When I got my first job, I went out and bought a briefcase. It was nice – brown leather with the combination clasps. The problem was that I had nothing to put into it. Let’s be honest, my entry-level position wasn’t very important. I was basically a cut-up and had no intention of transporting critical documents home for late evening work. So I loaded it with old files and a few magazines to make it look like I had important stuff going on. Every morning I would plop it on my desk, turn the combination, and pretend to get things out of it like everyone else. I forgot the combination at some point and just quit opening it. Nobody noticed…
Briefcases are another one of those things like rotary phones that are quickly becoming relics of a bygone era. Backpacks have become the modern-day briefcase. With the weight of laptops it makes much more sense to put it on your back rather than lug it around. I’m very picky about my backpacks. How do you rate them? Strong straps, durable construction, roomy compartments, easy access. All of those things are important.
But I have a new backpack.
I’ve been a big lummox all my life. My first Army ID listed me as 6’ 3”, 197 lbs. Over the years, I’ve lost on one side and gained on the other. When these petite little girls started coming in my life, I loved putting them on my shoulders like a backpack. Their favorite way to get up there was to have me swing them back and forth a few times, and then arc them up and over my head until they were seated on top. I did that once at a Braves game and the whole section gasped as if I were throwing her out onto the field. Calm down, people… this is how we do things in giant-world.
Sometimes I would carry them two at a time on my back. It was a trick to get them up there but they could sit comfortably front to back.
I wonder what the perspective is like from someone’s shoulders. Like many childhood things, there comes a time when you are too big to get on top of another so you must look for yourself and your own height is all you get. When my girls got too big, I started carrying the family supplies on my back like a pack mule.
But my new backpack.
My new backpack is neither functional nor roomy. In fact, it has one small zippered pouch barely big enough for my phone. Still, I love it. I love it because it reminds me of when my life was whole and my family intact. It is as whimsical as the unchallenged man I used to be… before my Kylie died.
I carried Kylie on my shoulders more than any of them because she couldn’t keep up with her sisters on her little legs. When we would go to the zoo, park, or anywhere that required a lot of walking, she would inevitably hold her hands in the air to be picked up and I could never resist that smile. So I carried her. I carried her around the house when her leg began to hurt and I carried her when her body was depleted from chemo. The night she died I carried her to the hearse so there would be no stretcher in my house. And now my shoulders are empty because I can’t carry her anymore.
But maybe there’s a way…
This is my new backpack.
It’s a penguin because Kylie loved penguins. I have carried it around the zoo, the beach, and now Disney World. I probably look like an idiot… in fact I’m sure I do. But I’ve never cared much about that. You see, for some peculiar reason, when I carry it I feel like I’ve got my little girl on my shoulders and she can see things she might have otherwise missed. I know it’s stupid, but lots of things in life are stupid and most things about death are, so I’m just going to carry my penguin around.
If you’re on vacation somewhere and see a big, dopey guy with a little penguin backpack, stop and say hi. I’m not as crazy as I seem, although that is debatable.
The way I see it from up here, I’m just sharing life with my baby the only way I know how.