If I’d only gone left instead of right… How many times have people said that to themselves? In my case it’s not left instead of right, it's ‘if only I hadn’t had that morning cup of coffee’? Looking back now, though I wouldn’t have altered the path that was so carefully arranged for me by the stars from the moment of my birth, I can honestly say that I would have chosen to tread that path quite a bit more cautiously. But what did I know? What do any of us know about our futures? Or, for that matter, our pasts?

Thirty-one years old. You’d figure by now I’d have my act together. Yeah right. Maybe next time around. ‘Another day over, another day closer to death’ they say, (they being the pessimists of the world), although my friends would say that ‘I’ am as much a part of ‘they’ as anybody. I guess I’m just tired. It’s like pulling an all-nighter and then having to go straight to work, still reeking of the booze from the night before, not quite hung over because you haven’t had a chance to sleep, but feeling that shitty ‘I just want to die’ kind of sensation all over your skin.

I can’t really complain though (which is unfortunate because I do it so well), I have food in my fridge, a roof over my head, and at this point in the world’s evil-lution, one third of the world can’t say the same. It’s hard to justifiably bitch about your life when a child somewhere dies of starvation every two seconds, isn’t it? As long as that child isn’t yours of course.

If only, if only… How much of my life have I wasted on ‘if only’? More than I care to think about. I don’t really feel too bad though, if I hadn’t wasted it on ‘if onlys’, I’d have squandered it away on something just as pitiful all the same. If nature has taught us anything at all it’s that life doesn’t move backwards. Ever. You can ‘if only’ to your Higher Power all you want, either she’s not listening, or she just doesn’t care. I know some people say that she is listening, and that she does care, and that she only wants us to choose our own paths, and make our own mistakes, and to learn from them, and to those people all I can say is ‘fuck you’.

Am I bitter? I guess so. Am I a pessimist? Without a doubt. I try my best not to pass on these features that are so ingrained into my being onto my child, but sometimes I know that I fail. Miserably, in fact. But what am I to do? This parenting thing has thrown me for a loop. Not that it’s not what I expected it to be, it’s just that I never expected to be one. Especially a single one. Well, if truth be told, I’m not single yet, but I’m well on my way.

I awake each morning by having my alarm clock scare the living shit out of me (a great way we Westerners have chosen to greet each new day) at 6:30. I hit my snooze button so I can shock myself again nine minutes later, at which time I pull myself up to a standing position beside the bed, I look at my (so called) girlfriend, all cozy and warm under the heavy duvet which covers her. She is oblivious to the rain pounding against the bedroom window, or the morning crust that still fills the corners of my eyes. She lives and dreams in her own world. Looking at her, as I have every morning for the last four years, it’s hard to believe that she’s only days away from moving out of my house and my life.

She says that we’ll still be together, and that moving apart doesn’t mean our relationship is falling apart, but I know differently. Though my eyes remain half-closed, the truth can never be blocked from them. I’m too smart for that. I make my way to the bathroom, passing my daughter’s room along the way. There she sleeps, so soundly.

Surrounded by all her stuffed animals, one leg hanging off the bed, mouth wide open, 'catching flies' as my mom used to say. She seems so at peace with herself With the world around her. It’s hard to imagine that after all she’s been through she can even find a way to smile. But she does. It's a strange, unknown force in human nature that causes us all to ever strive for our own freedoms, dignity, happiness, security, and with that force that resides deep within us all she finds a way to greet each new day with a smile......

I shower and shave, bracing myself for another day. If I die today, at least I die clean. Make sure you have clean underwear on because if you get into an accident and end up in the hospital, I don’t want the doctors to find you wearing dirty underwear. Mothers are funny, aren’t they? God I miss her. It’s hard to believe that she’s been dead for so long. I can still hear her voice in my head, even after 14 years. What a loss. She was a great mother. A fucking neurotic mess, but a great mother regardless.

I head back into my room and pull out some clothes from the closet. Searching through the sock drawer, I see that, like usual, there are none. I spy the dirty ones in the corner of the floor at the foot of the bed, and thinking twice about it, I sneak into my daughter’s room and steal a pair of hers. They make it as far as my ankles. As long as I stand all day no one will notice. It’s not like anyone notices me anyway.

Showered and dressed, I’m ready to start the day. Knowing that the last thing in the world my kid wants right now is to be woken from her fantasy world of lollipops and sugar drops, I begin to gently stroke her hair and kiss her cheek. She grumbles and rolls over, clutching her teddy bear even tighter. Not her real teddy bear, she’d make sure to let you know. Her mom lost that one in one of her many midnight moves the year before. But her teddy bear none the less. She was at the stage where she was very possessive of her things. Although she did go through the ‘mine’ stage at the appropriate textbook time she was supposed to, this was more the result of spending so much time in foster care and not really having anything to call her own. Hell, she wasn’t even allowed to cry.

I figure she deserves a few more minutes sleep, so I go into the livingroom and boot up the computer to check out the new atrocities of the day. ‘800 Dead in earthquake in El Salvador. ‘Al Qaeda promises more attacks, (whatever happened to the world where ‘cat stuck in tree’ was the important headline of the day?) I make myself a cup of coffee using the instant hot on my bottled water machine (not a luxury, September 11th is not that far passed and the ‘fear’ is everywhere, I consider it more a necessity) and go out on to my balcony for my first (of many) cigarette of the day.

Smoke done, I go inside, into my daughter’s room, this time turning on the overhead light (no turning back now) and try once again to wake her. I pick her up and carry her onto the living room couch. Wrapped in her blanket, cuddling closely to me, I stroke her hair and tell her that I love her. Grabbing the brush, I begin to untangle the endless mess of knots she’s accumulated from her night of tossing and turning in bed. She complains that it hurts, but doesn’t try to stop me. She knows that life’s messes need to be straightened out, whether it hurts or not. But God, she’s gone through so much pain already.

“Go brush your teeth and get dressed,” I say, standing her up. “What do you want for breakfast today?”

“Pancakes,” she replies, rubbing the tired from her eyes. She walks off in the direction of her room and I go into the kitchen. Grabbing the pancake mix and pouring it into a bowl, I add water and turn on the burner on the stove. I make her some pancakes and add some hot water to my coffee which by now is starting to cool down. I cut up some fruit and arrange it on the plate next to her pancakes and grab the syrup from the fridge.

“Lemme pour my own syrup,” I hear from around the corner.

“I know, I know, and lower your voice, you know that Andrea is sleeping.”

So-rry”, she says, grabbing the syrup from me and sitting down at the table.

I put her breakfast down in front of her and sit down across from her. “Don’t forget today is choir.”

“Did you put the note in my lunch?” She asks.

“Of course.”

“Cause you know I’ll forget if you don’t,” she says, pouring way too much syrup onto her plate, and over the side.

Oops,” she smiles.

“It’s okay baby, don’t worry.” I grab a rag and wipe it up.

I turn on the radio to hear some music, but it’s just news. Bad news. I quickly turn it off before she starts asking more questions. But why did they fly the planes into the buildings daddy’ Well baby, because there’s some people who feel that people sticks their noses in other people’s business and it gets them angry.

Yeah but, I don’t understand…

I know baby, sometimes I don’t either.

“Can I bring ‘froggy’ to school today?” She asks between mouthfuls.

“Do you promise not to lose him?”

“Yeah, I’m gonna go get ‘em,” she pulls her chair back and runs to her room before I can tell her to finish her breakfast first.

I go into the kitchen and start doing last night’s supper dishes that I stared at the night before, saying to myself that they need to be done. I turn on the radio again and this time it’s broadcasting EverlastWhat it’s like’, and all of a sudden I don’t feel so bad about my own problems. Megan’s back, putting her stuffed frog into her school bag.

“k’ay sweetie, finish your breakfast and get your shoes on,” I call out to her from behind the mountain of dishes. “And grab your vitamins.”

She does as she’s told. She always does, fear and conditioning are wonderful tools. At least they were for the foster mother she used to live with. God, it’s hard to believe she’s been with me here, safe, for almost a year now. I finish the dishes and grab my jacket and cell phone (another toy I owe tons of cash for (thanks to my sister on the other side of the country who co-signed for me), and start the usual morning search for my keys. Like usual, the key gnomes have hidden them behind the dish-washer (don’t even ask how I managed to find them).

“You’d better grab your jacket baby, it’s really cold outside. And don’t forget your umbrella.” I open the sliding glass door that leads to the outside world and begin to walk outside.

“Wait, wait for me!” She screams as if I was going to leave her behind, running across the livingroom to catch up to me.

“Ok, ok, relax, I’m not gonna leave you or anything.” I lock the door behind us and put the hood on my coat. Looking up at the sky I realize that sunshine is just not going to happen today.

“I know, I just didn’t want you to leave me,” she says to me, making absolutely no sense. Well, no sense to me anyway. Kids tend to have a reality that doesn’t conform to any basis in adult understanding.

The walk to school is pleasant, even with the rain. Megan spends the walk happily splashing in every puddle she can find. We get to school and I bring her into the daycare which is located in the basement of the building. Luckily I had gotten her onto the waiting list two years earlier in anticipation that one day she would be mine. As luck would have it, they called me one week before she came to live with me.

I said my usual ‘good-mornings’ to the staff, going out of our way to say hi to Jenna who takes care of the older kids in the next room. She was a cute Chinese girl, well lady I guess, and although I’d gotten extremely out of practice when it came to the dating and flirting world, I had the strong sense that she liked me. But… Whatever. I brought Megan in to her area and as usual, she walked me to the door to say goodbye.

“Ok baby, I’ll see you after school. Have fun,” I gave her a hug and a kiss.

“No, I don’t want you to go,” she whined. “You stay.”

“I wish I could baby, but you know I have to work. If I’m late I’ll lose my job and…”

“I know, I know, we’ll end up living in a cardboard box,” she finished for me, smiling. “Stay anyway.”

I smiled as I hugged her. I stood up to leave, but found my seven year old child still clung around my neck, refusing to let go. I kissed her on the cheek, promised her I’d be back after school to get her and tried again to leave, but to no avail.

“Baby, really, I have to go.” I pulled her arms off from around my neck.. I kissed her again, brushed the hair from out of her eyes and headed out the door. As usual, she watched me as I went down the street, waving goodbye to her the whole time. Some days seemed to be worse for her then others, and you never knew which it was going to be until the very end. You’d think that whether she was in a good or bad mood would make a difference, but it didn’t seem to. To be continued....