Thank you, Emily Hellman. My Daughter for a Day

I’ve become aware of something called National Daughter’s Day which is September 25th, apparently.  I don’t have any daughters, so it’s a day of recognition that has never appeared on my personal calendar. I reflected on that a little bit this morning, and remembered I did have a daughter once — for a few hours.

It happened as I began a business trip sometime in the mid ’90s. I had just boarded a flight out of Washington to a layover point in the midwest which I think was Chicago. As I came aboard the jet, I made my way down to my assigned seat, and found a little girl sitting there. She was perhaps six or seven years old. It looked like the girl had boarded on a previous leg, and was continuing to the next destination. Both seats on that side were full of her scattered things, among which was a coloring book, some pencils, a CD player, a jacket, and a bag.  I said, “hello there, I think you’re in my seat”. Whereupon she stood up and slid down to the floor, then began pushing her stuff over to the empty window seat.  We sat down, and she politely asked me in a small voice, “Can we switch seats?  I don’t like the window.”  I agreed to move, and we changed places with her pushing that small mountain of stuff back towards the aisle seat again.  As she did this, she remarked to me, “thanks, sometimes I have to negotiate with people”. I thought to myself, “she’s a very bright and articulate girl, this flight could be interesting”.

The plane took off, and I noticed she firmly gripped the armrest with white knuckles. Once airborne, I saw that she was very good at keeping herself occupied. There was a woman on the opposite side who kept glancing at her, and I asked the girl if she was her mother. She told me no, her mother was not aboard, nor was her father.  She indicated that she was traveling alone. She added that her parents were divorced, and she was a frequent traveler because her parents lived a great distance apart.  I think she told me her mother lived in the Midwest, perhaps the Chicago area, and inferred that her father was somewhere back east. After so many years, I now forget those details. I nodded, and thought to myself how sad it all was. I was sitting next to an unaccompanied minor, who was being chaperoned by the airline, as she shuttled back and forth between her divorced parents to be delivered like a FedEx parcel.

We had a very nice conversation on that flight. I learned that she was afraid of flying, and didn’t like to look out the window. She read me a book, and we read two others together. She showed me her entire Barbie CD collection. The stewardess came by to check on her once, knelt down, and asked if she needed anything.  Towards the end of the flight, she asked if she could draw me a picture and I said, “sure”.  She drew a scene with her parents, and herself, a house, and a tree — in colored pencil.  She gave me the drawing, and I declared it a work of art.  I said, “all art deserves the artist’s signature, sign your name to it.” — so she did.

Once the plane was on the ground, people stood up waiting to exit.  The girl indicated she needed to use the lavatory and then disappeared aft by pushing her way through the crowd in a way that only little people can manage. The woman asked me, “she’s so sweet, is she your daughter?”.  I told her the truth.   Everyone was as surprised as I was.  I disembarked with all the other passengers, and never saw her again. I still think about her from time to time knowing that she must now be in her mid to late twenties.

The picture she drew for me hung in my office for years until it eventually disintegrated. Thank you Emily Hellman. For a few hours you entered my life, and became the daughter I never had.