Do you remember? It was a Sunday. I had Spelling homework to finish. I was always so good at Spelling. Do you remember the Spelling Bee? There were only two of us left, and they asked me to spell the word ‘filly.’ I spelled the cream cheese and they wanted the animal, and that was that. Thanks a lot, Philadelphia, for costing me the 5th grade championship.
But that Sunday was way before the Bee. It was the first day I can remember realizing that you weren’t listening.
I had Spelling homework. It was due the next day. Vocabulary words. I needed to write them. One through twenty, in pencil, print – not cursive, single file down the left-hand side of writing paper. Red. Up. Ball. Star. Apple. But to write them, I needed my Spelling book. I knew where I’d left it. It had been on the coffee table at the end of the couch, near the studio door. I’d put it there on Saturday night, right before bed, and I’d seen it there as we were walking out the door to go to church. But then, after lunch and our naps, it wasn’t there. I hadn’t moved it. We’d all been asleep. I didn’t know what had happened to it. And I needed to write my words.
We looked and looked. All five of us, except for you. You were sitting in the green chair next to the sofa near the studio door, working on something. Mom must’ve pulled the cushions off the couch five different times. I asked you if you knew where it was. You didn’t. Mom asked you. No. Rachel, then Holly asked you. No. Sharla was too young to ask, so I asked you again, were you sure? You hadn’t seen it. Said you didn’t even know what it looked like. I described it for you. It was red, the cover was hard and glossy. It said “SPELLING” in big white letters across the top, and there was a picture of an apple on the front. You said no. You’d never seen it. We looked for what seemed like hours before everybody gave up. I was in despair. How would I get a new book? How would I finish my homework? Would I get an F on the spelling test? What was it like to get an F? Would I get in trouble? Would my teacher yell at me in front of the class?
I wandered around the house, lost as last year’s Easter egg, silently willing the book to appear and looking in the least likely places, hoping for a miracle. Under the bed, in the linen closet, in the toybox. I walked into the living room, and you asked Mom which one of you should go to the grocery store. “The list is ready,” you said, and you stood up, handed Mom the list and put my Spelling book – the book you’d been using as a hard surface for writing on the coffee table at the end of the couch near the studio door. For a split second, I was thrilled to have found my book, until I realized that I’d never lost it. You’d been using it. It had been in your hands. Your wife and four daughters were ransacking the house around you looking for Andee’s Spelling book, and you just sat there, holding it, writing things on it like “milk” and “eggs” and “bread”. Milk, eggs and bread were not in my vocabulary assignment. And you didn’t listen. You didn’t stop to think about it. The answer was in your hands. All you had to do was engage for thirty seconds. Andee, Spelling book, it’s red and about the size of….oh, wait, what’s this I’m holding?
So now, twenty-five years later, when I tell you that I will let you know when I’m ready to talk about this, I really do mean that. Driving by my house and putting things on my porch, texting me and telling me you miss us, that you would like a few minutes of my time, all of it…you’re still sitting there, making a list on my Spelling book. On that Sunday, my voice wasn’t strong enough to insist that you listen. But I tell you today, with all the strength I can find, that if you want to be a part of our lives, you will listen. You will finally stop staring at yourself and pay attention. Have you ever wondered why your daughter is wandering around, in her thirties, trying to convince herself that she’s worth the effort, anyone’s effort? It was in your hands. All you had to do was listen.