My parents were the last people I wanted to see. They had been together since the Jurassic era so they had no idea what I was going through. In an attempt to avoid them I went in the backdoor and through the kitchen to the stairs up to my room, but they caught me in the hallway.
“Why are you home so late?” my mother asked.
I turned around so they could see my tear-streaked face and hopefully take it as a cue to leave me alone.
“What happened?” My father asked me with a look of horror.
“Nothing! Just leave me alone!” Crying once again, I stormed up the stairs and slammed the door to my room. My head was pounding. I clutched at it with both hands trying to shut everything out, but it all came rushing back like droves of hornets swarming me. My boyfriend, Jody, pulling up to the Teen Center in his El Camino and getting out. The passenger door, MY door, creaking open. The locks of blonde hair blowing in the breeze. The realization that the blonde hair belonged to my best friend. Time stopping. Everyone staring at me. The sinking feeling in my stomach as he walked up and told me he no longer loved me; he was with her now. The room was spinning, spinning out of control. Just like me. I collapsed on my bed and cried myself to sleep.
When I woke up the next morning the sun was shining down on my face. Instead of giving me the peaceful nudge out of bed that it usually gave me, it beat into my eyes and my head started pounding again. Not giving in to the wonderful fantasy that it was all a dream, I buried my face in my pillow and wept until my mother gently knocked on the door.
I wasnít so lucky. She came into my room and sat on my bed. “Your dad is leaving in a couple hours for Oakdale. I think you should go along. Itíll be good for you to get away for a couple days.” I only rolled over as a response so she patted the blanket and left the room.
Of course I wasnít going to go! I was going to call Jody and tell him that wasnít a very funny joke. I was going to throw myself at his feet and beg him to take me back! But then another thought came to me. An uplifting thought. Maybe if he doesnít see me for a few days heíll miss me and realize that he does love me! Heíll be begging me to take HIM back! After frantically packing my suitcase I ran down stairs and announced that I wanted to go. My mother gave my father a look as if to say, “Silly teenagers.” Everything was going to be ok. I was going to visit my grandmother in Oakdale, Nebraska, and when I got home I would receive the phone call. I was already planning out what I would say to him.
My mother stood at the door and waved until we rounded the corner. I gave my father a stunned look because he was whistling. Probably some ancient tune from his childhood, I thought.
“Are you excited to see your grandma?” he asked cheerfully.
“Do you want to practice driving when we get there?”
“Yes.” I didnít think I would be able to survive seven hours of yes/no questions, so I told him I was going to take a little nap. I didnít wake up until we had reached our destination. I was so relieved that I didnít have to be alone with my father anymore. He was so old, and we had nothing in common.
We exchanged greetings with extended family members, and I rushed upstairs to the bedroom I always used to stay in when visiting, the bedroom that had the old rotary vomit-green telephone. I called my mother right away to see if anyone had called for me. She said no. Thatís ok, I thought. Everyone is just giving me space to be alone. Thatís actually really nice of them. After putting my things in order and straightening up the room I sat down on the bed and looked at my watch. We were leaving in 39 hours. I guess Iíll go down and pretend Iím having fun.
Just like every time my fatherís family got together, booming laughter and the clinking of coins and poker chips met my ears before I ever stepped off the last step. I endured the usual good-natured comments (“Your mama has webbed feet” and “Youíre about as funny as a tornado”) grudgingly and sat down next to my father.
“You want in next hand?” he asked me.
“No thanks, Iíll just watch.”
As the hours passed, the laughter died down and the crowd dwindled. Soon it was just my father and I immersed in uncomfortable and heavy silence. Shuffling a deck of cards over and over, which had become a nervous habit of mine growing up around rabid card players, I kept waiting for him to say he was going to bed. I didnít really want to be alone, but I wasnít too excited about my present company either. His glasses are way too big for his face, I thought. And look at the way he plays Solitaire! He concentrates way too hard. He acts like the grand prize for winning is a Craftmatic adjustable bed or tickets to Bingo night! With great annoyance I recalled the way he had laughed and joked and carried on all night with his brothers and sister and cousins and old friends, then the way he was always retreating to his den at home and avoiding my eyes. Or did I avoid his? I shook my head slightly to get those thoughts out of my overactive brain. Heís the parent, he should know better! Iím just a teenager, what do I know? I smiled to myself, knowing full well that I knew a LOT, especially about life.
“Whatícha smiling about?”
“Nothing,” I said.
“Oh, ok.” He paused his game. The only way I knew that was because he looked at the window and the darkness beyond and then at me. Oh God, heís going to ask me something, I thought, rolling my eyes.
“Um... do you want to play Nertz?”
“Uh...” He began dealing cards to himself again. “Do you want to talk about it?”
“No, Iím going to bed,” I muttered.
I walked off and when I reached the foot of the stairs I heard his voice trailing after me, “Weíll go for some driving practice in the morning right after...”
Maybe it IS me that avoids him, I thought as I trudged up the stairs. Then I rolled my eyes and thought, Oh well, itíd make every member of my immediate family proud.
Sun was streaming through the window. For a moment it lifted my spirits. Then I remembered where I was and what had happened only two days before. Tears instantly welled up in my eyes and I angrily wiped them away. I know heís come to his senses by now. The old vomit colored phone was in my hands before I could think and I dialed my home number. I know heís called, I know it! No answer. Oh well, Iíll try again later.
Reluctantly I washed up and headed downstairs. I wanted to drive as much as possible but I didnít want to do it with him. I was NOT in the mood to be bombarded with questions. Why does everything always have to come with a catch?
Surprisingly, everything was quiet when I arrived at the bottom of the stairs. My father was waiting for me at the table, his never-ending game of Solitaire laid out before him. “Good morning,” he said smiling.
I mumbled something that might have sounded a little like Ďgood morningí in a different country.
“Want to grab some breakfast before we head out?”
“Do you have to finish getting ready or anything?”
“Are you ready to go then?”
My grandmother lived in a tiny town with a population of less than 100, so it was actually perfect for driving practice. For some reason I felt like proving that I was somewhat responsible so when I got in the car I adjusted the mirrors and seat, buckled my seatbelt, and waited for him to do the same before I took off. I was looking forward to the actual driving, but not being interrogated. My eyes were prepared to roll a lot.
“We donít have to worry about being pulled over here, do we?”
“And we donít have to worry about a lot of other traffic, do we?”
He seemed to tire of my short answers, for he asked no more questions for the next half hour, only offering driving tips every once in a while. I spent that time listening to my brain shift between thoughts like, Ooops, the right turn signal is up and I wonder if heís going to ask about Jody again. When we had cruised by all the city sights about 10 times, he started up with the eternal questions again.
“Want to head out of town and try gravel?”
“Want to see where your Uncle Arch burnt the car to a blackened crisp?”
I glanced at him. That sounded funny. My father did not say funny things. “On purpose?” I asked.
“No, no, it was definitely an accident.”
My interest diminished back down to teenage levels and I said, “Ok, whatever.”
He took me on a gravel filled route, past farm houses and fields, up and down numerous hills, and around curves and bends, every now and then pointing out childhood landmarks. I had no idea where I was, so I had no choice but to follow his directions. After a while I felt like we were driving in circles. My father had become silent and seemed to have a dreamy, far away look on his face. Suddenly, and to my great surprise he turned on the radio and started flipping through the stations. “How about some music?”
I stared at him for a second and then turned back to the road. He only listens to talk radio! I thought. He doesnít even LIKE music!
He stopped on an oldies station and looked around. “You know, all this land used to belong to Old Man Kinnan. One fall a couple friends and I were in his pumpkin patch smashing pumpkins when we heard a shout and a gun shot. Never been so scared in my life! When we got back into town we thought for sure we were in the clear, there was no way he could have recognized us or the car in the dark. But sure enough, when we went inside my house, there was Mom, and she already knew.” He chuckled to himself.
Meanwhile, I was driving the same path I had been for an hour, watching the same old houses and fields go by. Only now I was completely flabbergasted! My hands were practically glued to the steering wheel and it seemed like my brain stopped functioning. When the shock wore off, all I could bring myself to do was blurt, “SMASHING PUMPKINS?!”
My father smiled and said, “You wouldnít think it to look at me now, but your old dad caused a fair amount of trouble in his day.”
“No, you wouldnít think it...”
He chuckled again. “Ah, and hereís Old Man Kinnanís house itself. You know, I was quite in love with his daughter, Sharon. In fact, for a long time, I thought for sure sheíd be the girl I married.”
I didnít know if he paused in his story-telling to let this tidbit of an insight into his life before I came along sink in or not, but it sure set my brain to racing! No way! I thought. He canít have had a GIRLFRIEND! He canít have dated anyone besides my mom! Heís too... dad-like! Too old for that kinda thing! He definitely couldnít have been in love with anyone else, he wouldnít have had the chance, he and my mom have been together since the beginning of time!
Almost without realizing it, I was driving past the city limit sign. My father had led me back in town.
“We ended up having a quarrel,” he was saying. “She broke up with me and broke my heart. You know, Jami, as cliche as it might sound, things really do happen for a reason. I didnít think Iíd ever get over Sharon, and admittedly it did take me quite a while. But itís a good thing I did because once I was finally ready to let myself be open to possibilities, I met the most beautiful girl in the world, next to you, and I did end up marrying her! I tell you, it was fate.”
The impact of his words crashed around me like a waterfall. All of a sudden the sun seemed to swell and shine brighter than ever before. I pulled the car into my grandmotherís driveway and parked, but I didnít get out. My father waited diplomatically.
“Dad?” I said finally.
“What you said... about thinking youíd never get over... Sharon. Well... I kinda feel the same way.”
“Would you like to tell me about it?”
I looked at him and realized I wasnít seeing him as just some old guy with too-big glasses, but an actual human being. “Not right now. But maybe you can tell me more stories of the old days here in Oakdale.”
“Well, what do you want to know?”
“I donít know, anything about when you werenít OLD!”
“Old, huh? You just wait, little girl!”
And, laughing and joking and carrying on, I started the car again and headed out of the driveway.
Edited by Jedi Jami, 02 March 2007 - 11:03 PM.