“Dad, are you home? I need to talk to you.” Giorgiana closes the front door behind her and calls into the unsettling silence of the empty house.
The heavy backpack drops down her arm and lands on the floor with a flat thud. She moves down the hallway, passing pictures of her younger self, all flushed cheeks and toothy grins, and candid memories of her parents smiling, oblivious of their future.
Every day she runs past these frames in the rush of life, following in her father's hurried footsteps, like he is constantly escaping forward aimlessly. In the span of more than a decade, many of the faces that stare back at her have blended together in a spectrum of glossy colors. Sometimes it feels like they have always belonged to the walls of this house as if they were infused there as soon as they were built.
Giorgiana cannot recall when she last stopped to really appreciate them, though this time she pauses in front of one particular picture of her mother in her wedding day, this one always glows in the light coming from the window to stand out from all others. She looks radiant, ethereal in white, holding baby's-breath and blue wild flowers, forever young.
She hopes to wear that same dress to marry the love of her life one day. It is neatly folded away inside a box in the attic next to the old and shabby Christmas tree that her father insists on using, even as the synthetic branches shed green flakes everywhere and it gets slimmer by the year, the same tree that her parents bought for their first holiday in this house.
Her mother is always here, still woven tightly in the fabric of their lives and in half the stands of her DNA, yet out of reach. Only in dreams is when that face comes alive. In them, her mother sings softly in a crystalline voice, holding her in warmth and traces of lavender that fade with the morning light into nothingness. Every time she wakes up from those dreams, Giorgiana sneaks into her father's bedroom seeking that unfinished lavender lotion hidden away in a drawer, hoping to have one more sniff that allows her to cling to the memory held in that bottle despite having lost its scent many years ago.
Standing in front of the picture, she tries to mimic her mother's smile, pulling at her own lips until her round cheeks form a dimple in the middle. The glass returns a faded reflection of herself, close enough, yet not quite.
Giorgiana had grown into a resemblance of that face and spent years enduring the argument of having a great deal in common with her mother, not only the looks. But that specific memory box in her brain is empty, there are no hazy visions in her mind to remember, no sounds to recall for comparison, all she has are second-hand stories and frozen moments in frames that had to be sufficient comfort while growing up.
Unlike her father's, hers is not an entirely sad story, after all she cannot miss what she does not remember having. While a part of her feels perpetually empty, she does not dwell often on those feelings, least they pull her into an inescapable darkness that neither one of her parents would want her to fall into.
Her father's voice captures her attention and only then her eyes avert from the picture.
He insists on calling her that, even after seventeen years and a lot of reproving on her part. She is no longer a child, having grown into a young woman right before his eyes, though even now he sees her as the little girl that used to rest on his chest or run crying into the safety of this arms. Still does sometimes.
He seems tired, the lines around his eyes and cheeks deepen each day and his beard already shows hints of grey. He is smiling back at her without it quite reaching his eyes and Giorgiana wonders if it ever really did before. He has always been guarded, keeping his heart so tightly shut in his chest that it is almost hard to believe there was a time when he laughed carefree with mirth filling his eyes, and went through the motions of life in an open way. All of that belongs to a time before all dreams and hopes for the future had been scattered on the pavement where two paired lives diverged into a single one.
Time heals all wounds and leaves behind scars as a permanent reminder of the experienced pain, but those of the heart are harder to forget. Knowing that very well, Giorgiana worries about him constantly, though she lacks the emotional eloquence to express those feelings. Instead, she reminds him to slow down, to laugh, to love.
When he gives himself permission to live, when his laughter doesn't stop abruptly as if he should not be allowed a taste of happiness, he pours all his energy onto her and in those moments they both forget that mothers are sometimes ripped away too soon from their children in cruel twists of fate, and they just breathe easier. He still tells jokes that are not even remotely funny and laughs by himself while she grunts, he never missed a recital or a soccer match, and remains her biggest admirer, always on the front row, the one constant in her life.
Giorgiana exhales deeply as she turns to face him. “I made a decision, Dad. I'm going to nursing school.”
Her mother left big shoes to fill. She became larger than life with a legacy that is often heavy on her daughter’s shoulders. The expectations Giorgiana has inadvertently laid upon herself are self-inflicted, but only natural. This choice had not come easily, though the road of options always led her to this same conclusion, nothing else felt right. There will be hard times ahead with the propagation of comparisons and plenty insecurities, and she is fully prepared to endure them, after all she is as strong-willed as her mother.
His eyes well up, this time the smile encompasses all his features. Although he stares at his own flesh and blood, he is not quite seeing her, perhaps his mind is overlapping other features, those that were imprinted in his heart two decades ago and somehow remain vivid even today.
There is no anger to be felt on her part, she does not blame him for that reaction, and there is always safety to be found in the knowledge that she is his daughter by her own merit, he never made her feel otherwise. He just can't avoid when love blends with sadness and longing.
“Your mother would be very proud.” There is a hint there of his own pride as well.
Almost as tall as he is, her father has no trouble catching her when she flies into his open arms and holds him tightly while her eyes prickle with tears.
She then chuckles in a particularly soft way that brings the house alive. He gasps, apparently shocked at the sound as if he and these walls had not heard that voice in a very long time.