Today, June 22nd 2012, was Calista's graduation from her professional photography program. The only outstanding assignment is her completed portfolio and that will be submitted next Wednesday, to be returned on the Friday. The college awarded her a certificate (I am pretty sure all the students passed despite the fact their last assignment was still not submitted) and I received it at the tail end of a very long ceremony filled with pomp and circumstance. Amanda and Kareen were there beside us, hoping to dull the edge of sadness with their support. Both Roni and I find the presence of young women about Calista's age comforting and uplifting. We were all laughing because the ceremony was exactly the sort of thing that Calista would hate and avoid; she would have likely been out shooting with her favourite instructor Boomer and her best friends Amanda, Kareen and Jesse. Unfortunately death intervened, they all missed the shoot with Boomer, and at least two of them still had to suffer through the grad ceremonies. Now that is irony.
Despite the fact the ceremony was really quite long and, typical of all graduation ceremonies, a wee bit tedious, I found myself just about breaking down completely emotionally. The stress of the last five weeks has been building and this was pretty much the limit of what I could endure. It goes back to that first day; one of the first obsessions I embraced during those early hours was that we HAD to complete Calista's degree for her. I remember blubbering and crying to the grief counsellor how Calista hated leaving things unfinished and that, as her father, it was now my responsibility to try to finish up her life as best I could. Finishing her degree honestly by submitting all her outstanding assignments became one of my reasons for not committing suicide. Today that all came to a climax and all I could think of was that I wanted to hold up her certificate and say, loudly, "We got it done, kiddo, we got it done". Unfortunately, just mouthing those words silently to myself broke me down, sitting there in the front row of a filled arena, in full view of perhaps a thousand strangers. Thank goodness the lights were down low. I am actually nearly blind with tears right now as I type; the graduation and the submission of her portfolio are really the last things I can do for Calista directly; everything I do from here on will be about preserving her memory. All those years in front of me and nothing new; everything from here will just be stirring up the dust.
I should give you some brightness and light today; graduations are supposed to be a celebration of success. Calista did succeed here and that deserves celebration and some happiness. For that, we should have some stories about how great she really was.
One of the major reasons that Roni and I never had any other children, Scout's honour, was that Calista was just about the easiest child ever. Roni and I discussed it this morning; she was just so easy that we dreaded what would happen if we had another child and it turned out to be one of those difficult, colicky kids that are hard to like much less love. It sounds like a stupid reason when I write it now, but twenty years ago, when we were drowning in debt and barely getting by, it made perfect sense. But how easy was Calista?
Calista started sleeping over 8 hours each night after the first five or six weeks. Well, maybe I am fibbing a bit there. After six weeks of sleeping in a bassinet (OK, it was more like a laundry basket) next to me, Calista started to sleep in the nursery. After that, I am not so sure that we didn't just start sleeping through the night despite her hungry cries. Having said that, we did have to wake her up for morning feedings once in a while. We hated waking her up; to the day she died she was really quite grumpy when she first woke up (remember her last words were "Oh God, It's too early" or something to that effect).
About those feedings though; here is the first time I admit that Princess Calista was not absolutely perfect. When she was a baby she was a bit of a glutton. We planned on feeding her small amounts very frequently, but from the very first she would down 4 to 6 ounces from a bottle in one long slurp and then scream bloody murder until she was given a second 4 ounce bottle. There were times when our entire fridge looked like dairy aisle at the local 7-11. Of course, this gluttony posed a major problem, as any parent can tell you. The average baby is just about full at about 4 ounces and full to bursting at 8 ounces. More often than I want to admit, Calista would projectile vomit all over the kitchen, the nursery, the living room or the car. Wherever she happened to be sitting when the geyser blew. We always knew when she was about to blow though; she would look terribly uncomfortable, screw up her face and let a big burp go. If we were lucky, we would have time to aim her away from us, but often there was no such luck. Certainly, if the baby-sitter had just arrived and we were trying to get to a movie or a dinner out, you had to know that she was going to puke without warning all over whomever was holding her at the time. Of course, after her stomach was decompressed, she would give us all the biggest, happiest toothless smile you have ever seen on any baby.
Somewhere around 2 or 3 months of age we had to start her on some solid food since the liquid diet just was not calorie rich enough for her. It was telling that she was below the 50th percentile the day she was born and above the 90th percentile by three months of age. That girl could pack on the pounds when she wanted to. She was always heavier than she looked; a truly solidly built Amazon of a girl. Even the funeral director commented that her ashes were a lot heavier than expected. Glad to see she stayed true to character right past the end.
In her early years Calista would eat anything her parents were eating. If it was going into our mouth, it must be the best thing to eat ever. Coffee, beer (non-alcoholic in those days), cookies, ice-cream, guacamole; you name it, she would eat it. One year when Calista was under 2, Roni and I managed to save enough money to take our long awaited Hawaiian honeymoon. We carted her all over Maui with us, frequenting many local restaurants and beaches with this happy little rug-rat. We finally found this fantastic Mexican restaurant in a little mountain town called Makawao (sp.?). The tavern had a tin roof that rattled loudly when it rained (and it did that frequently since it was just on the edge of the rainy side of the island) and a really fantastic menu that I loved (Roni not so much). In those days, Calista would down Mexican food happily, but missed her mouth with her spoon as often as she hit it. We took a picture of her with her feet up on the table (her high chair hooked onto the table somehow) and re-fried beans smeared on her face from chin to hair-line. I had planned to pull that photo out when she finally brought that special someone home to meet the parents; just for the fun of bringing the princess down a few notches. I guess I will be missing that opportunity now; but I really need to find that photo now; it is one of my favourite memories of her. Her grin in that picture is truly infectious (I am smiling right now just thinking about it).
That Hawaiian trip also was a big watermark for Calista; she learnt how to walk while we here in Maui. To this day I swear I remember EXACTLY the moment the lights went on for her about walking. She was a bit behind the curve with regards to walking; I think she was about 14 or 15 months old and had not even tried to walk. Our doctor had told us not to worry and that every child has their own schedule, so we really had not paid any attention to the whole issue. Anyway, we were down at the beach enjoying the sun (yes indeed, we did let our daughter sun-tan at 14 months; we were bad) and it was creeping up on time to go home and feed the princess. We were just packing up and I looked over at Calista to see her watching another child about her age who was about fifteen yards down the beach. I could see that Calista was really intent on the baby, but I assumed that she was just scoping out a potential play-pal. The thing that caught my eye was just how intense she was watching that baby, who was just walking clumsily around her parents, obviously still trying to master the art of walking (on soft sand no less). I thought very little about the whole issue and returned to packing up all our stuff to head back to the apartment.
Once back at our small condo, Roni busied herself getting some chow assembled for our small eating machine and I was left watching Calista to make sure she stayed away from the open balcony doors. I turned my back for maybe one second and when I looked back, there was Calista standing on two feet in the middle of the living room (I missed how she stood up completely). She looked at me and proceeded to run (not walk) as fast as she could into my knees, practically knocking herself down on impact. After that moment, Calista ran just about everywhere. I am not really sure she actually learnt to walk for another four or five months. She just ran all the time. To this day I swear that she learnt how to walk in that one moment down on the beach in Maui. I am sure that intent look on her face was the moment the light came on and she realised that there was a much better way of getting around than crawling.
You know. all this remains completely unbelievable to both Roni and I. Sure, I have a notarised death certificate. Her obituary has been published in three newspapers for a total of six publications. I have ashes in a brass urn. We have had a memorial service. The police, coroner and pathologist have all confirmed her death. We have close to a hundred condolence cards. And I still expect to see her smiling face come walking through that front door tomorrow, the next day, or maybe before the end of the month. How can that girl who I caught as she ran into my knees 19 years ago be gone? How can somebody so alive be dead when somebody so dead like I am now continues to breath? Where is the damn justice in that?