The Missing 10

Birthdays are a strange thing. To celebrate momentous occasions such as graduations, retirements, and anniversaries seems fitting. After all, there was a worthy accomplishment that drove the event. But birthdays? I had literally nothing to do with mine. All of the precursory work was done by others. My only job was to breath and cry after the doctor slapped my butt.

At fifty, the doctor has other posterior procedures that bring me to tears. Life has come full circle.

But birthdays do change along the way. They no longer mark status changes – I can drive now, I can vote now, I can legally buy Billy Beer. Officially over the hill, birthdays mark descents into new decades. Why celebrate the slide down the hill? Some people do celebrate to the fullest – I’ve just never been one. I have always found it odd to say: “Congratulations! Well done on being born!”

And then, after so many birthdays, life inevitably deals us all a great loss and things like birthdays seem monumentally unimportant. Festive occasions are no longer the celebrations they should be. While there can be great fun, they also seem to highlight absence. Something is missing.

This year brought my fiftieth and my wife spearheaded a campaign. The girls wrote notes reminding me of the 50 times we had laughed together over the years (most of which were initiated by my stupid or immature behavior.) These were placed around the home and I stumbled on them throughout the day. With just the prompting of a few words, I relived memories that brought many smiles to my face.

 

Sister Bombs

Silly stories with Magoo & Bongo

Teaching daughters to pee on a tree

Jumanji

 

But the absence.

I did the math. As originally constituted, after removing the recipient (me) from the equation, our family was perfectly divisible by five. The fifty notes should have been divided up ten per member. But that’s not the way it works now. When divvied up that way there is a remainder of ten. Someone had to pick up the slack to get to fifty and it’s killing me to know what would be on the missing ten.

The missing ten. What would Kylie’s be? What made her smile? What did I do that brought her joy?

Sucking helium and singing show tunes

The bald buddy head butts

Building her dresser together

 

Those are some of my thoughts, but what would hers be?

I don’t doubt they existed and likely overlap some written by her sisters. But I yearn to know what hers are and I never will. The missing ten will forever haunt me. Somewhere inside, I know what she would say…

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Daddy, don’t you remember that time? That time we ____?

Yeah, I remember. That was fun but I haven’t done it in years.

Why not?

It just isn’t the same anymore. Nothing is the same.

It’s only a little while until we can do it together again.

A little while? Wait, do you know something? Am I going to die soon?

That’s kind of a dumb question. Everyone is going to die soon. The question is, are you going to live now? Stop crying over the missing ten and make fifty more.

 

I wish I could, baby. I wish I could…

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September Eyes

We’ve all heard the expression, “the eyes are the window to the soul.” It’s a rather absurd notion – not because of its veracity, but because of a lack of alternate windows. As if one could discern intent through an open mouth or wide nostril. Just look at the face. What social cue could you ever glean from its other orifices? Without the look me in the eye mother-son interaction, I can picture a young mother staring into her son’s ear to discover truth like a scientist into a microscope.

Take the literal interpretation and my general silliness away, I get the allusion. They eyes are amazing in what they can relay nonverbally. In fact, I got smacked by several sets of eyes very recently.

This month is September – Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. I knew that before, but now that I work for CURE Childhood Cancer, I really know it. It’s been busy! This is not a complaint, I love my job. When this month ends, I will have been doing it for a year and I can no longer imagine doing anything else. In fact, I recently told my lovely wife that the only thing I would rather do than this is write for a living. She quickly pointed out, “You do write for a living.” Of course, she is correct. What I meant was crank out three best-sellers a year like James Michener while sitting on a beach sipping fruity drinks with paper umbrellas. But yes, I daily get to write on a topic about which I am passionate – children with cancer.

And I get to meet the most amazing kids: a thirteen-year-old who has been fighting cancer more than half his life and a girl who donated her twenty-first birthday to our organization because she’s been dealing with cancer and its side effect since she was two. For September, I read the stories of 120 incredible kids and I made this collage to use on social media.

 

Collage-2

Those eyes. Those windows. Those souls.

Sweet, innocent babes forced to fight like no man should have to. Their September eyes stare at me. I see their eyes even when mine are closed. I can’t look at it without getting a chill because some of those eyes are gone. I won’t tell you which ones, but this cancer beast is vicious. We comfort ourselves and talk about eighty percent cure rates for childhood cancer. But that leaves twenty percent who don’t survive. Children who die… 1 in 5. Kylie was in that 20%.

And I step back, and I remember those carefree days before I knew these facts. Before I realized that children die from cancer. Back when I thought it was a disease for seventy-year-old smokers. How foolish and naïve I was.

Happiness is a kind bedfellow of naivety.

In this dreamy state I see little Kylie skipping toward me dressed in her blue ballet leotard, lugging a huge backpack on her shoulders. The weight on her back forces her to stoop slightly as she approaches, giving full view to the rolling acorns on the sidewalk. She stops to smash one under her heel. The sound makes her giggle. Another acorn squished. A squeal. Then another and another until she realizes I’m waiting. She looks at me, smiles, and hoists up her backpack to sprint the remaining distance.

“Hi, Daddy!”

“Hi, Baby. Let me take your backpack. It looks heavy.”

She deftly swings the burden off her back and into my waiting hands. It is heavier than I could have ever imagined.

“You take it for good,” she says.

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And then she is gone. She is gone and I am still holding the weight.

*

20%  –  1 in 5

We must do better. How can we not? Innocent September Eyes depend on us.

 

Today is the day we are sharing Kylie’s story in an effort to raise money for research that will lead to a cure. If you can, please share this burden with us by clicking here