Daddy's Little Girl
Frank Carter was overjoyed when he learned he was about to become a father. So much so, that the day after hearing the good news, he rushed out to the local Best Buy store and bought himself a video camera, the best one he could afford. Thanks to his new toy, every month of his wife's pregnancy was lovingly preserved on videotape. Through a series of scenes over a six-month period, viewers could watch Margaret Carter's waistline expand as the child inside her grew. Despite his wife's objections, Frank even brought the camera into the delivery room to film the birth.
The Carters' daughter, Lori Ann, was born on May 10 at 3:47 p.m. The tiny infant had blond curls and blues eyes and instantly became the apple of her father's eye.
From that momentous day on, Frank filmed practically every event, major and minor, in his daughter's life. In the first few weeks alone, he managed to fill half a dozen videotapes with such cherished moments as Lori Ann's first bath, her first diaper change, her first car ride and her first visit to the pediatrician.
Then, seven months after Lori Ann was born, Frank was offered a promotion to the position of regional sales manager of the internationally known computer manufacturer for which he worked. The new job meant a substantial raise in salary, but it also required Frank to travel from the Carters' home near Philadelphia to the company's corporate headquarters in Boston to attend the quarterly sales meetings.
Although Frank hated to give up four weekends a year--precious time he preferred to spend with his wife and daughter--he couldn't very well turn his back on the additional income the promotion would bring. After all, he had to put aside money for Lori Ann's education. Consequently, for three days each March, June, September and December, Frank flew to Boston and stayed at the Quincy Inn, a nice family oriented motel, far from the noise and traffic of the city. It was on the first of these trips, that he met Greg Jackson, the company's regional sales manager for the Richmond area.
Frank and Greg, who had rooms next to each other at the Quincy, decided to stop at an Italian restaurant for dinner after the sales meeting was over. During dinner, the two men discovered that they had a great deal in common: both were about the same age, both enjoyed baseball, both were family men who didn't care to go out to night spots without their wives and, most important, both were proud new fathers.
While drinking an after-dinner cup of coffee, Greg reached into his pocket and took out a small stack of 35mm photographs and handed them to his friend. As Frank flipped through the pictures, Greg kept up a running commentary.
"That's my son, Alex. He turned ten months on the twenty-fourth. Here he is just starting to crawl."
"Nice looking boy. What a thick head of hair!"
"He takes after this mother in that department," Greg laughed, rubbing his hand over his receding hairline. Then he turned to Frank and said, "Now it's your turn. Let me see the pictures of your daughter."
"I hate to admit it, but I don't carry any snapshots of Lori Ann with me. The truth is I'm more of a video man myself. But, if you're not too busy later on, I just so happen to have a tape I brought along with me--in case I got homesick," he added sheepishly.
"I'd love to see it. Hey, I've got an idea. Since we have to meet in this place every three months, let's make a practice of bringing a video with us each time we come. I'll show you mine, and you show me yours."
"It's a deal!" Frank readily agreed, glad to finally have someone to share his home movies with.
That evening set a pattern that would continue for many years to come. Whenever they were in Boston for the quarterly sales meetings, Greg and Frank would go out to dinner together afterward. They would then, upon return to the Quincy Inn, watch the latest video installment in the lives of the children, Lori Ann Carter and Alexander Jackson.
Thus Greg had the opportunity to watch Lori Ann grow from an infant, to a toddler to an adolescent on film. He saw her first day of school, her performance in the second grade class play, her participation in a spelling bee in the third grade and her game-winning soccer goal in the fourth. Every year Frank videotaped his daughter opening presents on Christmas morning, going trick-or-treating on Halloween and blowing out the candles on her birthday cake each May. The proud father never failed to capture a day at the zoo, amusement park or beach. He also chronicled her Girl Scout outings, dance recitals and gymnastic shows.
It sometimes seemed to Greg that Lori Ann ranked second only to Princess Diana when it came to being caught by the camera. Yet he fully understood Frank's passion for videotaping his child, being somewhat of an aspiring Spielberg himself when it came to filming his son, Alex.
* * *
Frank and Greg, who in the course of their friendship had managed to visit some of the finest restaurants in Beantown and the surrounding suburbs, chose on their most recent trip to Boston to drive up to Puritan Falls and sample the fare at the historic Sons of Liberty Tavern. While sampling the fried scallops from his seafood platter, Frank told Greg about Lori Ann's sixteenth birthday party and the present he'd bought for her.
"She had her heart set on a Mitsubishi 3000GT, but I bought her something more practical and less powerful: a Subaru Imprezza."
"It's hard to believe our kids are old enough to drive already," Greg sighed. "They were only babies when we first met."
"Face it, buddy. You and I are getting old. In another two years, our children will be going off to college."
"Yeah, and then it won't be long before they move out, get married and have families of their own."
Frank laughed and suggested, "Then I'll show you tapes of my grandchildren, and you can show me tapes of yours!"
When the laughter died, both men became quiet. Greg was enjoying the comfortable silence that often existed between close friends. Frank, meanwhile, was fighting a rising panic. His daughter was sixteen already. How long would it be before the inevitable happened, before he lost her for good? Frank didn't think he could bear it.
* * *
The following day was a special one for Greg. It was his twenty-fifth anniversary with the company, and a celebratory dinner was being held in his honor. As a surprise, Frank had decided to videotape the occasion.
The dinner was a success. All the sales managers and the upper management attended, and there was much laughter at the good natured barbs directed at the guest of honor. Frank filmed the speeches, the jokes and the presentation of the company's "small token of appreciation": an envelope containing two tickets to Bermuda for Greg and his wife. The celebration lasted long into the evening, and finally came to an end just before midnight.
"Wait a minute," Frank said, as he and Greg exited the restaurant. "I want to use the last of this tape up."
He stood by the side of the road, in front of Greg's rental car, pointing the video camera at his friend, who was standing beside the senior vice president of marketing. "Say cheese and wave at the camera," he laughed.
Suddenly, a pickup truck careened around the corner, squealing its tires and burning rubber. The young driver, who'd had more than a few drinks and whose blood alcohol level was way over the legal limit, didn't see Frank on the side of the street until it was too late. The driver hit the brakes and frantically turned the steering wheel, yet he couldn't avoid hitting him.
Greg watched in horror as Frank's body flew into the air and came crashing down onto the sidewalk.
* * *
The patrolmen who responded to the 911 call quickly questioned Greg, who was badly shaken up by the accident. Based on eyewitness accounts, the drunk driver was arrested and his pickup impounded as evidence of his crime.
"Are you going to be all right?" the senior vice president asked his regional sales manager.
Greg nodded and got into his rental car. "I'll be all right."
Tears came to his eyes as sat he pondered the tragic, senseless death of his good friend. When he finally felt composed enough to drive, he turned the key in the ignition. He glanced in his rearview mirror and saw something lying on the sidewalk: Frank's video camera. He had been holding it when he was struck down. Greg got out of his car and picked up the camcorder. Upon examination, it appeared to be undamaged.
When he got back to the Quincy Inn, he took the tape out of the camera and watched the highlights of the dinner held that evening in his honor. Then he turned off the TV and VCR and cried himself to sleep.
* * *
On his way back to Virginia, Greg decided to stop in Philadelphia to return Frank's video camera and pay his respects to Margaret and Lori Ann Carter. With the camera in hand, he rang the bell of the two-story white colonial house.
Though they'd never met, he immediately recognized Margaret when she opened the door. She looked just like Lori Ann, only older. Greg wanted to console Margaret, but he didn't quite know what to say to a woman who had just lost her husband. After stammering out his apologies, he finally gave her back the video camera. She was surprised and somewhat dismayed by the sight of it.
"I haven't seen that thing in sixteen years."
How could she not have seen it? Greg wondered. She must have been with Frank and Lori Ann on most--if not all--of the occasions Frank had taped.
"Oh? Did Frank have another camera?"
"No," Margaret assured him. "That was the only video camera he ever owned. He bought it when I was pregnant. He filmed the entire pregnancy and even brought it into the delivery room." She couldn't go on; she just lowered her head and cried softly.
Greg sympathized. "Of course, remembering such a happy occasion as the birth of your child would only make you feel worse at a time like this."
Margaret looked up at him. "Frank and I had no children. Our daughter was stillborn."
Greg was so shocked by her words that he forgot all about her grief.
"But that's not so. I've seen Lori Ann with my own eyes."
"I'm sorry, Mr. Jackson, but you must be mistaken. After all, I ought to know what happened to my own child."
"Of course you should, and I sincerely apologize for upsetting you at a time like this. But I've spent the last sixteen years watching videotapes of Lori Ann. Frank brought one with him every time he flew up to Boston."
"Come with me. I have something I want to show you," she said and then led Greg upstairs and into Frank's study. On the far wall was a tall, locked oak cabinet. "He keeps the tape in there, the one he took in the delivery room. Of course, I never had the courage to watch it myself, but I know it's here."
Margaret got the key from the desk drawer and opened the locked cabinet. Then she gasped and stepped back in surprise. The cabinet was filled with videotapes, dozens and dozens of them. Each of the tapes was neatly labeled: "Sixth Birthday," "Christmas 1993," "First Day of School" and so on.
Margaret's hands trembled as she reached for the videotape labeled "In the Delivery Room." She crossed the study to the television, put the tape into the VCR and pressed the PLAY button.
Greg could hear Margaret sobbing as the video replayed the events of that tragic day sixteen years earlier:
Then the video camera, left unattended on a metal tray, filmed only a spot on the delivery room wall. Yet it still managed to capture on audio the sounds of heartbreak and the death of the parents' hopes and dreams.
Mercifully, the recording came to an end, and the television screen turned blue. For several moments both Greg and Margaret sat in silence, each absorbed in his or her own nightmare. Finally, Margaret took another tape from the cabinet, put it into the VCR and pressed PLAY.
The cassette was labeled "Lori Ann Learning to Walk." But the tape, like the dozens of others in the cabinet, was blank, for Frank was not there to project his unfulfilled dreams onto the television screen.
Despite his tendency to get into trouble, Salem will always be Mommy's little boy.