He stood in her doorway, quietly poised so as not to wake her. His eyes drifted over his daughter's sprawled body, sleeping deeply. His baby girl had turned three today. Olivia.
He watched her breathing, inhales and exhales so delicate, like a light breeze on a summer's eve. Her tiny limbs, outstretched in dream, appeared so frail, so breakable. The light from the hall basked her face in an ethereal glow, and from his vantage point, it appeared there was a light halo around her head. For him, it wasn't hard to believe this true.
His baby girl meant the world to him, and yet he had let so many things come in between himself and her. Work, work, and more work. Where as his wife worked to live, he lived to work. How he regretted it as he stood in that doorway.
He wiped the tears from his eyes before they could fall as he recalled the memories he did not have: her first step had been taken when he was abroad, negotiating a contract with a company which had gotten him his promotion. Her first lock of hair taken from her crown while he was in Chicago, attending a meeting that had the potential to make or break his career. Her first word, "daddy", spoken with such enthusiasm while he was on the phone, right outside on the patio, furiously arguing with a contractor. Staring at his angel of a daughter sleeping, he could not believe he had missed her cherubim face, bright with happiness, speaking his name.
No matter how many times his wife told him that the photo albums did no justice, he did not listen. How he wished he had taken in one ounce of understanding when Marie had said that! He remembered it clearly; it had been right after he had missed Olivia's first dance recital. He had intended to be home for it, but he ran late at work, stuck in a meeting with his superiors. When he returned home, he found Marie, teary-eyed and exhausted not from a long day's work, but from his incompetence at being a father. At first he had been furious, yelling that Olivia wouldn't even remember he wasn't there. Looking back on it, he wished he had never said those words; the look on his wife's face, such a beautiful face, contorted into such painful anguish, stated in such a defeated, disgusted tone, "You're probably right. But I'll remember it forever. And she will, too, once she is old enough to look at the pictures from this, and you're not in them. You just don't get it, Will. You think you can get all you need from photographs, but you're wrong. Photographs cannot capture the joy I felt, and what you would have felt had you seen that little girl dance her heart out. Or how she felt when her teacher handed her that pink rose in that vase." She gestured toward the island, where a solitary rose stood, perfect in all ways, just like his daughter.
She turned away from him. "But I'll have those emotions, those feelings and memories forever. I just wish you did, too."
He saw her start to walk away, tried to open his mouth with some logical argument, some rational to show why he wasn't there, but couldn't. The next thing he knew, the bedroom door had slammed, and he was left to stand in the kitchen, silently mulling over what his wife had just said.
Standing silently in the doorway of Olivia's room, a satin pink tone that matched to color of her lively cheeks, her parted lips, he sighed; a sigh so deep it made him feel as if he were sinking into a abysmal cavern, and that he could scrape at the clay walls as much as he wanted, yet he could never claw himself out. He realized for the first time that as much as he had succeeded at work, he had failed as a father. Three years of feigning sleep so his wife would have to wake up, wrenched from dreams to care for their nightmare-stricken child; three years of telling Olivia to stop pounding on the piano while he was on conference calls; three years, if put plainly, just not being there.
His heart ached as he silently closed the door to his daughter's room, leaving her to dream soundly. As he made his way down the hall, stopping to look at the beautiful home in which he lived: the marble staircase, the granite vanities in the master bath, the gold leaf molding, he asked himself if it had been worth it. Had forgoing being a father really been worth the ornate carvings on the canopy bed, in which his wife slept soundlessly, not plagued with guilt.
Slipping off his slippers and sliding into bed, he wondered how anyone changes course? How do people drop what they had their life invested in and leave it? How do I abandon all I have worked for? He rolled restlessly to his side, staring at the picture on his nightstand: Olivia nestled in the arms of her father, Marie smiling at her newborn baby girl as she rested her head on Will's shoulder. And as if in quiet rebuttal, his conscience asked him, 'How do you not?'.