Calvin started playing the introduction on the guitar, and within seconds Brooks wrapped his hands around the microphone and began singing directly to me. The kids kept cheering, shouting his name over and over again.
“I’m gonna be a rock star, just like Daddy,” Noah shouted, jumping up and down.
The show was amazing as always. After the final performance, Brooks said, “Thanks to everyone for coming. We are The Crooks, and we are so damn happy you allowed us to steal your hearts tonight.”
“Daddy, I thought you were really good tonight!” Haley said, yawning. She had those same blue eyes as her mama and the same beautiful smile which made me bend to her every need. Her arms were wrapped around my neck as I carried her to her bedroom. Even though I’d toured the whole wide world and seen so many sights, there was nothing better than being home with my loves.
“Yeah? You think so?”
She nodded. “Yeah. I think Mama sings better than you, but still, you were good.”
I cocked an eyebrow. “Oh, is that so? You think Mama’s a better singer?” I laid her in her bed and began tickling her. “Say I’m the better singer! Say it!”
“Daddy!” She giggled. “Okay, okay. You’re the better singer! You’re the better singer!”
I laughed and kissed her forehead. “That’s what I thought.”
“Daddy?” Haley asked.
I nodded. “Secret time.”
She moved in closer, pulling me in for a secret, and whispered, “I lied about you being a better singer.”
The tickle war began again and continued until we were both out of breath. I picked up the cat roaming around the room and placed him at the edge of Haley’s bed where he slept each night. “Okay, it’s time for you both to get some rest.” I kissed her nose. “And, Haley?”
“The world keeps spinning because your heartbeats exist.”
I headed out of her bedroom after turning on her nightlight, and when I stepped into the hallway I saw Maggie coming from Noah’s room. We smiled at one another and walked downstairs together.
“Is Skippy in there with him?” I asked.
She nodded. “And Jam is with Haley?”
When Maggie walked into the living room, I went over to the light switch and dimmed the lights. She smiled my way, bit her bottom lip, and moved over to the jukebox that Mrs. Boone had given us years ago as a wedding gift. She picked her favorite track—our song.
As the music began playing I took Maggie’s hands and pulled her closer to me. Our lips brushed against one another, and I gave her a light kiss before whispering, “Dance with me?”
She always said yes.
Humans always remember the moments.
We recall the steps that led us to where we were meant to be. The words that inspired or crushed us. The incidents that scarred us and swallowed us whole. I’ve had many moments in my lifetime, moments that changed me, challenged me, moments that scared me and engulfed me. However, the biggest ones—the most heartbreaking and breathtaking ones—all included her.
It all ended with two kids, a dog named Skippy, a cat named Jam, and a woman who always loved me.
Okay, okay, I know I just told a story, but I’d like to tell another one right now. Don’t worry, it’s shorter. Nowhere near eighty-thousand words. This one’s a bit more real, and a bit more personal, but here goes. The Silent Waters was a tough book for me to write. Unlike Maggie May, I wasn’t mute as a child, yet I hardly spoke. In elementary school, I was super talkative. By third grade I was outgoing, and wild. I loved people, and they seemed to like me, too. Except for one girl, let’s call her Kelly. Kelly and I rode the school bus together, and one day Kelly said she was going to be eight feet tall some day!
Eight feet tall! Could you imagine?
“That’s so tall,” I replied. “You’d be bigger than the whole world!” I exclaimed.
Kelly’s eyes narrowed. “What did you just say?”
“I said you’ll be bigger than the whole world!”
“Did you just call me a hoe?” she snapped, angered. Her anger threw me off—what had I said? What did I do wrong?
You see, I had a speech impediment. There were certain letters I couldn’t pronounce, and certain words came out of my mouth which didn’t sound like the words I held in my head. Still to this day, there are things I can’t pronounce correctly when I get nervous. It’s pretty embarrassing how fast this twenty-nine-year-old can feel like that third grader again in a blink of an eye.
I said whole—she heard hoe.
And she never let me forget it.
I didn’t even know what a hoe was. I was in the third grade. I pretty much only knew what Boy Meets World taught me, and Cory never said the word hoe to Topanga.
Kelly didn’t forget it, though. She made my life a living hell, talking about my speech, bullying me on the school bus, and pinching my ears saying, “I want to see how red the Cherry’s ears can get!” It was crazy how fast other kids joined in on mocking my words. It was awful. I’d go home crying, and my mom didn’t know how to fix it, other than marching to the school district and going Mom-mode demanding things be changed. P.S. It worked. (Thanks, Mama!)
But by that point, I already changed.
I lost my voice.
I became super self-aware of the words I used, therefore I hardly used any. I was a freak, a weirdo who couldn’t speak correctly. My voice wasn’t worthy of being heard.
In middle school, I was voted the quietest girl in the yearbook. When we had to read out loud in class, I remember having panic attacks and shaking. When I knew we were going to be reading out loud, I stayed home sick. If I couldn’t stay home, I’d go to the nurse’s office after splashing hot water on my forehead to fake a fever. If I did have to read out loud, I’d think about it for days and weeks after the fact, imagining the words I pronounced wrong, and the classmates who probably laughed at me.
I was shy to the point where teachers questioned if I had a learning disorder. My mother was told I’d never be able to communicate in a normal fashion due to my shyness and my speech, but she said she couldn’t afford to believe that. You see, I was so talkative at home. My home was my safe haven. Those walls were where my voice was heard. It was the only place I could be myself after spending eight hours in a school building trying my hardest to not be me.