Me at age 7
I was only four years old when I fell from a tall wooden fence. But a large nail caught me – or my arm – and there I hung, hooked to a rusty nail as cherry-colored blood squirted in all directions.
It was Father’s Day and all of the children were playing outside. I was told I passed out. I do not remember the fall, nor hanging there, but I do remember the story of how my papa saved me.
Hearing the screams of children, papa ran out of the house and through the yard in the direction of the screams – tripping twice and getting up, his trousers torn and face scraped.
You see, papa was blind. He could not see but he knew something horrible had happened.
“She’s up there, she’s up there,” the other kids cried as they pointed, as if my father could see them. He couldn’t, of course.
Yet, somehow, he reached up, found me, lifted me off the nail and got me down. Taking a handkerchief out of his pocket, he pushed it against my skinny left arm and pressed tight to prevent more blood loss as he commanded to someone to call an ambulance. As he rushed through the yard, I regained consciousness. I have flickering memories of people screaming and crying and can remember the distant and then loud sirens of the ambulance.
“You saved her life,” the ambulance attendant told my father. “She cut her main artery and she lost a lot of blood. Any more and she would not be here.”
I remember seeing my mother next to me, crying in the ambulance, and as the sirens took me away, I remember looking out the window and seeing my papa's worried face, his shirt covered in my blood. He couldn't see that I was fine. But his face, at that moment, is one that I will never forget.
That was my papa. That was my hero.
I do not remember how old I was when I learned that he was blind. I simply remember always knowing it. By the time I was born, my papa had already been blind for several years. He never saw me. But his heart did. He did not let his blindness keep him from loving life -- or living it.
I believed my papa could do anything. And Papa made me believe that I could too.
“You can be anything you want to,” he would tell me all the time. “You can do it.”
I believed it because he believed it. Together we were invincible. My papa was so powerful. Or, so I thought.
The day came when I realized my papa was not powerful. That’s just the way things were. Some things were stronger. And papa and I could not fight it.
I was 16 the spring that Papa was diagnosed with cancer. I did not realize how serious it was. I kept waiting for him to get better. That is how things worked. People got sick. People got better.
Spring turned to summer and Papa did not get better. Instead he was told that he had only three-to six-months to live.
Never in my mind did I ever imagine it would be the last Father’s Day I would ever spend with my father.
Oh how I remember that day. It was not every year that all of my 10 siblings made it home on the same day – not for Mother’s Day, not for Christmas, not ever. There was always at least one person missing. But that day, everyone came.
By then Papa was in a hospital bed. He called us into the room, one at a time. Because he tired easily, someone – not sure who made up the rule – told us we had 10 minutes to talk to him.
“I’m so proud of you,” he told me as I nodded – forgetting he could not see me. “You have made me proud.”
I had just made the Orange Blossom line – the marching band’s elite front-line of marching girls – something I had wanted for 10 years.
Papa had encouraged me to audition for one of the 12 coveted spots.
“Of course you’ll get it,” he had told me. “Why wouldn’t you?”
Now, there I was – tears streaking my face.
Papa could not see my tear-streaked face, but he knew I was crying. With all the strength he had left in his weak arm, he reached his hand to my face and brushed away a tear.
“You’re going to get better, Papa,” I said. “Of course you will. Why wouldn’t you?”
“Not this time, little one,” he said. “Not this time.”
I remember looking at the clock and each time, he sensed it.
“I don’t have much time,” he would say and I would kick myself for looking at the clock.
I do not remember what else we talked about but I do know we talked for 20 minutes before I was told I needed to step out and let someone else in.
“Thank you for being my Papa,” I whispered to him. “And thank you for saving my life when I was little. You're my hero."
“No,” Papa said. “You are mine."
Lily and I