"Gentle," I remind Katniss as I hand her our two month old daughter, Olivia. Carefully, I slip Olivia's small frame into her cradle and smile as she places a cool kiss on her forehead. Katniss has a controlled grip on her, but I still watch closely as she places her in the wooden crib.
"Peeta," she whispers while shooting me a grimace. "We talked about this."
By "we talked about this," she means my overbearing nature when it comes to our daughter. My behavior has been a bit much, this I know. Whenever Olivia is away from my grasp, I am in complete anguish. Many times i have fallen asleep in the chair next to her crib. In the middle of the night, Katniss will have to come and pull me back to the bed, all but forcing me to the mattress. It's only when she leans over and buries her face to the crook of my neck that I finally can rest.
I see the toll it's taking on her. She can't even hold Olivia without me standing over her shoulder and reaching over to run my fingers over the curly soft hairs that are starting to form on her head. I knew I always wanted to be a dad, but I guess I never expected to be so...in love.
Now, I find myself more and more mimicking my father, adopting the phrases he would so tenderly use when we were children. Once, when I was five, his merchant friends brought over their puppy. I begged and pleaded to hold it. As I went to forcibly press the tiny creature against my chest, my father took a hold of my hands and said: "Remember Peeta, gentle."
My brothers and I used to sit by the door, awaiting him to come home from the bakery. I would be filled with excitement as he stood in the doorway to take off his shoes, anxiously trying to see what kind of bread he brought home that day. Once his shoes were off I would leap into his arms, those strong bakers arms. Those arms continued to catch me for years. I can't remember if it was because I was just too heavy or he started getting a little too frail with age, but he would have to remind me: "gentle, Peeta. I'm getting old, you know." Reyes and Andre would laugh, but Dad assured me that "once upon a time, they would do the exact same thing."
And when our mother would raise her hand, he would courageously grab a hold of it. Even after the darkest bruises, he would assure us it was a mistake; that our mother loved us and never meant any harm. I could always see the hurt in his eyes, but he still never spoke ill of her. Not once.
These are the best retained memories I have of him; the ones that outline his kind, generous and likable character. It never really made sense to my brothers and I when we got older - why exactly a man filled with such love married a woman filled with such hate. She came to resent his kindness and attempted to turn him into something he wasn't. It broke my heart, the last time I ever saw him. They had been fighting and his head was hung low. I can still recall the way he wrapped his arms around me. My father gave hugs the way he loved his sons - whole heartedly.
I wish I could say that I've become more like him - that I've picked up all of the traits that I admire from him. But it's her that I fear I'm becoming. I go into fits of rage - uncontrollable rage. Sometimes I wonder whether or not it's the tracker jacker venom, or if it's just her in me. And I'm scared for the people I care about the most. I hurt Katniss once. She came behind me and for a moment, all I could see was black. I pushed her against a wall, hard. She had large, purple bruises for weeks. It never leaves my mind. And now, every time I look at my daughter, I see all the things I could do. All the marks I could leave.
How do you protect the people you love from yourself?
Katniss once told me that she keeps her father's jacket because it's like having a piece of him near. That way, she never forgets him.
After she told me that, I decided to try something similar. Thus far, it's worked well. Whenever I feel myself drifting to the blackness, I keep that one piece of my father with me.
"Gentle," I tell myself. "Gentle."