He had the job of getting the four of them to church, his youngest daughter and the neighbor’s two. They were all about six. Semi-controllable. Or at least controllable by a Dad “look.” However control was not necessary as the event that morning converted the children from floor surfers to complying urchins. But not Ellen.
She held center stage.
They were busy sliding on the kitchen floor in their socks; the children not the Dad. The four of them were heading to Church, his wife and eldest already having left for commitment reasons. He was on time as his coffee was still hot and had just given the “all aboard” command as the children began their final slides. Two completed their slides using the counter to brake. One did not. While hurrying her slide, Ellen’s speed had accelerated too fast and her balance was sidelined. She was not going to reach the safety of the counter before losing control. All contact, for the moment, vaporized. Then her chin met the hardwood floor.
His coffee became cold and tasteless as he whipped his head around. He saw a gash emerge red, just below Ellen’s chin. She sat silent as the blood started to geyser. He quickly examined the blood flow and grabbed a couple of kitchen towels. He knew only stitches would close the wound. He applied a towel which instantly soaked red. Gathering Ellen in his arms, he gave totalitarian directives to the two stage-struck observers. The children behaved handsomely and were soon ready. He set Ellen on the table steadying her with one hand and picked up the phone. He called the friend’s Mom and advised her that he was heading to the hospital. She would have to collect her own there.
Ellen’s blood kept coming, oozing rapidly, and he was growing concerned. Slipping on his boots, he took up his position at the back of the quickly formed Que and ushered it outside, stepping through the Spring mud toward the cold car sitting in the drive. The friends were ushered into the backseat. Ellen was deposited in the passenger seat and given the clean towel. He showed her how to hold it and discarded the stained one in the mud. After the initial yell of surprise, Ellen had remained mute. He affirmed to all listening ears that “it would be alright” while glancing quickly at his daughter. She stared ahead, holding the towel in place. Buckling as he drove he left the dirt driveway, hit the black-top, and sped toward town. The normal travel time to the hospital was ten minutes. Five minutes later he shut the car off and hurried Ellen into the emergency room, the two friends following.
Ellen was somber and scared, seemingly dazed. She had not cried nor complained. But she also had not spoken. She kept her gaze forward while keeping the towel pressed on here chin. The towel was as the other now, more red than the original white. He told her it was going to alright. But the blood flow suggested urgency.
They grouped in front of the desk. The hospital protocol was engaged, following which they were taken immediately to a waiting room. The “troops” came close behind. Not long after a nurse dressed in blue hospital fatigues entered and chartered them to an examining room. She had Ellen lay on nearby table and applied a sanitized compress. She had him hold it to Ellen’s chin. Just then the “troops” Mom came and took charge of her young ones. She promised to let his wife know that Ellen was o.k. and that they would be home as soon as possible. The two friends had wanted to stay, but he was relieved.
The nurse, in a matter of fact way, offered practical encouragement. The words did not salve his frayed nerves. Yes, the cut would be fine. What bothered him were the large brown eyes that were riveted at nothing. He could feel that Ellen needed him to fix this situation and all he could do was press towels. She had no idea what hospitals did or would do. She just knew what her daddy could or would do. She was six years old. Daddy’s fixed everything, yet all he could do was be a bystander who employed soothing. The compress was changed as they waited for the doctor. The wait aged.
A century later a Doctor quietly eased his way into the room. He nicely said hello and scrutinized the cut. Her chin had hit the floor hard enough to cause a split that was uniform in its straightness but deep, which explained the constant flow of blood. Stitches were confirmed. As the nurse prepared the utensils the Dr. scrubbed his hands. Turning from the sink, he bent low to speak to Ellen.
“I am going to give you a shot which contains Novocaine. This will hurt for just a minute and then your chin will feel funny. Numb. This is so you won’t feel anything as I take care of your cut. Is that o.k.?” Ellen just looked at him with her huge brown eyes, acknowledging nothing.
“O.K. now this will sting for just a short time as I said, but very quickly you won’t feel a thing. All right?” He was trying to be nice and comforting. He looked for some acknowledgement of “all’s well” in her little head. But Ellen continued to maintain her direct if not questioning gaze.
Her silence gave him no comfort. He was churning inside. The nurse gently placed a towel-mask over Ellen’s face with holes for eyes and nose. The chin area of the mask was exposed as well. The mask unsettled him for some reason and he looked for a chair to sit down next to her. He placed one by the table and placed her left hand between both of his. Her hand felt so small and cold. He offered some more soft words of encouragement.
The Doctor spoke, “all right, this will sting, but just for a moment.” The needle descended to the gash.
That was when time stopped. He knew that everything would be o.k. The cut was clean. The scar would be small. All that was elementary. What he could not shake was the useless feeling that had descended on him. In some silly way the Protector had not protected. This smothered and choked him. Unmerited guilt, but guilt just the same.
With the mask in place he could only see her left eye. That is where he kept his attention. It was focused straight ahead. Though he softly reassured, his words trailed into the nether of meaningless. She was safe. The doctor was in control. There was nothing to fret about. Yet her attitude of chilling quiet was telling him that her six years of life was not understanding. She had been hurt and her dad had not fixed it. He felt like crap.
As the needle entered her skin she did not wince or tense. She slowly turned her eye to his face. Her hand moved and tightened on his. He moved closer. He looked straight into her eye imploring her to know he was taking care of her.
Water formed on the outside of the orb and proceeded to well up. A tear. And as it welled up he could feel his heart beating a little faster. And now, focused on his face, the beautiful brown eye let loose that one tear to trickle slowly down her cheek. The tear shattered his emotional equilibrium. One tear from his little girl’s eye. Behind the tear he could see that she was afraid, but he also saw that she knew he was there. She knew he was doing right. She had not lost her trust in him. He was her daddy. And he was there.
Later, as she told her mother the whole story, he sat close by and thought of that tear. She never mentioned it in the retelling. Yet it was the whole story to him.
Ten years later he broke her arm. That day he threw up.