WELL DONE BOO BOO
by Kathryn Merriam
Five years. It has only been five years, and so much has happened in those five years.
I would not trade him for the world. He is so precious. There are really no words to describe how much a mother loves her child. All I have to do is look into his sea-foam green eyes and know that this is where I am supposed to be. This is who I was meant to be from the very beginning. It was hard at first to accept my life, but I have come to know that I would not trade it for the world. I know that I have the support of my family; I always have.
The rain teases the surface water of the lake. The sun tries its best to peek out, but the clouds are doing well at hiding him. As I look out the white-paneled window, I think of my dad. It is his birthday today! He is turning forty today! Wow! I always teased him about getting old, but he embraced it. After Jason gets home, we are going to out to Javi’s, his favorite Mexican restaurant, to celebrate! It is hard to focus on his birthday though because of this yellow spot on the window is driving me crazy. I laugh at myself as I acknowledge that the spot is a reflection of Winnie the Pooh.
Looking down, I see Winnie the Pooh cuddling close to Ezel. My dad gave me that blanket the day I was born. Over time, however, he became more than a blanket. As a toddler, I took him everywhere with me. The older I got the less I took him with me, but I still looked forward to cuddling with him every night. He danced with me when I told him about my accomplishments and wiped my tears when I cried. Winnie the Pooh is holding hands with Piglet on the front. Both of them are smiling. If you look at it with Winnie the Pooh facing you, the top right corner cries with joy. Actually, there is not a corner anymore. After nineteen years of placing that corner between my pointer and middle fingers and rubbing it for comfort, the corner retired. The stuffing has retreated to inches inside the thin protecting layer of fabric. The stuffing and the fabric dance together as two separate parts now, but I know that Winnie would not trade his corner back for the attention that he got from me. And now Winnie the Pooh can bond with my son. He still smells like campfire. Not matter what I did to wash out that smell, it is still here. My dad always smelled like campfire, and since Winnie, my dad, and I were once inseparable, we all acquired my dad’s scent. Taking a deep breath takes me back.
Not too long ago, my dad held me in his arms as I am holding Ezel. We would read scriptures together. I would scan the page left to right just like Daddy. When I was in elementary school, I sat on his shoulders as we walked around the lake in our backyard, through the park on the other side, across the populated street, and to the front steps of the school. As I grew up, he continued to escort me to school. Looking back, I took advantage of those days-those days he was with me. It was embarrassing as a high schooler to have my father walk with me to school every morning. I always tried to hide inside myself, but at least he was there. After he dropped me off, he would walk to Tony’s Tinker Mechanic Shop and would work hard all-day long. After school, I would join him at the shop and he would teach me a few things about cars. Let me just say that it was so boring, but I know that he loved it, so I half-listened.
After homework, dinner, and dancing, he sang me “You are My Sunshine” to me every night right after prayers. Sometimes he would use a deep voice, and on his sillier days, he would sing it in the highest pitch he could manage. I fell asleep to his voice every night and woke up most mornings to that tune…I still do.
Watching him walk out that door, not knowing if his voice would ever fill these rooms again, not knowing if his arms would ever wrap around me again, or not knowing if his smile would ever light up my world again, killed me. I have always liked to be in control, to know what will come, to know what lies ahead. I had done pretty good with that…until the day he left. The second he stepped foot off the front porch, a part of me left with him. I no longer could control what would happen. I no longer knew what the future held. I could not plan it, for I had absolutely no idea.
I was a senior in high school when he deployed. He served overseas missions before I was born, but after an explosion, he chose to stay inland, which is when he met my mom. They thought it was love, but she had been seeing other men the whole time. My dad didn’t find out until after they were married. Not that I am an expert, but from what I hear, my mom was really not the type to settle down. I was born two months before the divorce. She handed me over to my dad’s custody without any hesitation. I am sure she had other things to do. The divorce was hard on my dad. He blamed himself, but I tried to tell him that it wasn’t his fault. As part of the Marine Corps Reserves, I knew he could be called in again, but I prayed that day would never come. It did.
Why is life so complicated? He served his time, fulfilled his time, until the call came. I knew it was that call. Within two days, he was gone. Just like my mom. What did I do to lose my parents? Was I not good enough? Did I not deserve to be loved?
Raising me must not have been easy. I don’t even want to imagine what he experienced. I mean, I behaved myself, for the most part. He endured all of my childhood for me. All of that time. Effort. Pain. Support. Devotion. All of it was for me because he loves me. And he loves his country so much. He loves me so much, that he left to fight in the war. He knows that I can handle myself. Well, he thinks he knows. What must have been oblivious to him was the fact that I could not do it without him. It had always been him and me, never just me, or just him. Until he left.
School kept me busy. Being an undergraduate pushed me to my limits, but it was easier than watching my dad walk out that door to a world out of my control. I did not really make any friends at first. I was so sad that I did not feel like talking. Going to classes was hard enough. Nothing was the same. I knew that he would want me to try hard, and that was the only reason I got myself out of bed every morning. His desire for me to be successful motived me to work hard. I mean, at least I had a dad. He was not necessarily with me physically, but he was on Earth. And he did not leave me on purpose in an effort to abandon me. It was, instead, to protect me.
I was not always accepting of his departure. His uniform did not symbolize freedom, or courage, or hope. When I saw it, I saw loneliness. When I saw his black uniform, it was like looking at my life when he left. When I saw his black uniform, I saw the absence of life when he left. When I saw his black uniform, I saw all of my joy swallowed up as he walked farther and farther away into the abyss of a world far from me.
I always wondered what he was doing, where he was, and how he was doing. I pictured him surprising me at the university. I would walk around the corner and he would be standing there with open arms. Or I would step into the house, and he would be standing in the front hall with his perfectly white smile. I prayed every day that he would be there with me. I wanted him to hold me again. I wanted him to know how much I love him. I wanted to hear his voice. I wanted him back. But life does not work that way.
One year went by and I had not heard the sound of my dad’s voice, or seen his eyes light up when he saw me, or smelled the laundry detergent of his pristine uniform, and it hurt so much. I was not strong enough to let the pain go. Instead, I learned to control it, and when it was the proper time, I let it out. The weekends consisted of me driving home to take a walk around our property, but most of the time, I ended up cutting the walk short and just sitting by the lake. In the evening, I would lay on the edge of the lake close enough to the water that as the waves charged up the shore, they tickled my feet. I would look up to see a medley of russet, fuchsia, rose, and coral colors start to fade behind the lake. The evenings were the only times of the week that I truly enjoyed being me. I got to think, to write in my journal, and to be myself, by myself.
With all of my heart and soul, I wanted to see my daddy. He was my best friend, but he was gone, maybe somewhere I didn’t know existed. I missed those times when he attempted to braid my hair, when he prayed with me every night before I fell asleep, or when he kissed me on the forehead. When I looked into his eyes, I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I was loved, that I was cherished more than I really even know. Was it too much to ask to have him back for a few days? We could walk along the lake in the backyard and sing and dance and be goofy like we always did. I would give anything to see my dad in person, to feel his arms around me, to hear his chuckle in my ear.
Two years after he left, I had a life-changing moment. I looked in the mirror and was shocked by what I saw. Not necessarily in a bad way, but in a disappointed way. I looked at myself and heard my dad’s voice, “Carter, what are you doing?” He would always ask me that when he knew I could do better, or when he knew that I knew I was not doing my best. It was in that moment that I knew I was not doing my best, that I was not being my best. I decided I would get involved. I wanted to meet more people, maybe even make some friends, so I did. After that decision was made, I heard him praise me, “Well done, Boo Boo. You are my pride and joy.” When I heard that, I knew that he was proud of me. I knew that I was on the path that God intended for me. I joined the soccer team that spring and met even met some friends.
One friend in particular stood out. At first, he was just part of our group. Jason was sweet, kind, funny, and then he became my best friend. We studied together almost every day until two weeks after our study sessions. That was when he asked me on an official date. He brought flowers and asked me to join him for dinner. His excuse was our successful completion of the midterm. I saw right through him, but I accepted. I knew that we got along before the date, but that date reminded me of what it was like to be happy. After my dad left, I thought that my ability to be happy left with him, but Jason reminded me that I have always known how to be happy. He listened to me as I talked about my pain, my loneliness, my past. We did not get to every detail, but that was not the point. The point was that he was still there listening to me, interested in what I had to say, and intrigued by me, the real me. He wanted to learn more about me. And wow! I wanted to get to know him. We continued to date every weekend. He went to my soccer games and I went to his debate competitions.
After a year of dating, he and I were starting our last year at the university. The day before classes started, he asked me to join him on a beach trip. I thought nothing of it other than him listening to my desire to go on a road trip together. It was one way that I thought I would know for sure if he was perfect for me. And he was…he is!
Not once did we turn on the radio. There were only a few moments of silence that were due to us catching our breath. That was the perfect road trip. Karaoke. Laughter. Jokes. Deep talks. Revealing talks. And so. Much. Fun. That trip only got better.
We took a walk on the beach that night. The moon was swaying back and forth in time with the ocean. The breeze played with my hair. His fingers were entwined with mine. We walked and talked. I felt so peaceful. I was where I was supposed to be standing next to who I was supposed to be standing next to. It was perfect. The whimsical evening took my thoughts to the heavens.
“Carter! Carter! Carter!” Jason was laughing at me.
“Where are you?” I giggled.
“I was just thinking.” It hit me then that I was looking down at him. I usually had to gaze up a little bit in order to see him, but his eyes were beneath mine. Oh my gosh! He was on one knee! I was so oblivious to his plans, which I am still grateful for. That was the best surprise I had ever had.
“Carter, you are the love of my life. You are the mystery in my life that I want to spend forever solving. You are my breath. You are my universe. Carter Rose Huntington, will you marry me?” I flapped my arms for at least twenty seconds. The voice I had seconds before was gone. The tear ducts I had gotten to know so well opened. I finally gained my composure and replied.
“Yes! Yes, I will marry you, Jason Chase Evans!”
There was so much joy in my life, but I had not forgotten what it had taken for me to get to that point. I was crying less, but the pain still ran deep. I had not heard from my dad in years. The more I thought of him, the more I smelled campfire. He always smelled like he had been camping, but I could never figure out why. Jason became my rock, the one person I could lean on. I knew he would not let me fall. He endured all of my crying and my outbursts of frustration. I helped him through his mom’s passing. We decided to move forward, to really move forward. I knew that I would never stop praying for, thinking about, or loving my dad. He loved me before anyone else on Earth ever did. I was determined to not give up, to keep hoping, to keep moving.
Jason and I planned to get married two months later. I knew that if I were to talk to my dad, he would want me to go through with the wedding. He would want me to be happy. Jason makes me happier than anyone ever has. I will not lie and say that looking forward to my wedding did not have any pain, because it did. I was so giddy, so in love, so happy…I still am. But deep inside me, where only Jason and God are let in, resides the pain of my dad’s absence. His absence had become such a “normal thing”, and I hated it.
Our wedding was coming up in only one month. Everything was coming together…until the letter came. It was from the Marine Corps, and the second I saw that seal, my heart dropped. I called Jason but couldn’t say anything. He came over. I broke down into a fit of tears. I rested my head in his lap. He leaned over and kissed the top of my head. He ran his fingers through my hair. I opened the letter. I let out a sound that had never reached my ears. Jason looked at me. He recognized my pain. I let go of all of my feelings.
An hour later, I woke up. I felt dead. Dead to the world. Dead to feeling. I did not want to think or to feel. But I was grateful I could feel Jason next to me. I was grateful I could smell the citrus wafting off of him. I was grateful I could hear him breathing. He was real. He was there.
“Why, God? Why did you take him from me?” I was yelling at God. I was so tired of praying and not getting what I wanted.
“Babe, He can hear you,” Jason’s tone was gentle and so full of love.
“I know, but why, Jason? Why did He take my dad from me?”
“I don’t know. What I do know is that He loves you.” It took everything I had to not yell at him, but it wasn’t Jason’s fault. It wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t even God’s fault. That day, God taught me that blaming Him and yelling at Him got me nowhere but farther in the depths of pain and despair. After all, I had a choice. I could blame Him, get angry, fight against Him, and lose. Or, I could accept that I had no control over my dad’s death and that if I worked with God, I could feel better, get better, and be better.
I was grateful that he died fighting for his country and for me, for that is how he would have wanted it. Without him, I would not have been the person I was. I would not be the person I am today. Thinking positively only lasted a few minutes though. I felt my heart break in two. He would not be there to walk me down the aisle. He would not be there to dance with me. He would not be there to give me away. I would not even be able to see his body, but instead, just the box that his body was enclosed in.
The American flag wrapped around his coffin. It was folded and handed to me at his funeral. My face was so red and blotchy, but I did not care. Without having Jason next to me, I would have broken, not bent. Only Jason was giving me the strength to keep going. After working so hard to become independent, to be able to take on life by myself, when it came down to it, I was not strong enough. Jason says I am strong, but I was not strong then. Jason held me up as we walked to the car.
Our wedding was postponed. It just didn’t feel right getting married two weeks after the funeral, so we postponed it. I could tell that Jason did not want to, but he understood. We waited three months and could not wait any longer. It was worth the wait. He has always been worth the wait.
“Beautiful, are you okay?”
“Yeah.” I thought I could overcome it, but it is consuming me. The absence of my first best friend was dampening my mood…on my wedding day! What bride is sad on her wedding day?
The smile on his face melted my heart. “I know what that means: you are not really okay. What’s up?” Jason and I decided to take a walk along the lake before the craziness ensued. The sun had not even shown itself yet, but Jason wanted to take some time to ourselves before the crazy fun truly began.
“Handsome, he isn’t here. And-gosh-I don’t want to take away from the day. I don’t want to take away the value of you in my life. Jason, I love you more than words can describe. I cherish you, everything about you. But the part of me that I gave to my dad when he went overseas is still with him. I just need you to forgive me.” He stopped walking and turned toward me. He framed my face with his hands.
“Oh, Carter. You mean more to me than anything or anyone on this earth. You are my universe. You are what makes me smile when I see you every day. After today, I can wake up and not have to wait to look at your beautiful, engaging eyes. I can wake up and play with your hair, make you breakfast, give you kisses. I can spend every possible second with you. You have my heart, Carter, and I am yours.” Tears were filling my eyes. I did not want him to think of himself as anything less than who he is.
“And you are mine. You have my heart.” I marvel at his patience, his forgiveness, his unconditional love every day.
“I know that you love your dad so much. After your mom left, he took up that responsibility of raising you, and if I could have met him, I would thank him for doing such a wonderful job. He is your family, and now I get the pleasure and honor of being a part of your family. You have nothing to apologize for. Just know that I love you, Carter. I cherish everything about you.” He enfolded me in his arms and I melted into his embrace. All I ever needed was Jason, and he is here, and we are about to become one. I was so ready!
“God, thank you so much for my life. Thank you for the time I had with my dad. Thank you for Jason. Thank you for the time I have with Jason. Thank you for my future. Thank you for not giving up on me. Thank you for loving me.” My prayer was on the shorter side, but it came from the heart and was the sincerest prayer I had ever shared with God.
Jason and I unraveled and he held my hand on our way back to the driveway. I brought his hand to my lips and gave it a brush.
“You are my sunshine, my boo boo sunshine. You make me happy when skies are grey…” Amongst the crazy fun of the day, I heard that song, that song that my daddy sang to me every night before he left. That song was like breathing to me. I knew that moment that he was there. How could I doubt him? He may not have been there physically, but he was there spiritually. I felt his presence and knew without a doubt that he was there. I felt him kiss my cheek. I heard him singing to me. I smelled his notorious scent of campfire. I pictured his smile. I could taste the waffles he used to make for me. To honor him, my wedding colors were red, white, and blue. I also had a breakfast buffet. Breakfast was his favorite meal, so much so that we ate pancakes, crepes, eggs, bacon, and waffles for dinner often. I picked up that habit.
The rain is still playing with the lake water. The cat tails bend to the rain’s will. The sun is singing as it breaks through the clouds. I feel Jason come up behind me. His arms entangle me and Ezel. He places a kiss on my cheek and rests his chin on my shoulder. I outline his face with my finger as I turn to face him. I stare at those green eyes and know. I know that I am where I am supposed to be. I melt into Jason’s chest as he brushes my forehead with his lips. Ezel sleeps in my left arm. Man, wife, and child. A family. My dad is here too, smiling. He knows that I love him. He knows that I am happy. He knows that I have let go of the pain and the hurt. I have started to embrace life. I am truly living. “Well done, Boo Boo. You are my pride and joy.”
About the Author:
Born in Utah but raised in California, Kathryn is a lover of life! She always had a passion for writing but it has become more prominent in recent years! She loves spending time with her family and friends, Jersey cows, her dog, smiling, laughing, long walks on the beach, writing, sunsets, and making sure others feel loved. She is a junior at Brigham Young University-Idaho with a major in English and dreams to be an author and an editor!