Well, Henry, it’s time for you to go. I picked the axe up in my hand and swung back. Bark flew out and hit my face. The wood screamed as the metal pushed the log, before making a loud pop as the log split in two. I grabbed each piece and tossed it into the back of our white pickup truck. The sun was high in the sky, showing that it was roughly noon. Sweat dripped down my face and fell onto the ground. It wouldn’t have surprised me if my sweat sizzled on the hot cement. The last time it was this hot—
My only daughter tirelessly ran around the yard. She went to her favorite tree, she named him Henry, and climbed high. About ten feet into the air, she shouted down, “Daddy, catch me!”
“No, sweetie, you’re a little too high for that, how about you come down to this branch?” She climbed down and just before reaching the branch I had told her, she leaped. I caught her in my arms and wrapped her into a hug. She went back to Henry and climbed up to the top again and sat there looking over the field.
I grabbed another piece of wood and set it on the machine. It pushed as the wood split in two. The scream caught me by surprise. It sounded just like her.
“Daddy, can I borrow your knife?”
“What on Earth for? Knives are very dangerous, Katie.”
“I know, I just wanted to give Henry his own name tag, then whoever meets him will know his name.”
“How about I write it for you and you can sit down next to me and tell me right where Henry wants his nametag?”
“No! He told me that he wants me to write it. He said that he only wants me to do it, otherwise it wouldn’t look good.”
“All right, well, if you’re going to do it I need to be with you.”
“Dad, I’ll be safe. I promise!”
“No, either I’m there or you don’t do it at all.”
“Fine” I walked down to Henry with her on my shoulders. She wrapped her tiny arms onto the branch and lifted her body onto Henry. I handed her my knife and watched her small fingers carefully write an H, then and E, N. When she got to the R, she gave me the knife. “My hands are too tired, you do it.” I took the knife from her hands and wrote out the R and the Y.”
I picked up another piece. My fingers grazed over small indentations in the bark. I turned it over and looked at the shaky handwriting. Henry, I’m so sorry. You’re best friend is gone. She’s not coming back.
She came home with her eyes filled with tears. She threw her bag onto her bed and rushed outside. I set down the newspaper and watched her swing on the old wooden swing we built on Henry. Her legs kicked at the dust. She looked almost as small as she used to. I cautiously made my way to her. She peaked her small eyes up at me and stood up from the swing. Her arms wrapped around my shoulders and her entire body shook. My shirt was getting soaked, but it didn’t matter. I held her there tightly.
“Daddy, I don’t understand. Why didn’t he pick me. Why was she so much better?”
“Baby, you are an amazing girl. Sometimes things just don’t work out. It’s nothing you did. Boys… Well, boys just don’t understand how good they have it sometimes. They take things and they break them apart, crushing them and they don’t understand the destruction they’ve created until it’s too late. They take their world for granted. Baby, there’s no doubt that you were his world. He cared about you. I could see that in the way he looked at you. There’s really no telling why he chose her, but there’s not much you can do about it now. You just have to understand that this happened for a reason and you can choose to keep going and not looking back. Don’t regret that it happened, be happy that you can learn from it.”
“You always know what to say. How do you do that?”
“Lots of practice, hun.”
You can learn from this. Things happen for a reason. I need to learn from this. Learn to look both ways more than twice. Learn to wear my seatbelt. Learn that people can be taken out of this world so quickly. Sometimes you don’t have time to say goodbye. She never got to say goodbye to Henry. He’s probably still wondering why she hasn’t come back yet. I put down his name tag and grabbed a new piece.
“You look amazing, baby. That dress looks wonderful on you.”
“Thank you, Daddy.”
“Remember to be safe tonight. There’s always crazy drivers out and about late at night and it’s a Saturday. It’s prom, so be safe but also remember to have fun!”
“I know, Dad. I’ll be safe. I love you!”
“I love you too baby! You tell that boy to keep his hands above the waist.” I threw a wink her way to let her know I was joking. She didn’t see it. She was looking at the name HENRY carved into the tree. She traced her fingers over the letters.
“Bye, Henry! I’ll see you tomorrow!”
She didn’t come home the next day. I put the last piece onto the splitter. I watched as the log slowly cracked apart.
This is how her car split apart when the two cars that were drag racing on the streets crashed into her. Her car rolled, her body flew out, scraping against the hard pavement. The police told me they were astonished with how far her body was from the place of the accident. They told me like I would find it interesting to know that her body bounced like a kickball into the ditch. Like I would love to know that her brains were scattered even further from her body. That her head cracked open like dropping an egg. That her skin was peeled back around her face. That we would have to have a closed casket and I couldn’t even look at my baby girl because I couldn’t be sure that it was her. I’m sure the tires made a loud pop. I’m sure there was an ear piercing scream.
The log made a final moan before cracking in two. Tears dropped onto the pavement, this was not sweat. They were tears Katie was gone and now so was Henry.
I wish I could take her place six feet under the ground. Take all of the pain that she felt away from her. It’s been a year and each day gets worse, not better. I could no longer stand to look at Henry, dead in the front of our yard. She wasn’t here to protect him anymore.
Now they’re both gone.