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February 13, 2013

We Are All Made Of Stars

The rains were still hanging around, and it was a shame, because it would have been a good night to see the moon. "Watch out for puddles," I told her. That needle swings wide; usually, she either avoids them as if they were small pools of acid that would eat right through her precious Target ballet flats, or - if wearing her Hello Kitty rain boots - she'll jump into them as if her feet were aflame. (Yes, I know from ballet flats. I'm a father to a daughter.) There's a focus on the shoes either way. Tonight, though, was the Daddy - Daughter Dance. Everything else was a peripheral blur. 

The school cafeteria was packed with dads and their daughters, which would have been a surprise if you hadn't been paying attention. Dressed for the occasion, sportcoats, suits - one guy had dyed his hair pink, and I told him that I wish I'd thought to do that. The daughters danced with the dads, and each other. There were plates full of cupcakes and cookies. A ten-gallon hot cocoa dispenser. Zoë was in awe. She moved close to me, clutching my hand. "Look at everyone, Daddy!" "Would you like to dance?" I asked. We were interrupted by squeals; a few of her classmates encircled us and began to chant. "Zo-EE! Zo-EE! Zo-EE!" Then they all took off, running into the shimmying mass of dancers. I took off after them, shouldering my way through dads, trying not to step on daughters. She'd made her way up to the stage, and was jumping up and down with her girlfriends to some Justin Bieber song. It begins, I thought. Welcome to the rest of her life. 

The music slowed, segued into some country song about (you guessed it) a dad and his daughter. "Would you like to dance?" I asked again. "I don't know how to slow dance," she replied. "It's not hard. I can do it. I'll teach you." I picked her up. "Here. We'll just do this." I rocked back and forth. "Am too heavy, Daddy?" "Nope. Not at all." The song ended. "Now I have to curtsy," she said. "I read it in Fancy Nancy. Here is my best curtsy." It was flawless. "Now you have to bow, Daddy." I did. "That was a very nice bow, Daddy." "Why, thank you, Zo'." I pulled out my phone to snap a picture; I got a good one and began texting Beth. The music picked up. When I looked up from my phone Zoë had disappeared.

Disappeared. Odd choice of words, considering that she was in a gym full of dads, about as safe a place as one could be. And yet. I dove back into the crowd, looking for a flash of that familiar red hair, listening for that squealing laugh. I made my way to the stage. She wasn't there. I did another lap around the gym, the cupcakes, the hot cocoa, back to the stage, back around again. Disappeared. The doors to the playground were open; they'd set up more snack tables outside, under tarps to keep the cookies from getting soggy. I stepped outside.

The clouds had parted. Above were stars, shining as they do after the skies have rained out out all of the smog and there's nothing between them save that particular mix of nitrogen, oxygen, and inert gases. The other day I had been talking to the kids about the sun. "All of the planets spin around it, in orbit. There's reasons for that - gravity and what scientists call the law of attraction." "What's the Sun, Daddy?", she had asked, one of those questions that five-year-olds ask, simple and yet profound. "It's a star, just like all of those other stars. And there are planets around lots of those other stars, just like there are planets around the Sun. Those planets spin around their stars. And the stars? Space is so amazingly big, endless, and you would think that the stars would just drift off, this way and that. But that doesn't happen. They're drawn to each other in space, and form galaxies - huge groups of stars, millions of them - and they all spin around together."

"Daddy!" I snapped out of it. She ran up to me, cookie in hand. "Want one?" "Sure. Thanks!" We ate our cookies. Above us, the Universe wheeled on, as it should. 




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