There are a lot of exciting things that a 16th year brings. Wealthy parents may shower their teens with an outlandish party, sometimes documented on MTV’s sickening show. Other kids receive a license and unleash hell on the local roads. But today, 16 marks a personal anniversary that isn’t so sweet.
I woke up to sirens the morning of Aug. 15, 1995. Mom sat at our dining-room table, head in her hands and crying softly. “Daddy’s had a stroke,” she said, and though my 8-year-old mind had no idea what that entailed, seeing a parent weep signals a sudden simultaneous sense of insecurity and understanding.
It was the morning of my third-grade orientation — at a new school, no less — and Grammy would take me to meet my teacher, Mom explained. I don’t remember if I cried then, but I do remember an overwhelming numbness. When adults talk to you, rather than around you, it often forces you to grow up yourself.
Gram took me to the hospital that afternoon. I held Brother’s hand and walked tentatively into the room. I will never forget what I saw and heard: Dad hooked up to beeping machines, doctors giving Mom information about local funeral homes, and Brother telling me that Daddy might not know who we are. Even now, it brings over a wave of emotion that I can’t quite control.
The following months and years brought fresh feelings of frustration and questioning. From walking to writing, and eventually driving, Dad had to relearn every basic function. As the sole southpaw in the family, I was tasked with helping him learn to do things with his now dominant left hand.
He still walks with a limp, and there are days when mobility is not its best. And, I am still selfish at times — worrying how he will walk me down the aisle or complete a father-daughter dance. We aren’t perfect in our relationship, and I don’t know that we’ll ever go back to what I perceived as the idyllic “Daddy & Me” situation.
But, I love him. I’ve learned from him. I respect him for the man he’s become. And I raise a glass to him this evening, 16 years into the new life that was thrust upon him.
I’ll always be your Mouse, no matter what this world brings upon us. 143