After Nine Years This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

December 14, 2009
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I don't think he's ever liked sushi; he's more of a beer and barbecue guy. But I always found a way to convince him to take me out for my favorite.

Nine years after Paul married my mother, I was used to his presence. On their wedding night, I bobbed through a crowd of unfamiliar Canadian faces, looking for my mother, but I could only find him. I remember Paul was especially distant from my sister and me that night. As happy as he was with my mother, he knew that he was dancing a fine line between being a part of the family and being intrusive. But I had been young then, and now, he was a reasonable man whom I tolerated well. And the best part about him was that he rarely expressed his opinion, even on nights when I wanted sushi. My role in the family, he recognized, was considerably more permanent than his, and he therefore let me choose where we went to dinner, ­despite his dislike of raw fish.

The sushi restaurant was just down the block from our newly renovated beach house, but I was adamant about driving there.

“My back hurts so much,” I told my mother. “And walking down the hill will only make it worse.”

But my mother convinced me to walk, because Paul wanted to walk. He was an outdoorsy, do-it-yourself, practical kind of guy, and my mom liked to encourage that in him. She would always brag about how he bravely left his family in Canada to become a well-educated engineer in sunny California.

“How courageous,” she'd say. “He was so fearless to be able to rip himself away from his entire past!”

That was hardly the way I would have put it; I thought he was more self-serving than courageous. So what if he worked hard at MIT? So what if he was in the top 10 percent of his class at Stanford? Everyone saw him as something unique, just because he had dual citizenship. But he was able to convince my mom to walk down to the restaurant that night because she liked to see that go-getting side of him. It was foreign to her, special in her eyes. In such moments, I'd just go along and mutter mulishly, ­“Stupid Canadian.”

Of course Paul and I were cordial to each other; we never really knew what the other was feeling, so we often erred on the side of caution. As the three of us walked into the restaurant and toward the bar, Paul made a point to put my mother in ­between us. I never sat next to him; I always took the seat beside my mother or my sister, never once considering him a suitable partner for a mealtime conversation. But that night, at the sushi restaurant, I felt surprisingly slighted by the seating arrangement.

I ordered, first for myself, and then for my mother. Ordering for my mother was second nature to me; we reflected one another in everything we did. It was obvious to anyone that we knew each other very well, the way a mother and daughter should know each other. And there he was, at the end of the bar, excluded from the conversation as if he were a faceless stranger.

Paul wasn't sure what he wanted to order, or what would taste good. He was about to get a roll that I had seen him order many times before, so I stopped him and told him he should try something different. He didn't say much in return, just agreed and asked for something else. I didn't hear what, because my mother and I had already recommenced our discussion on teenage-girl dramas that he was unfamiliar with. I didn't think of including him; after all, he had never had a child of his own to help through high school. He really had no reason to get involved at this point of my life. So he sipped his beer and toyed with the menu, searching for a new roll to try, lost in the Japanese names and the unexplained dishes.

Red meat, he must have thought. Not raw fish. I'm Canadian.

My mother and I ate, talked, and enjoyed the evening. Paul interjected rarely, as if he thought of nothing but the bubbles in his beer breaking at the brink of the liquid. Then some random man, scruffy and untidy, came up to Paul and introduced himself. He was kind and strange; he snorted a lot between his sentences. He asked Paul if he could try one of his rolls.

“It looks so good,” he said. “I'm ­curious.”

Paul politely gave him two rolls ­instead of just one. The man thanked him, and offered him one of his own in return – the roll that I told Paul he had already tried many times before. Paul declined.

“My daughter says I've already tried that one.”

Everyone went back to eating. I sat there, motionless. Hanging in the air were these words: My daughter says I've already tried that one. My daughter. It was foreign to me, from another place or time. Yet the words filled every open space of my heart.

It became clear that Paul had feelings I had not discovered. I hadn't known until now that I had always been part of the thoughts passing through his head, mixing with his dreams of hockey and maple syrup. I was, in fact, an element in his life equation.

That night, I began to understand why he left Canada decades before I even existed. He was not the self-serving person I thought he was; cowardice had not made him venture across international borders at such a young age. Instead, passion had led him here.

Born an independent thinker, Paul dove into his passion for science, ­determined to find himself in deep solitude. His strength of will, he thought, was going to create him anew. But he was young when he first left home. Time passed, he grew up, and suddenly, he was not enough to keep himself company.

Then he met my mother and fell in love. Eventually, my sister and I were a part of the equation. And suddenly, without mathematical or scientific ­explanation, he found purpose; he found his passion. That night, in the restaurant, with the constant ebb and flow of the crashing waves just meters beyond my seat, I realized Paul had left Canada years ago to find me.

It's a difficult concept to grasp, the idea of fate. I can't really say I believe in it every day of my life. But it's ­impossible to deny its existence. Every time I see Paul, I see the face of fate. Growing up in a world where your own mother can't stand to hear your father's last name is tough. Numberless years had slipped by as I desperately tried to understand why my parents couldn't be happy with each other. I questioned God's motives, and sometimes even questioned God's ­existence. But at that moment, when Paul so naturally called me his daughter, I realized why fate drew my parents apart. It was so I could find him. It was so I could love Paul, so I could show him the joy of family.

He's been a resourceful, hands-on type of guy for as long as I have known him. For as long as he lives, his spirit will always be free, unbound by material needs and excessive securities. He will always be happy, as long as he is in this seaside town; as long as he has my mother to hold; as long as I love him in return.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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allieisababe said...
Jan. 12, 2010 at 6:29 pm
This is so good ally, i love you
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