Papa arrived promptly at 8:30 a.m. She was packed and ready. She'd been awake for hours, giddy with anticipation of her first swimming lesson. At exactly 8:31 a.m. they were out the door, headed to the car and the Y. She didn't even look back.
There wasn't even time to utter the words she's been repeating since we told her she'd be learning to swim with her grandfather: "OK. ... But I'm not going to put my head underwater, right?"
We didn't need to tell her that she wouldn't have to do anything she didn't want to do. She grabbed her bright yellow bag containing her new swimsuit and a blue towel (to match the color of the water) and she was gone.
Oh sure, Papa said I could go if I wanted, but I could tell by the sound of his voice that this was something he was hoping would be just for him and Annabel. Their special thing. He was a man on a mission not to mention a 45 minute drive to his destination.
So I stayed back to drink coffee without the interruption of her sing-song voice insisting I play with her on the floor of the living room, making her tiny animals come growling to life. Perhaps I'd head off to the the farmer's market without having to stop and check every crack in the sidewalk for treasures.
Mostly I just drummed my fingers on the table and paced the floor when Champ got fussy. (Turns out he's got nothing entertaining to watch when she's not around.) We are both missing her. He's missing her near constant movement and I'm missing one of her firsts.
Two and a half hours pass with no sign of them. I picture her sitting in the booth at a diner in a wet suit with chlorine soaked hair, clutching a damp towel she refuses to let out of her sight. Maybe she's eating French fries and drinking orange juice as my dad sips from a cup of coffee, laughing as she recants every detail of the event he already witnessed.
I'm just about to order her some dessert in my imagination when the door opens and her excited voice dances up the stairs.
"HEL-OOOOOO, anybody home?"
I hollered down, "Hey, how'd it go." And Papa answered, "Oh, Not too well."
Turns out the pool lost a motor or something and has been out of commission since Thursday. Papa was disappointed. Annabel was disappointed. A bunch of kids and their parents were disappointed. And an elderly woman who was headed in as Ittybit and Papa were headed out was probably disappointed, too.
ITTYBIT: "Are you going to swim?"
LADY: "Why yes I am. I go swimming here three times a week."
ITTYBIT: "Well not today. The pool is broken."
For a second I had a flashback to my ninth birthday (at least I think I was 9) and my father was taking me and two of my friends bowling in celebration. I was SOOOOOOOOOOO excited. It was going to be the absolute COOOOLEST, most SPECTACULAR birthday anyone under 10 EVER had.
But when we got to the alley we discovered it was closed. (Who ever heard of a bowling alley closed on a Saturday?)
Thinking fast my father hustled us back into the car. And, driving as swiftly as a man who NEVER drives faster 40 mph can, he high-tailed it across the river to what he thought would be a suitable alternative: The Port of Albany. The stinky old Port of Albany. Where for a solid half an hour we watched a garbage barge load up solid waste. I'm fairly certain I cried for a week.
And yet, it's the ONLY birthday I remember. It's the only one worth talking about.
So on the heels of such disappointment, I was a little surprised Ittybit didn't look sad.
I didn't say anything, but I wondered what he did instead since the pair of miscreants didn't come right back. Did he take her to the Port?
"We went to Old MacDonald's and Papa got me a Happy MeaI. I played on the toys with the kids. It was GREAT."
I tell you, there's nothing better than second chances.