Just a Name
The rain drizzled down as Riley took her young daughter's hand and headed for the car. They raced as was customary for the laughing mother/child team. Today was not a day for laughter and Helena did not understand why her mother could find no joy in their water play. Helena was confused about a lot of things this day. Her four year old mind didn't understand why she couldn't wear her favorite pink raincoat over her favorite pink dress.
When Helena had woken up that morning, Riley was hanging a black dress on her closet door. Helena didn't like black, it wasn't a rainbow color and it reminded her of the darkness that came at bedtime. She had a fear of the dark that no one knew except her mom. Riley explained that Helena needed to start off the morning. She ushered Helena downstairs to begin her breakfast of pancakes (her favorite), milk, orange juice and a banana. Today was Friday, Favorite Friday. This was a very special day for Helena. Riley had decided each day of the week would have a theme, so as to entertain her toddler, but Favorite Friday WAS her favorite. This meant Riley got to wear her favorite clothes, eat her favorite foods, go to her favorite places, etc. When see saw that black dress, she knew, in that little brain of hers, this Friday was going to be different.
After breakfast, Riley assisted in the brushing of the teeth, the styling of the hair, even though her daughter insisted she was a big girl and could do it all herself. It was their usual morning argument. Helena ran off to grab her clothes and her mother grabbed that black dress. The temper tantrum that ensued would be loud enough to wake the neighbors, Riley was sure. She had to explain to Helena that this was no ordinary Favorite Friday and that they would have to compromise on some things, clothes and shoes being one of them. It took a full twenty minutes to get Helena in her dress, but she managed, and now was worn out. Riley was already exhausted from the coming event, for the past three days it was all she could think about. Fighting with a stubborn pre-schooler was the last thing she wanted today of all days.
Helena waited downstairs watching TV as her mother readied herself. She was a good child and could occupy herself easily with little to no trouble. She was still in a very grumpy mood as more and more favorites were being left out of the day. She didn't notice that her mother was not working this particular day, but a child of that age really wouldn't. She didn't notice the somber mood her mother was in, only that she was being forced to go along with her mother's choices for the day instead of her own. That wasn't how the game was played and she would not let her mother go one minute without reminding her of that fact.
It was a very long car ride and Helena was uncomfortable in her booster seat. She didn't like this black dress, the black raincoat and didn't like the fact that they didn't race for the car. She was so confused as to what was happening. Her arms firmly folded across her chest told Riley this battle was not yet over. She really had hoped her daughter would behave for such an occasion, but she should have known better. Helena had the bull-headed ways of her father, once his mind was set, that was it. No discussion.
When they arrived at their destination, Helena saw nothing but green grass with big stones all over the place. Special stones of different shapes and sizes. She had seen nothing like this before and it intrigued her immensely. The scowl on her tiny face lifted into a look of curiosity. As they moved along a path, protected from the rain by a black umbrella, Helena started to see people, quite a lot of people. She looked up at her mother and frowned at the black umbrella. It was at that moment she observed every person there was dressed in black and carried black umbrellas. They finally reached the spot the people had gathered around and Riley started her greetings and passing along sympathies. Helena just stood there, staring at all these strangers and wondering what was going to happen around this wooden box. It was big! She wanted to reach for the flowers that were on it and surrounding it but was afraid to leave her mother's side. Her mother was her sanctity when something was not familiar to her and this was a completely new experience and she knew right away she wouldn't like it.
Helena shifted anxiously in her rain boots waiting for the man to quit speaking. He was saying things about Heaven and God and death. She new all of those words. She had been to church, so she understood Heaven is in the sky and God watches from there. She knew the word "death" because she had just lost her goldfish and her mommy explained what death was and that you never can come back from it, no matter how hard she had pleaded with her mother to fix her "Goldie". She may have been four years old, but Helena was highly intelligent and was starting to comprehend what was happening to a point. She knew something sad was happening, for the people were crying. She looked to her mother for an explanation and saw her mother shedding a tear. Helena started to feel very nervous. She had never really seen her mother cry, until she was almost hit by a car. That scared them both, but what scared Helena the most was her mother crying. Seeing her cry again made her wonder what was the bad thing that was happening.
The man finally finished talking and Helena was given a rose. She was so excited to get such a beautiful, red flower. Riley told her they had to walk up to the box and place it on there. She was sad to give her flower away, but thought it would make her mom stop crying if she listened for once today. She put the flower on the box first, before anyone else. One by one more people laid flowers on the coffin and walked away.
Riley and Helena were the last ones left standing there. Helena, with her big, brown eyes, looked at her mom and asked what is all this. Riley told her it was a funeral, that someone they knew had died and they came to pay their last respects. She told her she was very proud of her for being such a big girl and not acting out they way she'd expected. Helena asked her who the person was. This was the moment that Riley was dreading. He was never in their lives really. He came and went, here and there as often or as little as he wanted. He would go months without even so much as a phone call. He barely visited. Helena didn't really even know this person. He had left while she was still pregnant with Helena. He missed her birth, and every birthday after that. Photos were the only way she knew who he was.
"His name was Robert, but you called him daddy."
"So daddy wasn't his name?"
"No, honey. My name is Riley but I am your mommy. Robert was your father's name but you called him daddy."
"Do you understand, sweetheart?"
"Yeah, I know you have a name but I thought his name was Daddy, I didn't know his Robert name"
Riley's heart broke for Robert, Helena and herself. His daughter, his only child, thought his name was Daddy. All those times they went through pictures and Helena would call out "Daddy!" she was saying only a name, nothing with meaning behind it. She didn't know any better, he never gave her the opportunity to change their relationship. She didn't know this man as her father.
Daddy was just a name.