When I was 13 my father wrote me a letter. It was not over-long and it was not fancy. Hand-written in his heavy, block print with a black felt- tip pen on three sheets of a yellow legal pad. It was given to me on the occasion that I first started my period. This milestone was a bit of a production in our house. When it was our turn, each of us girls got a new dress and a special dinner out with mom and dad at a 'grown-up' restaurant of our choosing and Daddy's letter. I sometimes wonder if he knew how we, his three daughters, would each cherish this special ritual we were treated to.
A Daddy's love, hopes, dreams and pride for his daughter put on paper. Heartfelt and simple, the letter became my most prized possession. It lived in a small lockbox along with a few other precious things; my own writings, (poems too raw to show another living soul), a dozen silver coins , sentimental odds & ends and a dog-eared copy of my favorite book. Nothing of real value, but to me, priceless.
I would occasionally take the letter from its place and read it over, remembering the happiness and love I felt when I received it. I never showed it to anyone, not my sisters, (I never saw their letters either), not my mother, (though I have often thought she must have read it before it was given), not a boyfriend or my best friend. It was mine alone. A little piece of my Daddy's heart I kept in a box.
When I was 20 the box was stolen. I knew who had taken it and tried many times to get it back, without success. I was heart broken. I could live without everything else but the letter was irreplaceable. It could not be recreated, for I was no longer 13 and Daddy was no longer the daddy of that 13 year old girl standing on the threshold of womanhood. He could, and did, write me other letters, but he could never write THAT letter again.
Time marched on as it always does. While I never forgot the letter, life got busy and I thought less about it. Sometimes I would go months without it crossing my mind. When it did, it was harder recall the emotion or the order of the words, it was faded.
Nineteen years later, driving back to Wichita from Oklahoma City, where we had left Daddy's body in the hands of a local funeral director, my baby sister and I spoke of our letters for the first time. Her letter had come a few years after mine, was just as precious and happily for her, safe at home. We talked about what those simple words of pride and love had meant to each of us, still meant to us. She didn't know mine had been stolen, so I told her the story. As I lamented my loss, she listened sympathetically. The unfairness of that loss so many years ago weighed heavily, somehow compounding the inconceivable loss we had suffered together that day.
Later that evening sitting on the living room floor with my sister and our step-mom, we went through some of Daddy's things; boxes of mementos we'd brought up from the basement. Daddy was not much for holding on to the past, so there was precious little to see. But still we pulled each item from it's box and passed them around, telling stories, sharing memories from our respective chapters in his life. It was sad and funny and sweet and then it was... miraculous.
Near the bottom of one box, mixed in with old paystubs and birthday cards, I glimpsed the corners of a few yellow note pages. My heart skipped a beat and then stilled. There was no way it can be what I wanted so desperately for it to be. This day had already proved neither luck nor prayers were on my side. But still I reached for the corner and tugged it from the pile. Three pages, attached by the notepad's original adhesive and folded in quarters. I was holding my breath, the air around me suddenly heavy, the whoosh of blood in my ears.
I unfolded the pages gently and saw the familiar shapes of his writing; heavy and black. And at the top of the first page, "Dearest Stacy,". My gasp was loud, followed immediately by a sob. My sister, wide-eyed, said, "No way!?" But I was crying, clutching my letter to my heart and she knew.
Unbelievably, he had saved the first draft of his letter to me, all these years. And on the very same day that I had lain sobbing on his cold, lifeless chest, listening in vain for a sign that somehow they were wrong and I was not too late, I got my little piece of my Daddy's heart back.