I can't really say, now, what was so frightening about that song. But then when I was little, there were so many things that frightened me. The world was so big and I was so small. I slept with the light on at night, blankets pulled up to my chin. I taught myself how to read when I was three, perhaps hoping to fight the dark with information. The world wouldn't be so scary if I can label everything.
So, the song. It was a silly little song about a boy getting lost in his messy room, but I guess my five year-old brain pictured him suffocating, petrified, as I would be. Music was always playing in my house when I was growing up, and when the tape with that song would begin, I would go up to my room and bury myself in a favorite book.
I can't recall exactly why I didn't leave the living room that day, when the tape was playing. Maybe because we were all there, hanging out, and it was so cozy to have everyone around me, my mother sitting at the table doing some quiet work, my siblings sprawled on the couch, and my father resting in his armchair.
So I was there when song went on.
"Please, turn it off." My voice was so small. No one responded because no one heard me. No one ever heard me.
"Please, please turn it off." Does no one see how my body is shaking?
"Turn it…" I lost my breath. I got up on trembling legs and tried to make for the door. Faintly, through the pulse pounding in my ears, I heard laughter. They were laughing at me. My body turned to liquid, and I was a puddle on the floor.
Then there were soft footsteps on the carpeted floor. I looked up, vision blurred from my tears. It was my father. He lifted me up, carried me back into the room. He sat back down in his armchair, holding me against his chest, and I couldn't hear the song anymore. All I heard was the strong, steady beating of his heart. And I was filled with the knowledge that as long as he held me so close, nothing in the whole big scary world could hurt me. Everything would be all right.
When my father got sick, he could no longer hold me in his big strong arms, and nothing was all right anymore. I had been right all along to fear the dark, the unknown.
I’m 6,000 miles away from him now, and since he can no longer speak, I send him my love via my mother.
“Tell him I love him and miss him and think about him all the time.”
There’s some murmuring, and I picture my mother smoothing back his hair, fixing his yarmulke while she gives over my message.
“I told him, and he’s smiling,” she reports back.
Someone recently said how much heart is in my father’s beautiful smile. I clutch the phone to my ear, close my eyes, and imagine that smile, the one that he put on just for me, and I can almost hear it again. His heartbeat. Strong and steady, reminding me that no matter what, everything is going to be all right.