As the days of an unbroken family drift further into memory, new realities intrude on an otherwise normal world. One of those realities, a harsh one, is that Daddy's little girls don't always sleep at home anymore. Half the week they stay with their mother, and their beds wait cold and vacant for their return.
At night, when they're home, before I go to bed I do what I've always done. I sneak into their rooms and give each a kiss. I'm not sure it's a smart thing to do, as Smiley tends to wake up fussy and thirsty, but it's an unavoidable and wonderful moment I can't escape.
When they're gone, that wonderful moment becomes something far less pleasant and equally unavoidable. The house is quiet. Nobody waits upstairs in bed. There's no one to disturb, and yet I leave the hall light off because some habits are hard to break. I stop by their doorways, peering into emptiness, and wonder what cruel twists of fate stole them away.
I imagine the feeling is similar to visiting the ruins of an ancient civilization. You gaze at those ruins and envision a world once teeming with life and activity since gone quiet, and you marvel at the ability of time to decimate what once seemed indestructible.
I remember all the days past. Days of stories and laughter, of crying and screaming, of stuffed animals and spilled bottles, of leaky diapers and vomit. It's not the memory itself that inflicts pain. It's the realization that such days will never return. Mommy's lullabies won't echo from those rooms. Smartypants won't beg for Cat in the Hat every night. And Smiley won't bounce in her crib at six am, shouting, "Daddy, I awake, I awake!"
Worst of all, half the week there's nobody in those beds. No one to tuck in. No one to kiss goodnight. Toys and animals sit idle with no children to entertain, the lingering ruins of a lost era. The rooms are empty, and in the girls' absence they can only be filled with tears.
A million things vanish when a family breaks apart. What I miss most right now are all those lost goodnights. My girls are growing up in a different world, and half the time it's a world without Daddy. I hope they understand, even when they're not home, every night I still kiss them goodnight before I go to bed. And I always will.