I met Danith when I was eight and half years old. He can’t recall that moment, but I can. My parents and I were visiting his home to welcome him and his mother to the neighborhood. I was sitting on the couch across from his mother when she said that she had one son and quickly called him out of his room to come and say “hello” to us. Like I had expected, the studious boy who surfaced was older and shy — he emerged from his room that was at one end of the small house and bee-lined through the living room and out their backdoor that was at the opposite end of the house.
Our mothers quickly became good friends, and we visited their home often. Danith is five years older than I am, but, back then, he might as well have been 20 years older. While our mothers socialized, Danith entertained me. His mother instructed him to. So, he showed me his stamp and coin collections. He catalogued the cheap stamps in an album whose pages had become yellow, and he sometimes offered me his duplicate stamps. When we finished surveying his collections, we would spend the rest of the afternoon on his front porch. There, where we were safe and out of earshot of my mother, I shared my secrets with him: the crushes I had on the boys in my life. Now, whenever I would ask him about what he thought of me being boy-crazy he would shrug and say, “Nothing. You were a child.” This is all to say that he paid me no mind back then.
According to his mother, when I was a preteen, I shared with her a list I had created describing my ideal husband. I don’t doubt that this list existed, but I am surprised that it did on paper. I thought it lived only in my head. I was never a fairy-princess type of girl. Instead, I wanted a simple adult life, one that resembled the Ingalls’ in Little House on the Prairie. Charles Ingalls was a fine man. He was kind, hardworking, and principled. When I was a young girl, I wanted someone like him for a father and someone like him for a husband (for when I became a woman). However, I never considered marrying someone like him to be the father of my children.
Danith and I got married when I was twenty-two and he was twenty-seven. The first couple of years were shaky as we learned to be husband and wife to each other. But those early years were also enlightening and fulfilling, and they continue to be so as we learn to be parents together. I was not present for Kiri when he took his last breath, but I don’t agonize over those last moments. Instead, I am comforted by the fact that my son was cradled by his father, who sang to him and spoke love words to him. Unlike me, Danith regularly dreams about our children. After Daffy died, he dreamed about a tall thin woman driving a chariot with a baby girl in the seat of it. There are also dreams about our baby sitting up in our bed or crawling on the floor. After he describes a dream, I like to ask how feels. I like to see his eyes glow from having been able to spend a couple of hours with our children. Unfortunately, they haven’t visited him lately.
As a wife, I am proud to be Danith’s partner. We make a good Batman-Robin duo. I am lucky to be able to begin my day and end my day with my best friend. As a mother, I am grateful that he is for my children what I didn’t know to look for in a husband. I am satiated for them that their father is a kind and generous man whose moral compass is unwavering. If they were alive, they would walk with their heads held high and their chests pumped. Their father is also funny. He likes to imitate Mr. Baldwin imitating President Trump. Sad. And he is silly. Out of nowhere, he would ask if I know about a particular rapper. Upon my negative answer, he would break out into a rap for me, hand gestures and all. He is a fearless leader and inspirer, but also a procrastinator. When he laments grading his students’ exams, he stress-eats. The last time this occurred was not too long ago, when, instead of tackling the papers he was owing his students, he chose to be in denial and unwrapped an ice cream sandwich and leisurely ate it on the floor of our bedroom.
I don’t take for granted the moments I spend with Danith. I like that he laughs at my crazies and sometimes calls me Ice Cube. I like that he shares his fears and aspirations with me. I like that he holds my hand when we watch TV. I like that he worries about his mother. I like that his mind is fierce, and that his heart is fiercer. I like that HE is my moral compass, and I like that he talks about Daffy and Kiri. His birthday is today, and my wish for him is that our dream will come true. Until it does, I hope that our children will begin to visit him again, especially tonight.