Prologue

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Polarizing describes the summer I turned nine. Every moment before June 27 was separate from every moment after. Moment by moment of the days leading up to it will be forever burned into my brain.  The split happened at the exact moment when my grandmother said, "Your dad didn't make it." Those words changed me forever.

Dad's aren't supposed to die.

The days leading up to his accident play on a constant loop in my mind. The turbulent plane ride to Minnesota for a small family reunion that seemed like the biggest adventure of my little life. The arrival at Sugar Lake Resort, with blue sky as far as you could see and tall pines, surround the clear shallow lake. The main lodge and little cabins by the water were perfect.

Opening the door to the main lodge, my dad and I were bombarded by tight hugs and kisses on the cheek. My California family's proper greetings were exchanged for the familiar laughs and jabs in the ribs that fit my dad's personality. Fun and affectionate.

Those awkward moments of reconnection with my grandparents and my Aunt Beth. I can still see the chocolate stain on my red Nike shoes and hear my mumbled, "Hi."

I can feel my stomach turn as Uncle David picked me up and hung me upside down. I can see his goofy grin, as he teased, "I think you have grown ten feet since the last time I saw you and you grew chest hair."

Regaining my balance, as he put me down, I feel the giggle burst from me as I shake my head, "I didn't. Girls don't have chest hair."

"Then what's that?" When I looked, his finger tapped my nose and he said, "Got ya!"

Dad's family didn't smooth my bumpy ponytail or tug at my clothing. None of them told me to change my dirty shoes. Instead, they laughed and joked with joy that made me giddy.

Grandma's sigh echoes in my ears. "I wish Sara and the other kids could have joined us."

Wrapping his arm around her shoulders, my dad smiled "Sarah wanted to come, but Max had three baseball games and Corrine leaves tomorrow for her school trip."

Even then I knew my dad was covering for my mom. Eavesdropping on one of their arguments, I heard my mom say she hated going to those resorts with hard beds and terrible food. I was glad they didn't come because having dad to myself was the best. He let me eat sweets and other junk food that my mom refused to buy. It was a break from my mom's constant instructions and lists of chores.

Sugar Lake Resort was the perfect place to learn to canoe, kayak, sail and swim. The little fish that tickled my legs, while I stood in the water, made me bubble over with laughter. I never wanted to go home.

Only feet from the lake, sat two little cabins that didn't have a television. My grandparents were in the cabin next to us. Aunt Beth and Uncle David were in a hotel room in the main lodge, which wasn't far away.

Our days were filled with sun, laughter, sun burns, naps, and fresh air. Late one afternoon, my dad pulled me down to the lake onto one of the little docks. A tree blocked the bright sun enough that we didn't have to squint. Throwing our flip flops on the grass, we sat dangling our toes in the water.

Pointing at light that sparkled in the water, my dad asked, "Madds, do you see how the light makes a path?"

I nodded. Leaning in as my dad wrapped his arm around me.

"Do you see how dark it is outside of the path?" He looked down at me, with serious eyes.

Nodding again, I smiled, "It looks like the path is full of sparkles and glitter. It's so pretty."

"That's to get your attention, so you know where to go. As you go through life, you need to stay on the path. If you go off into the darkness your life will spin out of control. You need to stay in the light." 

Looking up into my Dad's eyes, I whispered, "Okay Daddy. I will stay in the sparkles."

He kissed the top of my forehead and whispered back, "That's my girl."

Dark clouds rolled in a short time later. After cleaning up for dinner, everyone headed to my grandparent's cabin.

Aunt Beth, Uncle David, and I started into an intense game of UNO. Slapping a take four card on the pile, I fell over with laughter as Uncle David howled as though he was in pain.

My dad stuck his head into the living room, "I'm running into town to pick up a few things for dinner. Do you guys need anything?"

"Can I come Daddy?" I hoped he would let me get a treat, if I went along.

"You stay here and finish your game. I won't be gone long." He gave me a little wink.

That was the last time I saw my dad. They say a semi hauling logs to the paper mill crossed the center line and hit him, while he was on his way back. All I know is that he never came back and Mom, Corrine, Max, and I were never the same. When he left, he took the best part of me.

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