She has a flower on her hand. Some people might call it a clover I suppose. But to me, the inch diameter birthmark between her thumb and forefinger never really had the broken symmetry of a clover, four leaf or otherwise. There certainly wasn't any luck in it. I don't know. Maybe, despite the current circumstances, or many others before this one. I focused on it for some reason as she fished through her backpack again and again until her gaze rested, straight out onto the horizon of Twyckingham Street. The portion beside the zoo.
“I had a feeling I should've taken it to computer lab,” she said, almost whispering the self admonishment before fishing through the half-dozen or so pockets of the small, backpack again.
“Come on!” I replied far more harshly than I wanted already late for an afternoon call, accommodating my schedule to retrieve her from International Baccalaureate high school summer classes.
We exited the Dodge Caravan simultaneously like cops on a newly realized mission, moving quickly down the block leading to Adam's High School. Her generation four iPod Touch mysteriously disappeared after leaving her backpack in homeroom during computer lab.
“We'll find it,” she said, her blond, straight hair bouncing in the already oppressive sunlight for a South Bend, Indiana summer.
“Two weeks into high school—not even real high school, and you lose a three-hundred dollar iPod Touch!” I said more angrily still at the thought of it and that we did not have the three hundred dollars to replace it. “I told you! I told you, I didn't want you bringing it here didn't I? Someone probably saw you using it, knew when you went to lab and snatched it.” I said outpacing her for affect, making her struggle to keep up with my brisk gate.
Sydney, like all the others I had seen before and after classes, shuffled around zombie-like as if carrying a load of crap in their pants. I swear to God that we didn't do that when I was her age. We navigated the halls of my schools with purpose at a decent pace or you regretted being late to class the rest of the day. These urchins shuffled before moving cars oblivious to the two thousand pound threats every morning. All were rapt by their little, shiny toys just like the one we're returning to the school to find. It was a damn miracle dozens didn't perish every morning.
The afternoon excitement of escape and the prospect of a night of beer and necking propelled them into the parking lots and streets navigating moving cars just as recklessly. (Others still stared into those same phones arranging the nights festivities. Paid for with my daughter's iPod, I thought.)
“Which way?” I bit out upon finally reaching the school doors, Sydney directing me with exasperated motions of her flowered had.
She plays guitar, clarinet and organ. She speaks several languages already. Her heroes are George Harrison, Joan Baez, and Kurt Cobain. She has a 1973 portable Elektra record player. She haunts vintage vinyl and dress shops for Abba and Pink Floyd records and Patty Boyd dresses. And, as far as I know, at fourteen, she hasn't even kissed a boy yet.
These skanks and bastards are going to eat her alive, I think while passing a scantily clad group of upper classmen flirting around a Mountain Dew vending machine. All are now suspects as we navigate the nearly empty halls, passing obese, lazy guards lounging around lunch tables too lethargic to even rise and question us. God forbid anyone ever attack her. These clock punchers would never reach her in time. What would they do with their tiny walky-talkies and bushel of keys anyway?
Then exhausting minutes later in the class room, nothing. The iPod is gone. The same shocked expression dulled her hazel visage behind her thick rimmed glasses as she gazed out of the classroom window resigned.
“I am getting it back,” she said, swinging her head to one side, flinging her hair off her pale shoulder the way she does when angry with me or Julie. “I am!” she finished before preceding me from the room.
Once back in the Caravan, breathless and sweaty from the brisk afternoon summer walk, I paused, finding myself mirroring her gaze out of the windshield despite being late to my meeting. She checked the backpack once again, absently placing the thumb of her flowered hand to her mouth before catching herself.
“I'm sorry Daddy,” she said, unintentionally stabbing me in the heart.
Not when, even at fourteen, security stolen, she stopped herself from instinctively sticking her thumb in her mouth. Not when she rifled her purse again and again. But when she apologized, my heart ached. My anger in the preceding thirty minutes was so thoughtlessly misdirected at her carelessness. No, her pure naivety. Naivety I wanted and knowingly fostered.
The anger came crashing back onto me as a wave of guilt. Guilt that I hadn't demanded that she leave it in the car. Guilt that I couldn't go right now and replace it. Guilt...that crashed over me again in waves until I was chilled despite the record summer heat for early June. She didn't even cry.
“We'll get you another one for your birthday here in a few weeks,” I offered as an apology.
“I don't want one. I don't anything that can be stolen ever again,” she said, quieting, allowing the understanding to settle between us.
The thought sickened me. For all of her fantastic intelligence and talent, she still didn't understand what almost all fathers do. It is not just objects that are often stolen from young girls. Stolen from any of us I thought, slamming the van into gear, pealing out.
“You can't fix everything Dad.” She said, finishing with, “There were songs, I've written... A lot of things on there, I'll never get back.”
That's when realization settled over me upon turning my guilt over and over again, navigating the stoplights and turns leading us home. I too had something stolen. I had just lost the illusion that I could protect either of my girls from the pain that a hopefully long, healthy life endowed on those of us lucky enough to live it.