"Trey is such a BASTARD!" my daughter Amanda cried through cascading tears. Her slender shoulders were heaving, her breath catching pitifully between sobs. I did my best to comfort her with an empathetic hug. She buried her face against my shoulder, wiping tears on my cotton shirt.
"Dammit, Barb!" I thought silently to myself, "I need you NOW more than EVER!"
My wife, Barb, passed away last April. I've been trying for ten months to handle the role of mother and father, all rolled into one. And frankly, I've been failing miserably.
Amanda and I have each been through months of intensive therapy, trying to learn to cope with our loss. Amanda's even been on anti-depressants. She feels responsible for her mother's death. Barb died while texting and driving. Amanda was the recipient of Barb's last few texts before the fatal accident.
"You're right, Amanda – Trey's a prick," I agreed. I had never liked her boyfriend of the past two years, but try telling that to a starry-eyed teenager. Now Trey had finally done me the favor of being the one to end their relationship.
"It's like – it's like he NEVER loved me!" Amanda sobbed, her shoulders heaving once again.
"Sweetheart, you're a WONDERFUL young woman. You're smart, you're funny, and you're beautiful. He doesn't deserve you."
Amanda looked up into my eyes, tears still streaming down her face. "You – you really think so?" she asked. I could tell that she genuinely had doubts.
"Sweetie, it's not just my fatherly duty to tell you that. I've never lied to you, and I never will. I truly believe every word."
"Oh, DAD," she said, her voice cracking. She began crying even harder, and hugged me even closer. "But – but – there's something I haven't told you. I haven't said WHY Trey broke up with me."
"Whatever it is, he's a jerk. But – and here I'll again be truthful – I'm GLAD he broke up with you. I know it hurts you, and I'm sorry for your pain, but you're better off without him."
"But Trey's been such a good friend – especially since Mom died. I don't know how I would have made it this far without him."
She had a good point there, one I wasn't about to try to rebut. "Sweetie, I'm glad he's helped you. I just think you're ready to move on. He was there for a season, but a new season is about to begin."
Her eyes held mine, her expression veiled. Her sobs had diminished to sniffles.
"But, Dad, there's more that I haven't told you. Trey wasn't just my friend – he was my lover."
"Shit!" I thought to myself, "I NEED you, Barb!" Talking about losing her virginity was something any 18-year-old girl should be able to discuss with her mother. As a man – and more specifically as a dad – my job was to protect her, and I'd obviously failed.
"Well, honey," I asked, "how long ago did this happen?"
"Last Saturday night..."
"Oh, my god!" I gasped, unable to stifle my reaction.
Amanda burst into tears again. I hugged her closer and let her cry.
When she had settled down somewhat, I asked, "So you and Trey had never had sex in your first two years – and then, three days after you gave into him, he dumped you? On Valentine's Day, no less?"
Amanda tried to respond, but couldn't get any words to come out of her mouth. She simply nodded silently, tears flowing freely.
I was ready to go find Trey and punch his lights out. He truly was a bastard.
Her sniffles began to subside again. "Daddy, I thought he loved me. That's the only reason I gave in. We've been together so long, since the beginning of tenth grade. I never dreamed he was only after one thing. I thought he would have given up a long time ago if he only wanted to get into my panties."
I was somewhat taken aback, both by Amanda's wisdom and her bluntness. Her rationale was flawless – it showed the maturity of a thoughtful young woman, no longer a child, and that realization stunned me. Her use of somewhat crass imagery was likewise a shock to my system – visualizing a man "getting into her panties" was at odds with my long-held sense of her being my little girl.
"He's a total imbecile!" I declared truthfully. I hugged her tighter and kissed her head. "Look, sweetheart, let me fix us something quick to eat, and we can sit on the couch and talk, if that's what you want. Or we can watch a video, or play a game, or whatever you want."
"Thanks, Daddy," she replied, "that sounds great. But you should be going out. After all, it's Valentine's Day. You should be out with somebody special."
"You know better than that," I responded. I fell silent, thinking of Barb.
"Do you wanna talk about it?" Amanda inquired.
"Maybe. But let's talk about you and Trey first. That's more immediate. My recovery from losing your Mom is more long-term."
"Okay, I understand, Dad," she answered. "Let me go get a shower and get ready for bed while you're fixing dinner. If we watch a show, I might fall asleep."
"You're too big for me to carry you up to your bed, young lady," I teased.
"I can sleep on the couch, just not in my street clothes," came her retort.
While she went upstairs, I got busy cooking in the kitchen. I'm no chef, and my repertoire is limited. That's another area where Barb was pulling more than her fair share of the weight before the accident.
I settled on a pre-packaged combo for taco salad, where all I had to do was brown some hamburger meat, stir in a few ingredients, and open a separate container of already-sliced greens and tomatoes.
After the food was ready, I flipped through our DVD collection as I waited for Amanda to return downstairs. I started to look for a "chick flick." Both Amanda and I enjoy a good romantic comedy. That's one way that Amanda takes after her dad rather than her mom. Barb always called such movies "predictable mindless drivel."
I decided that a romantic comedy would be too light-hearted, given the situation. Trey's breakup with Amanda was not a laughing matter. She was hurting from a lack of love. I wanted her to be comforted by a more serious depiction of lifetime love.
I nearly went for "The Notebook" – one of my all-time favorites – but decided that it would be too heavy for ME on this first Valentine's Day after losing Barb. Spouses are supposed to grow old together, as in that movie, and we hadn't been given that opportunity.
That thought caused me to choose "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." There, the characters played by Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett didn't grow old together. He started out old and grew younger, while she started out young and grew older. Despite their difference in ages all except the middle years of their lives, they maintained a lifetime love.
"Hey, Dad, what'd you pick?" Amanda asked, breaking into my silent musings.
I turned and saw her approaching. Her hair was still wet from her shower. I was struck by the fact that she looked like she might get cold. Rather than her winter flannel pajamas, she wore a light cotton oversized T-shirt. It went halfway down her thigh. Her legs below that point were bare. Across the front, the T-shirt was inscribed with "I [HEART] INTERCOURSE PA" – the [HEART] being a red heart shape, common to various and sundry T-shirt emblems.
Despite its provocative logo, the T-shirt had been acquired in one of the most conservative and old-fashioned locations in North America: Pennsylvania Dutch country in Lancaster County – home of one of the largest Amish farming communities in the United States.
The Amish are by and large very upright, very religious, very family-oriented people who try to maintain the traditions of the late 1800's. They avoid motorized vehicles and electricity, opting for horses and buggies and manual labor. They will not allow themselves to be photographed, as that breaks one of the Ten Commandments ("thou shalt have no graven images"). They come together as a community to help one another for activities like home-building and barn-raising.
The shop where Amanda acquired her T-shirt was in Kitchen Kettle Village, in the small village of Intercourse, Pennsylvania, right in the heart of Amish country. The town was named by some naïve settlers a couple of hundred years ago, when "intercourse" referred simply to conversation.
The shop owners in Kitchen Kettle Village were neither naïve nor Amish. They recognized a way to leverage the town name and make a quick buck.
Amanda had first seen such a shirt when she was sixteen, during one of our annual October visits to the region. Barb had quickly squelched Amanda's enthusiasm. "I don't want everyone thinking you're a slut, Amanda," she had chided.
After losing Barb this past April, I had decided to keep the Pennsylvania Dutch trip tradition in October. Amanda and I drove to the area, taking a ride on the Strasburg Railroad and eating at the Plain & Fancy Farm family style restaurant. We then walked around the shops and galleries of Kitchen Kettle Village.
When Amanda saw a rack of the "I [HEART] INTERCOURSE PA" T-shirts again, she looked up at me. "PLEASE, Dad, can I get one? I promise, my friends all know I'm not a slut. They'll just get a good laugh out of it."
"I'm not sure, sweetheart," I said. "It also kinda reflects on me. I mean, if they don't know that the 'PA' stands for 'Pennsylvania' rather than 'Dad, ' they might think it's an endorsement of incest with your father."
Amanda had blushed and grinned at the same time. "Come on, Dad, they know I've been dating Trey for a couple of years. I don't think they'll think the shirt really means I'm a glutton for having sex. And if they did, they'd think it was with Trey, not with you."
.... There is more of this story ...