“Daddy, I wish you’d smile more.”
“I’ll try. I’ll really try.”
“I like when you smile.”
I nod because I have no words, because my 4-yr-old Sienna is right. I don’t smile enough. I don’t laugh enough. Too often I look serious or sad or angry – not at her – at life. I’ve been in a fairly dark place the last few months, depression corroding my insides like rust or acid, blinding me to the joys of being a father. I see my daughter after school and count the hours and minutes until it’s time for night-night. And she knows it. This little girl is so damn smart and intuitive. I don’t want to be this way. I don’t want to miss out on things I’ll never again experience.
A couple of months ago I lay with Sienna in her bed. She needs either myself or her mommy to stay with her a bit until she feels comfortable with being alone. Monkeys, squirrels, cheetahs, owls, penguins surrounded me. At the foot of her bed Snoopy hung out with Darth Vader. Vader held a pumpkin that wished all a happy Halloween. I listened to Sienna breathe…so much quicker than my own air gulps. She held a ratty scarf she’s had since she was a baby and sucked her right thumb. I held a Star Wars blanket to my chest and kept one arm around Sienna. The slurping from thumb-sucking filled the room. I’d do anything for this little girl. I want to share her joys and triumphs and defeats and sadness. I want her to share mine. But depression always gets in the way. Depression makes me nod and say and empty, “Beautiful” when she shows me a picture she drew in school…her as a sparkly purple queen.
As we lay there together, I looked around the room I’d helped decorate – Inside Out and Star Wars decals adorning the mint green walls; a painting of Batman and Superman; my mother’s artistic take on Charlie Brown and Snoopy; a cupcake clock that had stopped ticking now for more than a year; butterflies and flowers she’d made in school; a photo I’d taken of Siena, Italy. As I looked around the room anxiously wanting to leave, to be rid of my child for the day and have my space – maybe to watch something stupid like “New Girl,” Sienna started to squirm. Somehow she maneuvered herself sideways until she lay on top of me, back to my chest. She felt warm. I felt trapped, but I didn’t move. Something in my brain told me this was special. My depression relented a bit. I breathed slowly, deeply as her breathing slowed and sleep took her away for the night. Her thumb dropped out of her mouth covering my face with saliva. I lay still. Despite my depression, despite my difficulty smiling, she felt safe and loved. She’s 4 years old and she loves her daddy. Would I ever experience this again? This closeness to my daughter? This miracle? Before I know it she’ll be a teenager and want nothing to do with me. I can’t let my depression steal moments like this. I can’t. I need to be strong. I need to take it all in and remember. I need to make it all about her instead of making it all about me.
We lay there for a good half hour before I gently moved myself from beneath her and gave her a kitty to hug as she dreamed.
“I love you,” I whispered. “I love you so much…so much. I’ll try. I’ll try to smile more. I’ll beat my anxiety. I’ll take Xanax if need be. I’ll be a better daddy.”
I pulled the cover to her waist and watched her breathe in and breathe out. Her eyes remained slightly open which always makes me laugh. She sleeps like the undead.
I won’t let my depression take this memory from me. Not this one. It’s already taken too many. And I’ll do my damnedest to fight it. It’s so hard when your brain’s constantly pelting you with the needles that are negative thoughts as life goes on around you. But I’ll keep battling because Sienna deserves it, because I deserve it, because I never want another extraordinary moment to slip by.