On the Other Side of the Gate

When I was a little girl, my daddy worked at night (as he still does) for the Atlanta Journal Constitution. On the weekends and during the summers when I would stay with him, I would beg him to take me to work with him so I could run free around the warehouse and climb large piles of papers and talk to all the employees from all over the world. When he would let me go with him, it was a truly special day, a bright spot in otherwise dull, meaningless days of watching cartoons (yes I was highly dramatic as a child as well). We would drive fast down empty roads in the early hours before dawn, talking and laughing and eating donuts and feeling like the world laid empty at our feet for us to explore.

On these trips, my father would show me the houses that were in the district he oversaw, big, beautiful houses that seemed to loom large on acres of land. To my little eyes they seemed to stretch all the way to the sun with their multiple floors and elaborately built exteriors, the meticulously manicured yards. When there was a house my daddy particularly loved, we slow in front of the massive gate that seemed to be standard around each home and he’d tell me who lived there, what they did, what kinda people they were, what kinda car they drove. He’d always follow this information by telling me that no matter what I had to go to college, had to graduate and do something big with myself and not make the mistake he made of thinking he didn’t need college. I, of course, eager to please, agreed. We would drive on letting the thick silence blanket us, until another beautiful house came up at which point the routine would repeat all over again.

At the time, I loved these outings and I tried desperately to retain all the information my daddy gave me in my little 6 year old mind. Whenever we’d pass a house we’d seen before he would ask me, “Who lives here?” or “What do they do?” Sometimes I knew and sometimes I didn’t but the underlying message was always the same; “You can have this. This is attainable.”

As I got older, I began to resent these trips with my father. Not because of anything in particular that my daddy had done but rather because he always seemed to be on the outside looking in, always just a temporary visitor to these beautiful homes that spoke of people who had “made it”, never someone who actually accessed the attainability he was trying to open me up to. It made me sad, it still does really, thinking of my daddy driving down the tree lined streets and maybe contemplating what he could have, should have done. I mean, quite honestly and completely unbiased, my daddy’s probably smarter than the majority of those guys, probably works much harder too. And our life is good but as I got older I couldn’t shake the feeling that maybe there was to be more for him. This is a man who works 7 days a week, has all his life, has never been anywhere in this world, never even west of Mississippi let alone out of the country. This is a man for whom New York is just a dream he can tell his kids about at bedtime or sell them on in the wee hours of the morning. I mean to live a life and never really have the chance to LIVE your life because you’re so busy taking care of everyone else… well I don’t know many people that would or could do that. Not at all.

So someone asked me today, “La why are you so driven? I’ve never seen anyone as ambitious as you.” And the truth is you probably haven’t. But I am not ambitious in my own right or just to be able to say I have awards on my wall, famous friends and lots of money. I am ambitious, mostly because I promised my daddy I would be. On those morning trips I hold so dear to my heart, he made me promise that I would reach for those things that, at the time, seemed so impossible given my circumstances. And I intend to keep my promise. If somehow, by my own success, I can get my daddy one of those beautiful houses to call his very own, if somehow I can give him a life filled with memories he can cherish besides just the things he got to see his children do, if maybe, my hard work can be a way to get him on the other side of those imposing gates, then really, my ambition seems a small price to pay.

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