In June 1999, I moved to China, and Tarzan hit the theaters.
Shortly after my parents said goodbye to their only daughter, they went to see Disney’s animated movie about a boy raised by gorillas.
When Tarzan’s adopted mom told him she’d always be there for him even when destiny called him away, my dad thought of me, teaching English halfway around the world. He bought the CD single of the song she sang, “You’ll Be in My Heart” by Phil Collins, and gave it to me when I returned home for a visit.
When I flew back overseas, I realized I’d forgotten the precious gift. How long would it be before I could return home for it?
Weeks later, my grandmom called to say she’d sent six big boxes, complete with stuffing, canned ham, and cranberry sauce. Since I wouldn’t be home for the holidays, she decided to send Thanksgiving to me.
Because I worked at a remote agricultural university, packages weren’t delivered directly to our campus. We’d receive a notice that we had a box waiting, and we’d take three buses into the city to claim it.
When I received the notice I’d been expecting, I hired a van to take me to the post office. An hour and a half later, I hurried in and handed the front-desk worker my slip of paper.
He stepped into the back and returned with a single box about two feet wide and two feet high.
I stared at it. Lifted it.
It was light. Certainly not heavy enough for canned ham and cranberry sauce.
“Zai zheli qianming,” the postal worker said.
I hastily scrawled my signature and headed back to the van with a bashful look at the driver.
He raised his eyebrows at the single box—“Americans,” he was probably thinking—then shrugged his shoulders and headed back to school, careening through bikes, taxis, and motorcycles.
Playing a fake guitar as Dad sang and played his real one.
Writing Dad a letter when I was a little girl, asking if I could be in his band.
Dad pretending to talk to Santa after we’d gone to bed every Christmas Eve.
Later, Mom told me how she’d come home one day to find that bunny sitting on the kitchen counter. “Who’s that for?” she’d asked.
“Christy,” Dad said, as if it were perfectly reasonable to buy a giant stuffed animal for your 22-year-old daughter and ship it to Asia.
I’m a little embarrassed to admit that that rabbit, whom I named “Tarzan,” became my sleeping companion for years, his white fur gaining a grayish cast.
Eight years after my dad mailed that CD, I was living in Chicago and got engaged, and Dad flew out to record the song for my wedding.
On a warm day in June, Dad escorted me down a long aisle into the arms of another man who promised to always love and protect me. At the reception, Dad told the story behind “You’ll Be in My Heart,” and then we slow-danced around a rustic ballroom as the DJ played our song.
Dad, today you turn 59, and though I may not be with you, you’ll always be in my heart.