“How in the world does this ridiculous thing go on?” Dani snapped to the disgruntled image in the mirror.
“Whoever came up with this hat design should be shunned from society!” She grumbled as she shoved her graduation cap onto her overly curly hair.
Never again would she allow her sisters to treat her like a life size doll, no matter the “importance of the event”. She rolled her eyes as fought with the irritating cap and even more irritating curls.
Giving up on getting it right she slumped to the floor, a misshapen heap underneath her royal blue graduation gown. To be honest it wasn’t the dumb cap, the stiff and scratchy curls or even her sisters gaudy use of eye shadow that made her so uncomfortable in her own skin. It was the confession. She had the last month to get it right, frame the words in the best possible light, make it seem like the best decision she could ever have made. A month wasn’t long enough. No length of time would have made a difference. No matter how she said it she knew she’d break their hearts.
Well, not all of their hearts. Sergeant was most likely the only one who’d take it well.
Dani’s father was a highly decorated war veteran whom she, her siblings and mother affectionately referred to as, Sergeant. Sergeant toted his family wherever his job took him. As a result, by the time she was eleven she knew the most common phrases in four languages, had lived on three continents and had dipped her toes into all five oceans.
It was never a secret from Dani that Sergeant was finally supposed to be receiving his first son when she arrived into the world. For years he had dreamed of a son who could carry on the family name as well as pass along his family’s traditions of military honor and valor. So, when escorted into the delivery room to meet the newest addition to his family he was more than startled when handed a girl. After all, for the prior nine months doctors had assured him and his wife they were finally going to have a son.
Another daughter was not in his plans, he already had three and that had been more than enough. What happened to his plans now? He and Dani’s mother, Florence, were rapidly approaching an unspoken deadline. To even consider conceiving a fifth child safely (not to mention sanely) was a blasphemous thought.
As he cradled his fourth daughter to his chest it was suddenly settled in Sergeant’s mind that his plans must instead be passed on to one a bit more feminine than he’d expected. For the last 18 years that plan had been tested at every turn. Not by Dani, but rather EVERYONE else.
Dani’s mother, Florence was Italian and feminine to the core. When Sergeant had been ambivalent about his prior three daughters names he had allowed his wife’s romantic tendencies to tinge the naming of their children. As a result he was already father to a wistfully named Isabella, Katarina and Alessandra. Though Sergeant had compiled a lengthy name list at the first mention of a boy, Florence assumed he’d once again be ambivalent when his son turned out to be daughter number four and signed the birth certificate, Eloisa Daniela. She was ever so wrong.
Sergeant refused to call the embodiment of his plans for military valor by something so delicate. Instead he called her Dani. Eighteen years had passed it was still a mater of debate. For hours, Florence and Sergeant went around in circles about how her name should handled for graduation. Thankfully a compromise was struck when their oldest, Isabella suggested a split down the middle. She would have the diploma printed with Eloisa Daniela for her mother to frame and announced at the ceremony as Dani for her father to cheer.
None of it made any difference to Dani. As long as it made them happy today she’d take whatever came. She’d grant them any piece of happiness she could on a day she had to deliver such (what would be taken by so many as unhappy) news. But really, what other path could she ever have taken?
She never resented her fathers pressuring influence. In fact, his agenda fit her like a glove. Often her older sisters would tease her about her tom-boy nature and lack of feminine grace, but it would roll right off her shoulders. She never did understand what was so great about being a girly girl anyway. As far a she could tell it was an extremely dull existence. There was no adventure, or thrill in a life of lipstick and frilly dresses. There was no point to following in their footsteps.
Really their footsteps where originally her mothers anyway, a woman who despite her high cheek bones and blue eyes Dani found little echo of herself in. Around the age of eight Florence suggested she take Italian, the language of her people. When Katarina informed her it was considered a “love language” Dani refused anymore lessons. Bent on her daughters maintaining a sense of their family’s heritage her mother put her foot down and insisted she study their original language. Always clever, Dani happily agreed to her mothers terms and began to teach herself the native tongue of her fathers people, German (a language that would never intermingle with the l-word). Florence was upended, frustrated but unable to refuse. Dani followed her wishes, even if it was by an unintended loophole.
So many things in Dani’s life had followed this pattern. She would give the path her sisters had stomped out a try then eventually determine it wasn’t for her and stomp out one of her own after seeking the more preferable council of her father.
The face in the mirror had become almost unrecognizable as she stared into it. It wasn’t the mask of make up that distorted it, it was the small but discernable aging that seemed to have happened over night. Yesterday she was a teenager walking aimlessly through the halls of her high school, this morning she woke up an adult who had seen much of a world that she felt she knew very little about. And all that would change in a matter of hours. She would graduate and fling herself into the middle of a life she knew she wanted but terrified her to no end. Terrified her because it would be a life of independence, cut off from the ones she loved.
Tear’s welled up and spilled over her cheeks. Smearing them away she internally thanked whichever sister had the foresight to line her eyes in waterproof black. She couldn’t let them know how scared she really was. She had to announce her decision with confidence and assurance.
She closed her eyes and filled and released the air from her lungs three times before she steadily rose to take hold of the knob on her bedroom door. With one last backward glance at her reflection she assured herself, “I can do this”. Slowly descending the stairs flashbulbs sporadically snapped shot after shot of her in cap and gown.
When the lights faded and her vision returned she cleared her throat and announced to the crowded room, “I know everyone has been wondering what my next step is, and I keep dodging all your questions. Well, the truth is I’ve known for a while what I wanted to do. I just wasn’t sure how or when the best time was to tell you. Now that you’re all here it seems easiest to get it over with all at once.”
A collective gasp echoed around her as everyone tensed in anticipation of the big reveal. Looking down she cleared her throat one more time, “About a week ago I signed into the U.S. military.”
Florence shrieked, her eyes bulged wide as saucers and her body faintly shook as though she would faint at any moment. Isabella and Katarina (both pregnant) almost simultaneously griped one hand to their lower back for support before dropping into the nearest seat. Alessandra, a newlywed and always to shy to show her true feelings, immediately burrowed her face into her husbands chest.
They had all reacted exactly as she had predicted, with one exception. Dani unsteadily lifted her eyes to her father, the one person she could count on to be happy about her decision. Sergeant stood like a statue, hands folded tightly behind his back. After what seemed like an eternity his eyes lifted to meet Dani’s. As the corner of his mouth rose into a faint smile, he squared off his shoulders and brought one hand to his brow. She saw many of the things she expected pass across his eyes; pride, honor, admiration. She also saw many things she didn’t expect; sadness, apprehension, and most surprising of all fear. It was something she’d never seen Sergeant show before.
Her own fear gripped the base of her stomach and the tears spilled forth again. Had she disappointed him? Was it not the choice he hoped she would make? Did he not want her to follow in his footsteps after all?
Sergeant’s hand fell as his eyes welled with tears. In a single lunging step he met her on the stairs and scooped her up into a tight hug.
Through a garbled sob she asked, “Are you alright Sergeant?”
He leaned the side of his head against the top of hers and answered, “Are you kidding? There’s never been a prouder father in all of history.”
She did her best to steady her voice, “but your crying, you never cry.”
He squeezed her a little tighter and whispered so quietly Dani wondered if he was talking more to himself than to her. “I have dreamed of this day since you were born. I expected the pride. I just didn’t know how much it would hurt to see you go…” he trailed off.
He grabbed her by the shoulders and held her out from his body looking into her eyes. “For the last eighteen years you’ve been Dani, hopeful future marine. But no matter how many ranks you achieve or medals your awarded you’ll always be Eloisa Daniela, my little girl who’ll I’ll always want to protect above all else. As your Sergeant I’m thrilled my dream came true.”
He scooped her up again, his warm breath rushing down her cheek as he exhaled. “As dad…” he paused, clearing his shaking, gravely throat to finish. “As your dad I’m terrified that my dream came true.”