I never thoght i would miss him (part 2 of 2)

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I feel the plane rock back and forth and it shakes me back to reality. The intercom crackles and comes to life “This is your captain speaking. Due to inclement weather we will be landing in the Milwaukee airport until the system passes. We apologize for any inconvenience and thank you once again for choosing Airtran Airways…” We slowly begin to bank to the right and slow as we circle the airport. We touchdown and sit on the runway. I am now stuck hundreds of miles from where I should be. The air in the cabin becomes warm and stuffy, and finally we pull into a terminal. The captain announces that we will be here for at least an hour, and everyone rushes off the plane to get some fresh air. I sit in another chair in another dingy white room so similar to where I started my journey. I see a kid who can’t be any older than 13 sitting on the other side of the lobby listening to his iPod. He reminds me so much of what I wished I could have been at his age. He has the same ruffled brown hair and skinny long limbed body as I did at his age. Next to him is a small backpack bursting at the brim. When I left home I had little more with me than he does now.
The boy sits on his bed in his room and takes one last look around. He does not plan on seeing this place again for a while. The room is much cleaner than it ever has been, and with everything boxed up it looks devoid of life. A few hours before he had stood with his classmates dressed in a gown and cap and received his diploma with top grades in every class. But when everyone else left for parties he climbed alone into his faded red Fiat Spider and headed home to pack up everything that had meaning to him. That car was his ticket out of this town, and it had taken years of saving to afford it. He had worked at the local bike store every summer and saved all his money. Now as he looks around at the things he is leaving behind he feels no regrets. He stands takes one last look and walks down the stairs.
“Bye, mom,” the boy says.
“You’re leaving already?” she asks, as though she had not known exactly when this would come since months ago.
Without waiting for an answer, she gives him a hug and says, “Wait here, I have something I want to give you.” She darts inside the big red front door of their house, and reappears a few moments later with a black case in her hand. She walks out the door into the blinding sunlight, shielding her eyes with one hand.
“Here,” the boy’s mother says, handing him the nondescript black case. “It was your grandfather’s camera, and I know he would have wanted you to have it.”
The boy remembers how this camera has always sat on the top shelf of the huge oak bookcase in the living room to keep it safe and away from little hands. His grandfather was a photographer and a poster printer, and this was the first nice camera he had owned, a Rolliflex twin lens reflex. The boy had always looked at this camera from afar, afraid that his hands would damage the shiny black leather or scratch the clear smooth glass. Whenever the boy had told his father that he did not want to go to college he had said, “Papa would be horrified that you would pass up an opportunity like college. He never had the chance to even think about college. When your mother and aunt left for college he cried because he was so proud that his children had such an incredible opportunity as college.”
“Thanks mom, this really means a lot to me,” the boy says, looking deep into his mothers green eyes. “I know how much this reminds you of Papa. Are you sure?”
“Yes, he would have wanted you to take it with you , and you can make much better use of it than I ever will, just be careful with it.”
“I’ll call you every week. Make sure to tell Fath goodbye for me. I love you.” The boy kisses his mom and gives her a quick hug then he walks out to his car and carefully places the camera in the front seat. He walks to the side of the house to retrieve his bike. He straps it down on the roof of the Spider and takes one last look around at the perfect neighborhood that has been his home. Everyone’s perfect houses with perfect green lawns all in a row, not a thing out of place the same as ever.”Goodbye mom,” he says and climbs into the car.
Finally we begin to board the plane I glance back, looking for the boy, but he is gone. As I sink back into my seat I know that I won’t make it to New York in time for my father’s visitation. It is okay with me not to see him lying in his coffin; I don’t think I could take the sight of it anyway. I could hardly take the sight of him the last time I saw him alive either.
The boy rings the doorbell of his old home. He is nervous as he has not seen this place in 5 years and has no idea how the reunion will be. Since he began avoiding visiting his father, he has seen his mother a few times, but has not been home very often. Last summer his mom came and visited him in San Francisco, where he was living at the time. The boy recalls a conversation they had.
“I think your father really misses you,” his mother had said, grinding her toe against the ground, like she did whenever she was nervous. “Why don’t you ever come to New York and see us?” She looks around her son’s dirty, small apartment. There is a single window letting cracks of the dull San Francisco sunlight slowly creep in through the dirty glass.
“I don’t really want to see him, and I don’t have anything to say to him. He ignored me, and now I will ignore him. Why can’t he ever make the time to come see me out here?” The dirt on the floor is beginning to stick to her feet and color her bright red shoes.
“You, of all people, know how your father is,” she replies, “always working and being busy. He never has time for anything.”
“I’m busy too,” the boy says, a bit too forcefully.
“You are not, you don’t even have a job,” his mother retorts. “Why don’t you come live with us for a little while?”
“I’m happy here.” Moments later his mother says, “Fine if this is how you want to live.” As she turns to go he can see the dirt on her shoes like a bad memory.

A second later he sees his mother peer out of the window and then rush to the door, fumbling with the deadbolt. In the past years he has seen many places and met many new people. He has been to 6 continents,27 countries and countless cities. He has thousands of photos. And now the map he keeps has many dots representing the friends around the world he has made. Like the man he met in Peru who gave him a beautiful drawing of the jungle, and the Italian chef he had worked for in Rrome. He has done what he always wanted to do. He has seen the world and has a record of what he has seen in the photographs he has taken. Each photo contains a memory.
The door slowly opens and his mom ushers him inside. She wears red heels that match her nail polish.
“Come in, come in,” she says. “It’s so good to see you. Have you been okay, you haven’t called recently? Are you hungry?”Without awaiting a response she continues to ask him questions. The boy looks around, and interrupts her flow of words, “Where is Dad?”
“He had to work late today; he has a big case coming up.”
“Oh,” the boy says.
“So, how was Japan?” The boy’s mother ask, trying to take his mind off his fathers abscence.
“It was amazing, I went to this incredible rock garden in the Ryoan-Ji temple, and I got some great photos.” They continue to talk about his trip, but the boy’s mind is elsewhere. He hads finally made time for his father, but his father remains absent.
Finally my plane lands in New York. I wake just as we touchdown, and check the time, 8 pm California time, so here it is already eleven. I walk out of the airport with just a backpack in my hand, I’ve always been a light traveler, and hail a cab. “1454 Madison Street,” I say. As I settle into the leather seat, I try to prepare myself for my mother, but I just end up thinking about the last time I saw him, the last time I would ever see him.
“Hey Fath,” the boy says when his father finally arrives home, but his voice is not like it used to be, now it is cordial, as f he is addressing a coworker or acquaintance instead of his own father. The man gives him a clap on the back, “How are you?” he says. They talk about what has happened since their last encounter, both avoiding the argument that split them apart, but it is as if they are a puzzle with one missing piece. After dinner they all sit in the living room and talk. The boy listens as his father talks about his upcoming case against Google. He really has worked his way up from the very bottom, the boy thinks.
I arrive at my mother’s door, my home of 18 years and stand at the door. I can’t bring myself to knock. As the cab drives away, I turn and walk through the streets of my old neighborhood, everything illuminated in an eerie yellow from the streetlights. I sit on the swings at the park my father and I used to play at in the afternoons in the summer, now it is cold and an icy wind whistles through my hair. “How am I supposed to feel,” I wonder aloud. I did love him, but he has been gone for so many years, that all I have left of the closeness is memories, which are now fading like the sunset with my father so long ago. I wish I had been able to know him as more than just a child, as an equal. As a kid everything we talked about related to my future, so much so that I hardly ever stopped to consider his past. My father had always remained somewhat of a mystery to me, and that is something that I just can’t ever replace. I will never know him for who he was before he was my farther, how he dreamed and lived as a young man. I miss him, yet I don’t know what I miss. The part I miss has been gone so long that I can’t remember what it was like when I still had it. Finally I get to the memory that I dread the most.
The boy is sitting in his old living room, and as his father goes on and on about his Google case, he remembers something his father had once told him.
“I always wanted to be a pilot, but sometimes things don’t work out the way you want them to.”
“Dad,” the boy blurts, “why didn’t you go to flight school? Wasn’t that what you always dreamed of doing?”
As the man shrinks away it seems as though he is being swallowed up by the room cluttered with chairs and couches “My dad didn’t think it was a good job, so he wouldn’t support me, and I didn’t have any money.”
“So you just expect me to give up on my dreams in the same way you did? Is that why you didn’t let me go to art school? So that I would suffer like you suffered?”The boy can feel his anger rising; all the emotions about his father that he has hidden inside for so long course through him penetrating deep into his core.
“I made the right decision, I never would have been happy as a pilot,” the man replies.
“How do you know, I’m not you,” the boy responds, lowering his eyes to the worn carpet covered in patterns of flowers, he had always hated that carpet.
“You have no money and you live in a basement!” the man says his voice raising.”I only want what’s best for you!”
“Well at least I’m happy, something a hypocrite like you will never be!” The boy stands and turns on one foot, running up the steep stairs. The boy leaves left the next day, without even saying goodbye to his father.
I get up and walk back through the dark streets. As I approach my old home, I realize that I will never again be able to be here without remembering him and all the regrets I will live with forever. I never even got to say goodbye. I never will be able to make him beam with pride at what I have done with my life. I reach up and clutch the eagle shaped knocker. I knock twice and then stop, leaning up to peer through the glass. I see my mother in her flower patterned housecoat and watch as she comes to the door. She looks through the peephole and then rips open the door. She falls into me sobbing again.
“I’m so glad you’re okay, why didn’t you call me, I’ve been worried sick about you!” she says.
We walk inside, and we both sit down on the couch in the living room. For a few minutes we just sit there, me holding her. After all of her tears are gone she looks into my eyes, I feel her gray eyes looking deep into me. I break away and look at the ground.
“He really did want to see you,” my mom says. “Just a few days ago he told me he wanted to plan a trip to come see you.”
“ On my way here I thought about him a lot, and I do love him, or at least I did,” I reply.

The next day we sit Shiva as people who knew my father arrive with food and stories. It is a Jewish tradition to stay at your house and receive visitors for a week after a family member has passed away. As we talk to people I hear stories about my father that I would never have thought possible. My mother’s best friends husband arrives and proceeds to tell me about the time my father got drunk at a wedding.
“Wait,” I object, “Fath never drank.”
“Not after this wedding he didn’t, he made such a fool of himself,” he replies, laughing.
We were at your aunts wedding, it was a fancy party Kirin Palace, an upscale Chinese restaurant in the city, and everyone was talking and drinking, having a good time, and your father was talking to the grooms father. They got into a big argument about something the guy said, and your father, who had had a few too many drinks, just hauled off and punched the grooms father right there. We were all shocked, because your father always had such an even keel, but after that he rarely drank. He was so embarrassed that I don’t think he ever visited your aunt again.
“That can’t have been him, Fath, getting drunk and hitting someone, he was so timid to people in charge,” I say, remembering the time he was trying to tell a police officer that there was a man with a gun holding up a newspaper stand around the corner, but stopped and waited when the officer said he was busy writing up a ticket. (by the time he told the officer the man was long gone)
“You only knew him for the last third of his life; he had a whole 40 years before you were born.”
The day becomes a blur, full of stories about my father, and I begin to realize that I really didn’t know him as well as I thought I did. I never knew that he did take flying lessons, and that he soloed his second time up in a plane. One of his friends told me that when they were 16 they both were friends with the son of a stunt pilot, and would sneak out and fly his dad’s plane during the summer. Apparently my father and his friend once flew all the way from New York to North Carolina in a 2 seat plane they built from a kit.(special note to Jennifer: Yes this is possible my great uncle builds kit planes and flies them)
We saved every dime for three years to buy that kit. Between us we had saved $3,200 and bought a plane kit that we built ourselves, it took us a year of working on that plane, but it was all worth it because we had the adventure of a lifetime. It took us a week to get to North Carolina, as we meandered through the country, and we came back having seen the whole east coast. God, I miss those days, your father and I used to have the greatest adventures.

Another of my father’s friends sits down next to me and says “You remind me so much of your father. I knew him since he was 2 years old, and all of your life you have been just like him. You look the same, act the same, and you both have that adventurous spirit. I was always the shy nervous one among his friends. He was the one who jumped out of our school window from the second floor for a prank we played on our science teacher. It was great, your dad planned it all out, he loved pranks, one morning we all woke up early and moved the track teams foam pit right under the window of the science classroom. When we were all in science later, your father just stood up and walked over to the window, then he shouted ”BYE” at the top of his lungs and hopped out. The teacher freaked out and ran to the window, screaming and yelling, then as she looked down, your dad laughed like a maniac.”

Finally everyone is gone and I can finally sit by myself and consider all that I have heard today. In one day my view of my father has changed completely. All my life I have seen him as only a father and a hard working lawyer, but today I have realized that he was so much more than that and his life had touched more people than I could have ever imagined. I still cannot understand why he made the decisions he did, but I can see that there was another layer beneath him. Maybe that was the layer from when I was young that used to play with me and go on hikes, but as the years passed it was slowly buried; waiting to be uncovered.
I sit in my old room, but it no longer feels as if it is mine. I have put so much distance between myself and my past. I stare out the window and wish, as I always will, that I had known him as more than just a father. We could have shared so much, and now that I think about it we were very similar people as kids, and both wanted the same thing for our future; to make our decisions and steer ourselves on our own path.
My mom knocks on my door and I sit up.
“Come down for breakfast,” she says.
My ideas of who my father was have been swirling in my head trying to combine with the new stories I have heard. It feels so much better to stay safe in the comforting softness of good memories than it does to face the world fraught with dark alleys and wrong turns. I run my fingers through my hair and stand up. It is the day of the funeral and the snow is still coming down hard. I walk into my spotless white bath room which is cleaner than it ever has been. As I shower I hang my head the sadness of today pushing down on meuntil I almost annot take it any longer. Just before they overwhelm me I think of a terrible joke Fath used to tell me whenever I was sad. When I arrive downstairs chuckling to myself my mother looks at me, her head tilted sideways as if to ask “what could you possibly laugh about on a day like today?” I know she won’t understand, so I pull an unfeeling mask over my laughter, hiding the happy memory.
When I arrive at the gravesite, it has just begun to snow, lightly coating and erasing everything around me. I shiver in the cold gusts, my head now held high facing into the wind. As people begin to arrive they greet me with their heads hanging and say things like “your father was a great man” and “I’m sorry for your loss.” I think of funerals as being focused on the life, not only focused on the loss, so when I go up to speak about him I smile and say, “the police are looking for a guy with one eye named Bernie.” Everyone looks at me blankly, and I continue, “Well what’s the name of his other eye?” And as I look up I know that somewhere, Fath is laughing.





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