I haven’t spoken to my Dad in a year and a half. I haven’t called him, written to him or attempted to communicate with him in any way. I can’t. Each time I pick up the phone or pull up a fresh e-mail, I shiver. I break down. The idea of talking to him terrifies me.
When I was younger, my Dad was my hero. I idolized him. My earliest memories were of a black monitor brilliantly lit up from within by a rainbow of Space Invaders, of my Dad sitting beside me as I wrecked havoc on large, pixelated aliens. I remember falling asleep at his side, his hand softly rested on my skull, his voice filling my world with stories of his youth, of deep jungles and camping and being lost at sea.
I wanted to grow up just like him. Other little girls wanted to be princesses astride white unicorns. I wanted childhood to graduate into a life as someone capable of smelting gold and building chandeliers.
On my sixth birthday, he taught me how to climb a grassy knoll that, at the time, seemed almost vertical to me. I remember clutching fistfuls of weed and soil, determined to get to the top. “You have to finish everything you start.” He told me, airily.
Those were the good days. I hold onto them as tightly as can. I like those memories of my Dad. I like remembering him as my hero. More often than not, I wish those were the only memories I had of him because the other memories are far from as pleasant.
I remember the phone call that set it off, that first night when my mother came stumbling home, incoherent with rage. I remember them arguing, the voices a muffled roar outside the room I shared with them. I remember the first time that they woke me in the middle of the night and dragged me out of my room to teach me what ‘divorce’ and ‘cheating’ meant. I remember standing them, clinging to a leg, as they demanded who was right and wrong. This happened before I even entered grade school.
It never got better. The endless pills soon came after; thousands of dollars poured into an attempt at a single’s night sleep. The confessions, the half-dazed recollections of distant wrongs, the fights. I grew up desperate to be the perfect adjudicator. If I could tell them the answers they wanted, they would stop quarreling. I was sure of that.
Adolescence came. The demands changed. I became a confidant instead. On my fourteenth birthday, my father brought me into his room and smiling an eggshell-brittle smile, he told me, “I’m going to kill myself.”
He told me exactly how. I cried. I begged. I told him not to leave me. In the end, he didn’t kill himself. Next year, however, he said the same thing. We did the same song and dance for the next six years. He would tell me he wanted to commit suicide, I would plea with him to stop.
During those years, he didn’t work much. My mother dealt with the brunt of the household bills, a burden that twisted her growing smile lines into a snarl of determination. Whenever I asked him why, he told me he was busy preparing. He was learning how to use AutoCad, to design lights, to make gold from lead. I had to be patient. I was. I trusted him. He was my fallen hero, the knight that had surrendered to alcohol and bitterness. One day, he’d ride again. I was sure of it.
He did. Sort of. Eight years ago, he ran away with my mother’s best friend. They started a business together. The name of the shop was ‘The Pure Choice’.
For the first decade or so, I was desperately proud of himself. He made it. He could do it. He was putting himself back together. Eventually, he’d come back for me. He would come back, the resurrected champion. He’d be my Dad again. My Hero. I was so sure of that too.
He never did. Instead, he built a new life. Whenever we spoke, it was because his new partner had done something to depress him, because he was lonely and he missed my mother, because he couldn’t decide between his two new girl-toys, because he needed something. His calls always depressed me. I would cry for days after that, broken in a way I couldn’t understand. In the end, my mother had threatened him with a restraining order.
The last time I spoke to my father was a little over a year and a half ago. I had been preparing for my trip around the world. I had begged him to come see me one last time, to let me go see him. Anything. I wanted his blessings. He said no. Two days before I was getting ready to fly, he asked me if I could meet him a week over my departure date. I had told him months ago, time and time again, when I was going to leave.
“If you don’t want your old, aging father , just say so.”
Furious, I said nothing.
Last night, my mother asked me if I had called my father to wish him Happy Father’s Day. I shook my head. With a careless shrug, she said, “I guess you’re really tossed him aside now.”
I winced. I hadn’t. I couldn’t. He was my father, my Papa. He was the one I always wanted to grow up to be. He was my hero. I can’t cut him out but I can’t talk to him either because talking to him meant being reminded that he could do everything for someone else but not for his own family, because it meant remembering all the things he did to us instead of all the things he was to me.
In the silence, I get to pretend that he’s my Papa and not my erstwhile father, that he’s busy somewhere instead of in the arms of a woman, that he’s just not home ‘right at this moment’ but he’ll soon be. In the silence, he’s still my Hero: perfect and eternal.