My dad never comes home to us at night. I see him briefly on Saturday mornings and then seven days pass by until he shows up again. It’s always seven days without failure. I couldn’t remember his name or how he speaks, or even what he looks like most of the time. He wears the same thing every time and seems to do the same thing, too. He’s usually picking leaves out of the pool or washing our car or mowing the lawn.
I like looking at him through my bedroom window and seeing how in love my mom is when she speaks to him. The emotion spreads across her face like the butter she feeds me with in the morning when there’s nothing else in the fridge. When the pantry’s empty I wonder why he won’t buy food to put in there. Instead he’d bring one fruit and a bottle of water for just him to enjoy. While I’d lay across my bed in the sweltering heat of my tiny bedroom. When my mom is crying at night because there are too many bills to pay and not enough money to pay them I wonder why he won’t help. Instead he takes more money away from her after he picks the leaves out of pool or washes the car or mows the lawn. When I write letters to him and leave them on our doorstep I wonder why he never reads them. Instead he disregards them with his leaf blower and doesn’t even bother to even pretend to read them.
When we moved to an apartment in our small town, there was no pool to pick leaves out of or a car to wash, or a lawn to tidy. When ran into him at a government assistance office he smiled at me like we were a happy family despite his absence. In truth I sat and sulked at the emptiness I felt when he’d get in his truck and drive away. He was barely around but he was there, and then he wasn’t. He crouched down to my eye level to ruffle my short brown curls. Even at just six years old, I saw the insincerity in his “How are you’s” and how they seemed to fall off his tongue in autopilot.
“Why are you never around anymore?” I whispered to him loud enough so my mom could hear. She hugged me close and apologized to him. But I never got a goodbye, hug or an apology.
“Next.” the woman in the window called out. Her wrinkles suggested that she’d melted into her seat, glued there for eight hours.
As the years flew by, my father’s absence had clearly taken a toll on my mother who used to be curvy and wore her hair up every day. But now, as time went by, she’s thinned at least twelve inches and steals my clothes. She wore a suit and heels every day. But now, she wears a hat and a hideous blue collared polo. She doesn’t mention him, but when I do, my mom asks me where it’s coming from and never gives me a response. I had to know why he decided to leave without a goodbye or a hug or an apology.
“Why doesn’t my dad love me?” I said over a hot bowl of oatmeal. She shifted in her seat and did a few more buttons on her shirt. I begged for closure as the floor scratched my knees.
We rode the bus for an hour. When the car stopped, I saw the leaves the gardener blew away fall from new trees. Yellow light bathed the pathway in perfect alignment. My mother dragged her feet and held on to me so tight my arm was cold despite the breaking sun, we walked to a gravesite marked To know him was to love him. And I realized that my actual father never got to pick leaves out of that pool or wash our car or mow the lawn. Weeks later we went back and I got the full story.
“We were in an argument when he passed away.” she said dry eyed. “I still haven’t forgiven myself for it.” I laid on my back and watched her intently “It was so stupid. I don’t even remember what it was about. I only remember how long it lasted.” I sat up and pat the ground next to me. “89 hours. That’s how long I went without talking to him. I remember how angry I was at him and how I wanted to leave him and how you were the only thing keeping me with him. I was a trophy wife. I didn’t know how to do anything and hired people for everything. When he died he left money for us. But most of it was invested in a small charity. Eventually, the money started running low and I had to make budget cuts. The only person willing to stay with us was George. You might remember him, he was our gardener since you were little. I figured out that it’d be cheaper to pay him a little extra to do more stuff instead of hiring more people to do different things.” I had put that together in the weeks I spent dehydrated and puffy eyed. “After I lost my office job, I couldn’t even afford George. And you know we moved to this new apartment and now we’re saving up for a car.” I laid in her lap and didn’t say anything while she played with my hair.”
“How did he die?” I was finally ready to hear it. She stayed quiet for a long time before confessing.
“Your father had no enemies and was admired by everyone so I’ll never know why he did what he did.” With those simple words, I figured that he never wanted to pick leaves out of the pool or wash the car or mow the lawn.