My daughter Emily and I have always been close. Ever since her mother passed away when she was 4, we’ve spent every minute together. We’ve told each other pretty much everything, gone out for ice cream every Friday, played dress-up, and pretty much whatever you can think of. We were the best of buddies. Until…I don’t know…she started acting wierd…
One Friday, 8 years after the passing of her mother, I pick her up from school like usual. “Ready for ice cream?” I ask as she climbs into the truck. “Not today dad.” She says with a sad face. “What’s wrong, Em?” I ask, jabbing her in the side. “Stop! I just don’t want ice cream today, okay!” She pushes me away and crosses her arms. What is up with her? We’ve had ice cream every Friday since she was 4. That can’t stop now. I go ahead and take our usual route to the ice cream parlor.
“Where are you going? I don’t want ice cream.” She mumbles. “Come on, Em. Don’t break our eight-year-long ice cream on Fridays streak!” I smile at her, hoping to make her smile. Success. “Fine. You’re so annoying!” She giggles. “Annoying? What do you mean?” I give her several pokes in the arm. “Like that!” She giggles and unbuckles her seatbelt as we pull into the parking lot.
“What will it be today, Miss Emily?” Mr. Rodriguez, the ice cream server asks Emily. She stares at the menu intensely. I can tell this is the biggest decision she’s ever had to make. I remember that. The good days.
“I’ll take two scoops of the double chocolate chip cookie dough blast!” She looks up from the menu and smiles widely. “Me too.” I say. “Copy catter!” She points at me.
“Wow, you really haven’t changed since 8 years, Miss Emily.” Mr. Rodriguez chuckles. I hope it stays that way. I don’t want to lose my baby girl.
Our ice cream is brought out a minute later with some spoons and napkins. “It’s on me this time, Mr. White.” He says to me. “Really? Well thank you so much, Mr. Rodriguez. We appreciate your generosity.” I thank him as Emily dives in to her ice cream. He nods and walks over to greet another customer. He knows that we’ve been struggling with money ever since my position in my job got demoted. I apparently was not focused enough. How can I be, when every second of the day I’m hoping that whatever Em is doing in school, she’s safe? Her phone buzzes on the table. I raise an eyebrow as she picks it up. She sighs heavily and puts her phone back down. “What was it?” I ask. “Just some dumb trend going around. It’s some game that I don’t like. People are posting it everywhere including sending them in text.” I can tell she’s being honest, because her pupils dilate when she lies, which rarely happens. “Just don’t respond then. Maybe it’ll stop.” Best advice ever. Woo. She nods and finishes her ice cream. I do the same and wipe our faces.
On the drive home we talk about our days as usual and when we get home, it’s shower and bed time.
But the next day is weird. When she wakes up, she eats her usual waffles, but she doesn’t talk to me. I take it as tiredness at first. When ten minutes passes and she hardly touches her food, I take it she doesn’t feel well. “Need some medicine?” I ask. She shakes her head and fidgets with her fork some more. I nod and continue eating my waffles. She puts her plate in the sink and walks to her room. Then the bathroom. I hear sniffles coming from behind the door. She must be congested. Oh well. When she comes back out a few minutes later, I catch a glimpse of puffy red eyes. I get up from the couch. “Em? What’s up?” I walk towards her, but she closes her door before I get there. I don’t bother her and sit back on the couch with my favorite sports game on. She loves this team. I get up again and knock on her door. A grunt is her only response. “Em? The game is on. I’ll make popcorn if you wanna come out.” I make some popcorn as the game starts. She never comes out of her room. Not until dinner or when she has to use the bathroom. She must me sick.
The days after go on just the same. But each day she’s acting weirder. She hardly talks, she often is found in her room teary eyed, and moves around slow and almost forced-looking. When I try to ask her what’s wrong, all I get is a shrug and a grunt. Something is terribly wrong with my daughter. The next day, Thursday, is even stranger. She stays in her room again. But she doesn’t cry today. She has a neutral expression the entire time. She still won’t talk, though. It’s almost like she can’t talk. I tried to speak to her, asking her what’s wrong. “Em, what’s wrong? You’re acting like a slug!” I joke. Our eyes meet for a second. In her eyes I see nothing except a hint of sadness. I feel an unexpected shiver. Something is wrong. “Hey, can you bring me your phone please?” I’ve never had to do that before. Nothing like this has ever happened before. She seems a little shocked at first, but she obeys. I find nothing unusual at all. The game, though, is some stupid choking game. But that’s not what’s making her act like a zombie, though. I know at least one thing.
I call her into the living room to retrieve her phone. “Don’t worry, you’re not in trouble.” I soothed when I saw a silent, concerned look on her face. “I’m just worried about you, honey. Please tell me what’s wrong.” Nothing. No answer at all. The days go by. We didn’t skip Ice Cream Friday. It seemed to have brightened her mood a bit. She still hasn’t been the same. Hiding in the shadows of her room, moving around like a sluggish zombie, not speaking. Avoiding contact.
I gasp at the terrifying realization. I know exactly why she’s acting this way. I didn’t want this time to come. No! How could I have been so blind!? My…my poor baby girl…she…she’s…growing up…
Maybe I’m the one not ready.