It’s a hazy Friday afternoon in the space between spring and summer. I’m 14 years old and full of unjustified hope. I think there’s something great out there waiting for me, so I view this slice of my life as a lesson in patience. I’m wearing jean capris with a pink sweater, watching a mindless rerun of some teen show. I don’t think much of this moment, but I do notice yellow rays of sunlight creeping through the blinds and warming my cheeks. I sit on a donated leather couch in the one bedroom apartment I share with my mother. I cling to daylight.
My thoughts are interrupted as “Sweet Dreams” by Beyoncé echoes from my left jean pocket. I don’t particularly like this song, but my friends do. I struggle to free my flip phone from my hip and then I stare at an unexpected name flashing across a tiny screen. I pry my phone apart with gentle tact.
Hi honey. His voice. Half of me but somehow foreign. I don’t know what to say. Listen, I’m driving right now so I can’t talk long, but I’m coming down to the coast tonight and I was thinking we could go grab lunch or something tomorrow.
Okay, I’ll call you in the morning. Bye.
Maybe if I were somebody else, this would be a normal conversation. A father calls his daughter. They make lunch plans. But I’m not somebody else. I haven’t seen my dad in two years. I spent my childhood looking forward to sober Tuesday breakfasts. I am full of pain and forgiveness and confusion.
The day passes into night, as days do, and I fall asleep. My phone rings again in the morning and I tell my dad I’ll meet him at the mall across the street. I don’t want him to know where we live. When he’s not drinking, he’s fine. But if he gets our address he’ll get drunk and show up unannounced at 2 am with a dozen bar wings and he’ll stand on our patio and pound on the glass door until my mom reluctantly answers and he’ll barge in and yell in her face with spit flying off his teeth. So, I tell him I’ll meet him at the mall.
It’s a short walk and the weather is nice again today. I get halfway across the parking lot when I see my dad’s signature shade of rusted blue. He notices me. I fake a smile as we hug and he tells me how much I’ve grown. He’s aged at least five years in the two since I’ve seen him.
I hop into his truck and the familiar smell of cigarette smoke and dirt invades my nostrils. I become aware of the likely possibility that somebody from school might see us together. I sink into the truck’s ripped leather seat. My dad asks if I want to get lunch and I cannot shake the embarrassment emanating from within me. I know he can’t afford much, so I suggest a fast food restaurant up the road. He wants to go inside but I insist on the drive-thru.
We eat burgers and fries in silence and I am acutely aware that we have nothing in common. We make small talk about school and my brother. When our conversation comes to a natural end, I step out of his truck and walk away from my humiliation. Back to false comfort. Back to playing pretend.