I lost my cool.
My daughter was acting up and squirming on her changing table while I was trying to get her into a new diaper and clothes for the day. My rational mind knew she was probably uncomfortable being on her back from teething or the umpteenth cold of the month. But lack of sleep and the pressures of day-to-day parenting got the best of me. I got upset, raised my voice and forced her into clothing somehow through her tears. Did some deep breaths to calm myself.
What happened next hit me hard. On so many levels. She’d probably picked up on me saying this to her — either from swim class as she jumped into the water or perhaps at the playground reassuring her I wouldn’t let her fall. But the words rang out clear from her typically tough-to-decipher toddler tongue: “I got you!”
Eyes well. Heart sinks. And I just feel like the absolute worst father on the face of the planet. All while hugging her for as long as she will let me. Those three words, you see, hold weight with me.
Even though he was 21 years older than my mother (yeah, I know, that always amazes me to say), my dad was as spry as I hope to be when I grow old (…er). The proof of this could be summed up in a little game called “tag.”
I don’t know exactly when it started or why I never really took part in it, but… I can clearly recall countless occasions when my father, my mother, my two aunts who lived with us, my two sisters and my brother would endlessly chase each other around the house like children on a schoolyard.
The thing about it was: the game was ALWAYS on. (maybe that’s why I did not participate) And you were always in play. It was quite intense. Fun, yes, but intense. I can still hear my mom nearly out of breath, picture her with eyes in tears with laughter, yelling at my sister that she was “cheating.” (Mind you: there were no rules.)
And I cannot tell you how many times my aunt (also my Godmother), who was even older than my dad, would race around the corner of the living room into her bedroom to avoid the tag of my father. He would sit on his recliner throne watching The Game Show Network (every day) ready at a moment’s notice to pounce and, in his Cuban accent, say “I got you!”
It was a crisp (read: damn cold) December night in 2010. The girl (who I enjoyed a full-on, late-night make-out session with just a few days prior) and I were on our first “actual” date. I met her outside Penelope — a cute and quaint restaurant near her Manhattan office.
As she walked up, I recognized her… from all the aforementioned face sucking, but also because we had been friends-of-friends for about two years. She was dating someone when I met her (of course) and I had already done the whole unrequited love thing in my youth—pining away for someone who was unavailable, even well into college and so… The Wall of Friendship went up hard and fast.
Cut to: a couple months before this cold wintry night, the news of her newly-single status was divulged to me by one kissyface herself. From her side, it was just informative; so that I knew. From my side, it was just suggestive; so that I knew. My gotta-nab-this-one pouncing instincts kicked in way before she was ready and I was way obvious with my flirtations. (I came on too strong, “too soon.”) She rebuffed gently and I was okay with it, pointing out I just thought she was a cool girl.
So… couple months later… couple drinks in her later… couple text exchanges later… and I’m racing across lower Manhattan over the Brooklyn Bridge, driving through the night wind like the Batsignal was shining over the East River. Needless to say: no longer “too soon” and goodbye, Wall.
Our first date was all the smiles and feels one would expect it to be — we were completely at ease with each other and now easily complete with each other. She suggested in an “Is this cheesy?”-way that we go see the tree. (The one at Rockefeller Center, of course. Remember? December.) “Yeah!” I’m sure I exclaimed, not wanting the night to end.
On our way to the subway, we walked together arm in arm, huddling close for the warmth of one another’s bodies. Damn, it was cold. I remember she noted my shivering or my trembling lip. Like I would let a silly thing like that stop me.
We got onto the packed Uptown car and didn’t see any seats available. So, we just stood in the doorway; we’d only be a couple stops anyway. As the doors shut behind us, there was nothing to brace us from the jolt of the sudden forward motion. I instinctively grabbed her around her waist and uttered something that subtly meant so much more than what it meant in that small moment: “I got you.”
With thanks to Kate Rados, to celebrate the anniversary of our first kiss & date.