Ever since we watched Forrest Gump my daughter likens everything to a box of chocolates: bookstores, her sixth-grade classroom, our house. You, I tell her, would be the nutty one; you, she counters, would be the one that people crack open and say, “Yuck!”
On the way to her horseback riding camp in Virginia, we stop to buy the things she forgot: a pillow, an emery board, maxi-pads. She doesn’t want me anywhere near the “period” aisle; I yell after her, “Run Forrest Run!” When she returns with the “girl stuff” and a pint of milk, she tells me she wasn’t running, she was traipsing. That, I say, is a big word for a little girl. She tells me she isn’t a little girl.
“Chocolate milk and Kotex. You can see why I might be confused.”
“Do you plan on saying these things, Dad? I mean really. I can’t wait—”
Her mother sobbed so much she had to sit down on the ground when we left, and so I’m the camp chauffeur, because, my daughter said, there’d be no chance of me crying all over the place.
The closer we get, the more she chatters. Things like, “When I get home, I might not even recognize you or the house. What if my favorite store goes out of business? Or that yogurt place shuts down? What if everything gets moved around and I can’t find anything?” And so on.
In the car, a few miles away from the camp, she lays out the plan. I’ll drop her off and not help her make the bed like the other parents and not stay for lunch and not say stuff to the camp director or her husband or any of the counselors. We have to drive extra slow on the pothole-ridden dirt road leading to camp.
“Maybe I should just get out and jog,” she says.
“You’re not funny. Not even a little bit.” She stares at the dark sky, at the thunder. “Mom told me why you tease all the time. She said it’s the way you express love.” More thunder. More dust clouds from the road. “It makes us wish you didn’t love us so much.”
“Really? She said that? That last part?”
We arrive. I turn off the car.
The best moment in Forrest Gump is when he sees his son and he takes that step back.
“Doesn’t Forrest love his son?” my daughter asked. “Isn’t he happy to see him? He looks like he wants to run away.”
I carry the pink trunk and the duffel bag to the first bunkhouse, a room with three bunk beds. The girls run to my daughter, give her big hugs. Then they and their moms or dads or both finish unpacking, putting things away, spreading out sheets. They are all stuck together.
Back outside, it’s getting sunny, the storm blowing somewhere else. She walks with me back to the car. She stands at the driver side door.
Seven weeks she’ll be gone. She begged us to let her stay that long.
She looks around, hugs me, a tear drips on her, and she lets go.
“Rain,” I say.
“I know what it is.” She gallops away, and that entire ride home I feel her heartbeat, a strong tiny thing.