Monday, January 28, 2013

Reformation

Honey puts her cold nose directly on the center of my forehead, our code for “Ok, mom, I have let you sleep as long as I can manage staying still and quiet but now my bladder is about to explode so could you take me out, please?” My eyes flutter open and I smile as she sits back on her hind legs, her tail a muffled swish across the carpet.
I sit up faster than I intend to, hoping to fit the need to put on clothes, take myself to the bathroom, get Honey downstairs, in her leash and outside in the few minutes between now and when she might pee on my floor. Suddenly, I am lightheaded, the head cold I have been fighting the last few days slapping me back down into my pillow. I send my daddy a text message.
Can you come take Honey out please?
Moments later I hear the door open, and the thundering sound of Honey lumbering her 80 pounds down the narrow stairs. Looking at the clock, I realize I have all of 15 minutes to get myself together to go with my daddy before I make him late for his appointment.
I stumble around as fast as I can, half asleep and mildly off balance the way being congested makes you. I've pulled myself into my clothes before I realize the house has gone silent. I stand on tip toes at the big window overlooking the front and realize my daddy’s car is gone.
It’s a small thing really, objectively speaking. I was lying down and sick. He had somewhere to be. But there is still a part of me that is a kid and wondering why my little brother gets to go to Disney World and I don’t or why visitation weekends are switched again.
I don’t much care for being left.
Hey! You left me. I’d gotten up to throw my clothes on while you took Honey out. Lol
I hope my message is more lighthearted than I feel about it.
I thought you were still sleeping since you weren’t feeling well. I am almost done here. We will go to lunch when I finish.
We head to some family owned Italian place he’s found, tucked away in the corner of a nondescript shopping center. We sit by the window and talk about the safe things we always discuss; the weather. The dog.
And then we’re not anymore. We’re talking about politics. And a fiancĂ© he had before he met my mama. And the family restaurant my great grandparents used to own. And of course, the thing that we hardly ever talk about, despite us both being equally consumed with it; work.
I tell him about my troubles at work, about wondering where I go next in my career, being stressed about money and being away from home and how frustrating and stifling and unhappy it all is. At one point mid babble-bordering-on-whine, I look up from my chicken piccata and he is watching me intently. As I talk, I search the recesses of my memory to recall the last time I had my daddy’s undivided attention. When it wasn’t shared with working or cooking or my stepmom or TV or my brother. I can’t recall a single instance.
I ask him about his own job search, with him having recently been laid off due to restructuring from the job he has had most of my life. He’s telling me how he has gone back periodically as a consultant. What he has been doing with his free time. I readily admit I am shocked he has managed to make it this long without working; I have never seen my daddy take a vacation, let alone without a job, if not two.
He’s talking about how awful he feels for his old employees who, as seems to be par for the course these days, are getting fairly screwed over in the name of “cost cutting” by the company he devoted almost thirty years to. Then it’s my turn to watch him. He’s lost weight. His voice, usually rubbed rough at the edges by the sandpaper of weariness, is full and clear. His green eyes are bright, with none of their usual lidded heaviness. And he’s smiling, every single one of his perfectly straight teeth (that never needed an orthodontist unlike his daughter) on display.
My father, who has worked every single day since he was 14 years old, who has defined himself largely by his ability to provide, and has sacrificed more than any of us can probably recall to that effect looks… happy.
“I stopped smoking you know.”
The truth is, I already know this, my grandma having proudly shared this news with me the night before, even as she pushed an ashtray overflowing with discarded cigarettes out of her lap to do so. But I hadn’t mentioned it to him, because I wanted him to get his own chance to tell me.
“Really?”
“Nope. Ever since I left the job. I haven’t really felt the need to.”
I remember being younger and finding the package of green and white striped cigarettes tucked inside the car door and flushing them down the toilet. When he asked, I pretended not to know what he was talking about. But I’d been so fearful that soon his voice would grow smoky and raspy like my grandma and knowing that while I didn’t have much say in losing him to work, I was unwilling to lose him to cancer too.
“I’m proud of you, daddy.”
His smile stretches even closer towards his graying temples as we settle into silence, both of us emotionally awkward, but trying not to ruin it with a joke as we are prone to do. In the silence I try to remember the last time I had a meal with my dad, just he and I, and that too I cannot recall.
For the rest of the day we do absolutely nothing of any kind of importance. We go to the store to look for rugs. We watch some TV show full of hilarious internet clips. We retreat to our rooms to take naps and reconvene to play with the dog and have pizza and watch strangers stick their heads inside of boxes filled with various insects.
It’s one of the best days I’ve had in a long time.
I know we go our whole lives trying to stay gainfully employed, but I suppose life is funny that way. Layoffs gave me my daddy back.

3 comments:

Ash. said...

This eviscerated my thug, La. I have a similar relationship with my Dad and it's damn hard to get him alone, but I managed to do it last Thanksgiving over drinks in a seedy bar (long story). It feels good to make that connection and start to see your parents as human beings that you can actually access.

sayitlikethis said...

Pure awesomeness.

Darrk Gable said...

Darn you La! I'm over here getting misty eyed, hoping I have days like this with my daughters as they get older. Now I gotta go merc a stink bug or ant to get my killer status back!

Oh yeah, hell of a read. Damn near a tear jerker.