Set it straight. A little at a time. Even if it takes Monday night. The keys. Wine. Thirty-nine letters to agents. Dismal sales. The push toward forty. Writing better these days than ever before, but so far behind that it’s like I’m 27. Cocky and strong. Trying to break on through to the other side. Take a little piece of her heart. And hers and hers and hers. And burn out instead of fade away.
But hey, I’m still alive.
And the tick of the clock does not bother me.
3:00 in the morning.
My daughter wakes. Three years old. Blonde hair shocking the air like Einstein. Clutching her stuffed hound.
“Will you turn the light on?” she asks.
“It’s already on,” I say. “But I can carry you there.”
She smiles. Just a bit. Because smiling is hard when you’ve been sleeping eight hours. The floors are cold. And you’re afraid of the dark.
“But the light, Daddy.”
“It’s already on,” I say again.
And I lift her. Slowly. As if this may be the last time. And she hugs me. Puts her face into my neck. And I know that this is where I’m supposed to be. Writing for the world the does not listen. Growing old in this small town. Sitting at the big dining room table. My boy asleep down the hallway. Clutching the book I read to him before bed. My wife asleep in our room just a few feet away. And me awake with things that cannot be understood—not yet, not now, because they must be wrestled out over time with these keys—and my daughter. Awake too. Because she has to pee.
“Thank you, Daddy,” she says, as she steps out of the bathroom. Smiles. This time a little wider.
“Thank you,” I say. “You’re such a big girl. One day you won’t need Daddy for anything.”
She hugs me. The house, so quiet, is just ours. I carry her to her room.
“I will need you for the light,” she says.
I lay her in bed. She snuggles with the stuffed hound. I tuck her in.
“But sometimes the light will already be on,” I say.
“But I’ll need you to carry me,” she says.
“Not always,” I say.
“Oh, Daddy,” she says. “You just don’t understand.”
“I guess not,” I say. And kiss her cheek. And she waves. And I wave. And it’s off to this. The same thing I’ve been doing for as long as I can remember, which is the same thing I’ll be doing for as long as it takes.
To set it straight.
A little at a time.
Even if it takes Monday night. The keys. Wine. Thirty-nine letters. Dismal sales. And the push toward forty. With me writing better but so far behind that it’s like I’m 27. Cocky and strong. Dumb as shit. But doing my best. To break on through to the other side. Take a little piece of her heart. And walk that fine line that men sometimes walk when they know there is a good chance that they will burn out before fading away.