*The voice in Nathan’s earpiece threatened to rip a hole in his heart as big as the one he was standing in at Sixth and Western.
Usually, Carla was full of spirit and affectionate sarcasm. But the person Nathan heard this morning made the rugged, 6’3 ex-linebacker weak in the knees. Carla sounded scared. She’d been crying. There was blood.
Nathan climbed the ladder out of the bowels of metropolitan Los Angeles and informed his supervisor there was a family emergency.
He knew it was there, but he still checked the cargo area of his charcoal Cherokee for the small black gym bag he’d taken to riding around with for weeks in uneasy anticipation. He got behind the wheel and sped off.
An only child who years ago lost both his parents, Nathan told me he’s always felt alone in the world. Apart from a handful distant cousins sprinkled across the country, Carla was all the family he had. Her joy was his joy; her pain, his heartache. Her blood was his blood.
Together, they endured hell: They lost Mimi, Nathan’s wife and Carla’s mother, in a car wreck when Carla was just five.
And they’ve endured Mimi’s highfalutin, indelicate parents, who from the beginning made it painfully clear they wanted “more” for their Mimi than a Department of Water and Power employee. After Mimi’s death, they tried to take Carla. Through an attorney they maintained Nathan’s inability to take care of her.
But he could. He always had. Nathan knew how to dress her, style her hair, how to talk to her and how to listen. He could cook “Mousy’s” favorite foods and others she didn’t like much but which were good for her. He understood the direction a woman should wipe, and why.
Nathan’s bright and inquisitive eleven year-old daughter had taught him plenty, the least of which was genuine patience, optimism in the shadow of lunacy and a new reverence for the fleeting nature of time.
But as he pulled up to Carla’s middle school, Nathan knew today represented the end of something.
The principal noticed Nathan’s black bag and suggested he calm down. Quickly, she led him down the hall to the women’s restroom.
Outside its door, a handful of curious kids milled among now departing paramedics. They were summoned here after a male pupil glimpsed a distressed Carla and used a cell he wasn’t supposed to have to dial 911.
The principal made sure the restroom was empty of other occupants and sent Nathan inside. “Munchkin?”
“Daddy?…” Nathan opened the last stall to find his pride and joy standing inside, sniffling, her powder blue pants stained with blood. Carla was slowly dying. Of stark embarrassment.
“Baby, what did I tell you,” Nathan said in his best soothing, fatherly tone. “We talked about you being prepared….”
He put down the bag and instinctively reached to unfasten Carla’s pants, when she stopped him. He apologized, stepped outside the stall and closed its door, leaving the bag. In it, Carla found tampons and pads, wipes, two pairs of her own panties and, to her dazed delight, a pair of those new, overpriced jeans she’d been
nagging daddy about.
A few minutes later, Nathan emerged from the restroom, carrying Carla in his arms as she hid her round face in her daddy’s neck. “We’ll see you tomorrow,” Nathan said with a wink to the principal.
From the moment he held her newborn bottom in his formidable hands, he both relished and dreaded the day his little girl would make her sojourn to womanhood.
Now, as he carried his lanky little blue-jeaned princess to the car, water welling in his eyes, he knew the countdown had officially begun.
Steven Ivory is a journalist/author who has covered popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio and TV for more than 30 years. Respond to him via [email protected]