I can easily grow bitter and cynical, but I can also grow in maturity, and spiritually. Sure, I miss her to death and life doesn’t get any easier, but where there is also affliction, there’s meaning.”
Emma slowly turns her eyes off me and into the distant mountains as if in deep thought.
I continued talking to her and said, ‘and you know what? despite all the despair, I can say that I’m thankful for you, Emma. As much as I miss your mom, I’ve grown to love you more than I’ve ever loved you before. That’s probably the growth I was talking about.’
She looked at me for a quick moment and turned away to look out the window again without saying anything.
I looked at her said, ‘ . . . uh, this is where your cold and sweet attitude breaks the emotional tension in this car.’
She slowly smiled and said, ‘I’ll let the ice cream do that … let’s go we’re here.’
We got out of the car and walked into the ice cream shop as I put my hand around her shoulder.