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Thousands upon thousands of different characters, each living a different story. This is how Amy saw the foot traffic at O’Hare. But it wasn’t just Chicago. Every airport she had ever been to produced these thoughts as she would people watch, a trait she undoubtedly had picked up from her father. A true daddy’s girl, she had absorbed a lot from his character, the most evident being the curious observer, the silent listener, natural traits, that according to him, reflected a destined storyteller.
Story; a five-letter word that fueled the imagination like no other word. A word that nearly became her name, until Amy’s father changed it at the last minute, his gut telling him to go with a character from his favorite book, I Am the Cheese. An instinct that turned out to be so in alignment with destiny that he couldn’t help but tell the story of how his little girl had turned out to follow in his footsteps to anyone who would listen.
How she had taken to tales from day one, her preferred pacifier being the sound of daddy’s voice reading one after another, not just at bedtime but anytime, those small but wide eyes reflecting the fact that she was somehow absorbing it all at such a tender age, subconsciously storing it for later.
Not that much later, it turned out. By age two she had begun to read and write, the signs of what was to come as clear as her insatiable appetite for more, graduating from See Spot Run and the like to desiring more substance. Remarkable was the word used by the adults in her life, including the teachers that at first glance thought she was too young for their class, but would then marvel when witnessing for themselves her ‘remarkable’ kinship to story.
It had fascinated the heck out of her when Amy had learned that she had been named after an actual character, her father deciding to test her comprehension of I Am the Cheese when she was only six. Right away she showed a fondness for its author, Robert Cormier.
One of the saddest moments of Amy’s childhood had come at the age of nine, when she had received The Rag and Bone Shop for her birthday. Finishing it in one afternoon she had placed the literary treasure in her personal library, in the special Cormier section, then ran to find her father in his home office before jumping up on his lap and asking when he’d buy her the next book by their favorite author.
“There’s no more, sweetie,” he had said with a gentle sorrow in his voice. “We have all of them.”
At first she looked as though she were going to cry, but then optimism brightened her face.
“When will he write a new book? Do you think he’ll have a book signing? Oh, daddy, can we please go?! We can write his publisher and ask when his next book is coming out!”
“Sweetie, Robert Cormier is no longer with us.”
Not really understanding what her father was saying, she wanted to correct him, to say of course he’s with us, in all the eighteen books they had of his. But then daddy broke her heart…
“He died, Amy, the year you were born.”
She immediately began to cry, the hurt in her tears being a million times harder than when she had first learned that the mythical characters of childhood were not real.
Eventually Amy learned to accept such sorrow and store it as wisdom, to draw from as a priceless asset when telling stories. Her father called it being in alignment with truth, and by completion of her senior year of high school, a full year ahead of her peers, her literary talent had prestigious colleges beckoning.
But it was Fitchburg State College in Massachusetts where she chose to attend, the alma mater of Robert Cormier. This had Amy on the complete opposite side of the United States from where she had always called home, having left her family in West Covina, California to achieve one of her biggest dreams.
Indeed Amy’s first trip back home for Christmas vacation had been a sentimental one, the week and a half of catching up having ended all too soon. But she had a job to return to at a book store in a local mall, as well as preparing for the new semester, and so here she was on her layover at O’Hare, imagination taking her to the garden of story where she planted a variety of seeds, of character, as she people watched.
But then Amy remembered one of the last things her father had said to her back at LAX. “Christmas isn’t quite over, baby girl. There’s something zipped up for you in the underside of your carry-on. But you gotta promise, no peeking until Chicago.”
With that same kind of excited glee she so dearly remembered feeling as a child Amy went for her bag and unzipped it. Inside the back pocket were two individually-wrapped gifts, each a soft bound book from what she could make of them. The slightly bigger of the two had a message saying Open Me First, and so she did.
A First Edition signed copy of I Am the Cheese.
She could do nothing but stare, eyes glazing, heart pounding.
Her hands were still shaking when she finally got to the second gift, carefully removing the wrapping paper like she had done with the first, like she had always done with gifts she knew to be books.
This one was a Reader’s Digest, dated the same year Amy was born. among its table of contents a piece written by her father. She had heard brief stories of this issue, of how it had been a turning point in his life as a struggling author, but she had never actually beheld a copy, daddy simply telling her he would share it when the time was right.
It was titled Tears of Opportunity, and with a hurry she turned to its page, careful not to wrinkle any before it.
When the grand doors of opportunity finally open, the pair of eyes that have beheld so many obstacles will now fill with emotional triumph, until one by one the tear drops will begin to fall.
Each will represent the strength it took in the face of adversity to continue to strive, continue to overcome. From the amount of rejection letters that could have wallpapered a thousand homes to the long fight involving everyday struggles.
Looking at the name brands while having to pick up the generics…
Acting like a customer at a fast food restaurant for a few packets of ketchup so as to add more flavor to the dry simple meals at home…
To hardship that is more painful on the heart…
Watching yet another scrape added to the many already inflicted on the inside of his wife’s engagement ring as the pawn brokers test its value each and every time when he has no choice but to pawn it…
Promising her as they window shop, that one day they too will be like the privileged passersby, whose bags of cool gadgets and new clothes are not as out of reach as it seems. For the day that they are able to have pockets without holes and fun shiny devices is but right around the corner, or so he would have her believe as he fights to keep the flame of optimism alive. One that had been lit so many years ago during childhood when those who he had called teachers, mentors, had instilled in him the belief that one can accomplish anything they set their mind to.
A belief he still holds true despite the countless doors of opportunity having been slammed in his face., as it is not only for his own soul that he keeps hope alive, but more importantly for his beloved. That one day their perseverance will indeed pay off, their greatest dream coming to fruition. That yellow diamond Baby On Board sign. That priceless gift that will be the creation of their forever bonded love. This is what will make the tears flow even stronger than all the previous ones, for opportunity to provide with his passion, with his talent, will mean beating the hands of that ever-threatening nonstop biological clock, once and for all being able to afford to have the totality of love known as child.
And so these are tears he will not try to stifle, not try to wipe away, for they will be the tears of completing the hardest journey he has ever known. Tears of a soul reaching its purpose.
Tears for the gift of someone believing…
Tears of opportunity.
Amy’s eyes were full of tears of her own now, never having known the full extent of her parents past struggles.
She wanted to change her itinerary, get back on a plane to LAX, get back into the arms of the two who had given her so much. She could transfer schools, live at home, be close to the love she was now so far from.
But deep down she knew this was something she shouldn’t really do, for she was not only living her dream, but her father’s as well. She couldn’t throw away what they had been so excited about, what they had worked so hard for. Her accomplishment would be their accomplishment, and so she resolved to be strong, to do her absolute best, as this would be the best way to show her deep appreciation for them.
Amy took out a wet wipe and cleaned her face, then unpacked her laptop, logged on to the airport’s wifi and began to do what she did best…