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IF EVER I SAW YOUR FACE
My heart was pounding in my chest as I waited for the plane to land at the Jacksonville, Florida International Airport. This was going to be the first time I had seen my daughter, since she was two. She was now a 22-year-old young woman.
This would be the first time in my life that I would see anyone I had known as a child, who had become a full-grown person. That may seem strange, but it is very true. I was raised in a very abusive orphanage until the age of 14. I then made my way through the juvenile court system, the reform school at Marianna and then on to jail at the age of 19.
My entire life was one constant move, always moving from one orphanage to another. I had never been allowed to stay in one place long enough to ever see anyone grow up. I knew absolutely no one as a child, who had become a grown up person, so this was a very unusual situation for me, and one that was doubly difficult to deal with.
I watched as each passenger walked from the plane and looked at every young female's face as they disembarked. Is that her? Or could that be her? No, that one must be her! My eyes were open wider than they had ever been before, so I would not miss her. My mind was racing at 90 miles per hour in a never-ending circle of confusion. What is she going to think of me as a person, what will I look like to her as a father and what would she look like? Finally there she came, walking straight toward me. The most beautiful sight I had ever seen. This thin, blond, work of art and with the biggest smile I had ever seen.
"Dad?” she said, with a big smile on her face.
"Twila?" I responded, as I stared into her eyes.
We hugged each other for a brief moment and then started walking toward the luggage terminal to get her baggage. I could not help but stare at her constantly, hoping she would not notice. It was just so amazing to me. Here was this unbelievable thing walking beside me. This full grown, beautiful, young woman who I could not believe was here on this earth because of me. It was absolutely amazing.
I felt like jumping on top of one of the tall airport terminal chairs and yelling into the crowd, "LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, it moves, it walks and it talks, just like a real live person!"
I was in a state of numbness or shock and I tried to act as if it was no big deal. However, this was a big deal and I was overwhelmed by fright, fear and this strange sense of happiness. After leaving the airport, we stopped at a restaurant for supper. Then we got a motel room where we sat for hours looking at the photo albums I brought with me. Finally, she fell asleep. I sat there on the chair beside the bed for hours and hours, just staring at her. I could not believe that she was real, that this was my daughter. That she was a part of me. It was like a miracle happening in front of my very eyes.
I took off my shoes and socks, placed my feet on the bed beside her and tried to sleep. As I was about to doze off, I moved my foot toward her and my heel touched her foot. It was so wonderful. Here was this warm, live, breathing human being. It was as if I had touched a part of me that I never knew existed. This unusual feeling radiated through my entire being and it felt so strange, and so unusual. I felt such pride that she was a part of me. That she was so beautiful compared to me.
I got up from the bed and walked into the bathroom. I looked very slowly and cautiously at my face in the large mirror. Holding onto the sink, I bent over and stared deep into my eyes. I looked to see if I could see her anywhere inside of me. However, she was not there. There was no one inside of me. All I could see was "I," that sad, alone little orphan boy from the orphanage in Jacksonville. Just that "worthless little boy" that I had always been for all those years in all those orphanages and all those institutions.
That day was the beginning of my life. It was a day when I started to learn how to be a father. That was the very day when I came to realize that I had a heart and a soul - that I was entitled to use it to love someone.
I love you very much, Twila