It was the look.
A look that catches every fiber of your body for an infinitesimal moment, like when you crack your elbow and that exquisite pain explodes through your arm and you wonder if it’s ever going to work again. A look that makes you happy you’re alive and breathing—that you’re breathing in that one iota of time—but it makes you sad too, sad like you want to cry for no reason, the same way a lonely tree in a field or a deserted road makes you want to cry. You can’t explain it. You just know that there’s something there you’ll never be able to explain, but you look anyway and try to remember it the way it is even though you know you’ll never see it that same way again. And that just makes the sadness worse.
I had just kissed my wife, my hand on her swollen stomach, feeling our son kicking—a fighter, like me. I had been gone too long, much too long. I pulled away breathing her in. She smelled like shadows and rain, smoke and pine—the smell I imagined when I was gone. Those lonely nights with only the fire and the wolves way out there in the darkness calling their mates, eerily, like crying children. Lying there looking at the icy spray of stars, I would breath in the twilight and catch a breath of her, an ephemeral taste, and those nights I slept the sleep of the dead.
“I missed you, love.” She ran her hands through my hair, traced my beard, her hands strong, gentle. “I’m glad you’re home.” Her eyes shone dark and serious, blonde hair falling over her shoulders in a gentle cascade.
I kissed her again as she held my hand against her cheek, closing her eyes for a moment, relaxing, leaning into me before the sound of tiny feet thundering through the cabin pulled her back.
She smiled up at me. “Someone else missed you too.”
I turned and that’s when I saw it—the look. The look my daughter gave me: her tiny features alight, her body wiggling with energy as she raced—flew—towards me. Icy blue mischievous eyes framed by an ethereal halo of blonde curls. A look that made everything else seem inconsequential. A look that sucked away all the sadness in the world and made you want to go do hard things, unbelievable things, the kind of things they would tell stories about around campfires for ages.
Compacting her little body, she launched herself at me, arms outstretched, and somewhere between her jump and when I caught her, somewhere in that moment, I knew I would never experience this feeling again. There would be more happiness, more love, but not this exact feeling, the exact look—that illimitable look of euphoria on her face as she hung suspended, weightless, without a care in the world. Her daddy was home, and all was right with the world.
Catching her momentum, I swung her up into the air to an explosion of giggles that burst like ocean spray across the room. Collapsing back into my arms, she twined her fingers into my furs and pulled my head to hers, rubbing her nose against mine, laughing, smelling like sunrise and silver.
“And, CUT! Great work, guys. That’s a wrap on that scene. Let’s get the first team into their next costume change.”
I set Dalton down. Two technicians worked on turning off the cabin fire, and she bounded around them and headed to where her mom stood on the edge of the set. Turning, she ducked behind her mom’s leg then smiled shyly back at me. Thank you her mom mouthed to me.
I nodded, smiled, and walked back to my trailer.