Cool, Damp Cloth

“At the first light, I … saw a fellow with a cigarette in one hand, cell phone in the other, and his belly steered the old Buick when the light turned green.”


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Whenever my daughter got sick, there was a certain focus and resolve that set in and took control. Work and other routines such as picking up bread or milk, dropping shirts at the cleaner’s, or dropping a bill by the Post Office all took a backseat. This frame of mindI imagined was due to a gene in our human make-up, the trigger behind the success of human evolution and one that kept us connected to offspring for our entire lives, unlike much of the animal kingdom. Wherever it originates, this unseen force is pure survival. It’s the ability to lift a car like Wonder Woman or run a mile like the Six Million Dollar Man when in ordinary circumstances, I knew that wasn’t possible.

After Anna called from the Denver school office, said she’d thrown up and was going home, I offered to come pick her up.Normally, my wife would do this because her job as a physical therapist was more flexible, but she was at a conference.

“I’m okay to drive and it’s not that far.”

“Are you sure? I don’t mind, but I can just meet you at home.”

“Okay,” she said.

Anna had never been one to argue, and I think she wanted me there just like I wanted my parents or grandparents there when I was sick as a child, if all they did was put a cool, damp cloth on my forehead. That act alone was a comfort and I knew they were there for me. The first time I was away at college and was sick for several days, I didn’t have anyone there to comfort me. Eventually, I was fine, but it wasn’t the same kind of sick. There was a loneliness, a sense of isolation and helplessness to it. It felt similar to a time when I was a child and couldn’t find my mother in Nordstrom’s. Even when they called her over the intercom, and she came running, I’d cried and hyperventilated and fallen asleep on the backseat of her Skylark on the ride home.

I logged off, grabbed my coat, and looked out to see the sky was clear and the only snow was on the Rockies in the distance. I took the elevator to the garage, jumped in my SUV, and headed home. During the 15-minute commute, I expected to see people on the road who annoyed me— the person in a weaving car, the clueless person blinding traffic with his brights on in the daytime, or the one who putters along doing 20 miles below the speed limit. Whenever my daughter, even as a teen, was sick, I felt rage at the stupidity of drivers in the traffic flow.  The only thing even more annoying was getting stuck at every traffic light on the drive home, lights that are supposed to be synchronized for city traffic but aren’t.

At the first light, I glanced over from my SUV and saw a fellow with a cigarette in one hand, cell phone in the other, and his belly steered the old Buick when the light turned green.I quickly sped past him in the slow lane because I feared his belly couldn’t have the same reaction time that hands in the ten and two position would have. At the next light near Sloan’s Lake, I watched a lady dab her cheeks with powder, apply some lipstick, and of all things, put some mascara on her eyelashes. The next traffic light,I managed to get through without stopping, butI smashed in and out of a crater caused by snow, ice, and rain in the past few weeks. It was a miracle a tire hadn’t blown. In the past five years I’d lived here, the road department had successfully managed to refill this particular pothole multiple times. I wondered when some genius would come up with a forever repair method for potholes for the transportation department.Unemployment rates would increase and tire sales would decrease, but citizens would be happier.

When I finally pulled in the garage, Anna’s car was there, and I found her in bed wrapped in a cocoon of blankets.I placed a cool, damp cloth on her forehead, and she opened her eyes, looked up at me, and smiled. She went back to sleep, I filled a glass with Gatorade, got some saltine crackers, and put them on her nightstand.I knew there wasn’t much more I could do for a virus other than keep her fever down and make sure she stayed hydrated.

I sat in a chair, looked t pictures on the wall, soccer trophies on the shelf, and concert lanyards hanging from the chair. I had a sense of dread and knew that she’d soon fly from the nest and land in a college or university, where she would feel that sense of loneliness and isolation when she got sick, and I wished I could go with her to keep her safe.

Featured image: Shutterstock

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  1. Very meaningful story that shows the love and concern a father has for his daughter. Comforting actions from others in his own childhood come to the forefront when his daughter needs a loving hand to help her in Niles Reddick’s “A Cool, Damp Cloth.”

  2. “A Cool, Damp Cloth” is totally a universal experience from beginning to end that Niles Reddick tells so beautifully, with a father’s unconditional love. Any loving parent will identify with his care, concern and worry about missing his daughter in the future, when she soon flies from the nest.


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