Friday, February 18, 2005

coming of age

I did my civil duty and stopped off at the police station today. The station is pretty close to Maria's school, so I picked her up before heading over. They just wanted to ask me some questions... I couldn't imagine it taking more than a few minutes.

It was pretty much a routine situation. They asked me where I was on the day of the murder, if I noticed anything unusual in the neighborhood in the days leading up to it, etc. I was helpful and cooperative, and they were friendly in return. It's been a while since it happened, so I'm assuming that they're just trying to do all they can to make it look like they did their best to solve the case. This sort of thing doesn't happen around here often, so they probably need a nice thick folder to file away, before stamping it 'inconclusive'. They wanted to speak to me alone, so Maria waited out in the reception area; I preferred for her to not be in the room anyway... no gory details were discussed, but the fact is that a woman was killed, and Maria knew her. I wanted to keep her as far away from this thing as possible.

After they were done with me, when I went to the reception area to get Maria, I happened upon an unexpected scene. Maria was sitting on the bench by herself, looking at her lap, crying. I scanned the other faces in the room, to gather some information about what had happened, but everyone who I looked at averted their eyes, trying and failing to look natural. My daughter was crying, and nobody was consoling her or indicating to me any sort of reason; what would possibly seem natural about that?

I sat beside her on the bench and put my arm around her, peeking up to see others' reactions, in a final attempt to get a sense of what was going on. "What's the matter, Sweetie?" When I spoke, her body flinched slightly, and her crying paused. She didn't look up at me right away, but stared at her lap for just a moment longer. It seemed that she was gathering her thoughts... she usually reacts spontaneously, like any other little girl; I didn't know what was making her act so strangely.

She took a deep breath and let it out slowly, either in an attempt to regain her composure or to prepare for something that she was afraid to face. She sucked up another deep breath quickly, and jolted her eyes toward mine. "They're saying you did it."

Her tone scared me a little, but her eyes frightened me even more. She seemed to be speaking from a source of mixed emotions. She was inquisitive and trusting, my little girl, but at the same time, she was dominant, decisive, and belligerent. Her statement wasn't phrased as a question, but it was one... she wanted to catch me off guard, maybe to prove my innocence to all of my accusers, who watched the conversation closely through the corners of their eyes, or perhaps to stand with them, against me. She was relentless in this, I was so taken aback by the situation that I didn't know how to answer her right away, but her tear-filled eyes wouldn't end their pursuit.

"Don't be silly, Honey... of course I didn't hurt anybody," I replied while squeezing her a little with the arm I had draped over her shoulder. These words came so naturally to me; it was strange... I believed them, yet knew them to be false... this struck me then, but it wasn't the time to dwell on that. I had to deal with my daughter - I had to be a father.

She held her gaze, but her eyes softened slightly. She was still trying to read me, trying to discover something. Her eyes started looking left and right across mine, as if she was making some sort of unspoken final plea. A few more tears fell from her face, and her bottom lip started quivering... I thought that she was going to begin sobbing again, but she didn't. She had found whatever she was looking for, and her demeanor suddenly hardened. She took one last breath as a child, and said, "Okay, Dad, let's go home." Every breath thereafter was different somehow.