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It was a different visit with him. He had another girlfriend, one with two young girls.
‘I wasn’t aware that my father was a beach person,’ I thought ‘he’s too pale for that.’
The eight year old sitting next to me, Mia, started poking at my head for the third time. “Hi!”
‘Um… hi. You said that like four times already,” I snapped at her.
“Ayla, be nice,” my father said. I gave him a scowl even though he couldn’t see it. He wasn’t looking anyway.
The two sisters started poking and hitting each other. The constant bumping into me reminded me of my strong dislike of children. Of course, they did not get in any trouble. To escape the sound --- and to avoid conversation--- I put my headphones in my ears and turned the volume up on my iPod just loud enough for static noise to be heard on the outside. I knew they heard it. I didn’t care.
“Whoa! Mom, look! She has an iPod!” the six-year-old exclaimed, “I want an iPod, Mom!”
“Don’t you think I should get one before you since I’m older than you, sweetie?” Daiane said jokingly through her snaggled front teeth. On the inside, I was screaming because of all the annoyances, but on the outside I was sitting shyly. Silent. Smiling.
After a long drive, the car finally pulled into a space. We had arrived at Hampton beach. I remembered the last time I was there. I was with my best friend, Grace. I smiled to myself at the memory. I could at least pretend I was with her to help myself have a good time. With her is where I would have much rather been.
I kept my headphones in my ears while we gathered the towels and shovels. The two bratty children were suddenly too weak and tired to even carry their own chubby bodies.
“So, what are you listening to?” my father asked.
Pulling the right ear bud out, spitefully, I replied, “Carnifex, Lie to my face.” Ironic song title, I thought.
We set the towels down on a nice sandy spot on the beach. I threw my bag down into the sand. Luckily, none of my things spilled out as the mouth came open. I sat down and started pawing through the contents inside. No sunscreen. As I looked toward my dad he was opening a tube of 80spf Coppertone.
“Could I use some of that,” I asked, “paleness does run in the family.” I gave a semi-laugh. He did too.
“Of course my fair-skinned child,” he said as he handed me the tube. I laughed again, remembering the old times.
I took the tube from him and said “Danke, mein vader,” he laughed at my failed German attempt. My half smile gave the impression that I was enjoying myself. I was, sort of.
I sat on my blue towel and ran my hands over the top of it, feeling the soft fuzzy texture. The heat from the sun burnt through my jeans and onto my legs. It was the kind of heat that could put a person to sleep. And that’s exactly what I did--- only for a few minutes…
“Ayla, wake up,” dad’s voice echoed through a dreamy fog, “I don’t want you to cook out here.” He handed me the sun block again. His face drooped to an expressionless canvas.
“Let’s go for a walk,” he said.
I got up and put my iPod in my bag. This conversation, this serious conversation, wasn’t something I was fully prepared for. How stupid of me to think that he would just brush this off. I should have known that a year of absence from him should follow with an explanation.
I carried my sandals while I kicked through the sand. Each tiny piece burnt the soles of my feet, so I hopped along like a cat in a puddle. I had to scurry a bit to keep up with my father’s fast-walking pace.
“I really don’t know how to start. It’s just easier to come out and say it sometimes. I’m sorry,” he said, very hesitantly, almost too quiet for most people to hear. I was used to the soft tone of his voice, and I was listening.
I held back tears as I kept my mouth shut. I wanted to yell at him for that year he hadn’t kept in contact. I wanted to say ‘just because your girlfriend dies doesn’t mean you can’t talk to your own daughter!’ but I didn’t speak. I was afraid of making this worse. I am just like him in that way --- Holding back from speaking my mind just to avoid negative confrontation.
“You don’t have to say anything,” he continued, “I just want you to listen, kid.” I kept my lips pursed shut.
“Sharron meant the world to me, you know that. When she died, I lost my apartment and had to move in with my sister, and we all know how obnoxious she can get.
“I just shut down and pushed everything out of my head and focused on myself, trying to stay alive and survive and all.” His voice trailed off for a moment. My silence made him stop.
We kept walking for a few more minutes along the beach. I let my toes comb through the soft sand that was no longer too hot on my skin. I tried not to fling any onto the already-tanned napping bikini bodies. I eyed them with a combination of envy and disgust.
“Would you like to go to the arcade?” He asked, breaking the silence between us.
Finally, a way to get out of talking, “yes, please!”
On the ride home I didn’t speak. My head rested against the cool window, headphones placed back in my ears. There was no music playing, just there.
The houses blurred past the vehicle like water spilt on a fresh painting. No emotions came to my head as we made the trip back home; none I could recognize. The closest description to how I felt was confused.
I heard the explanation. I understood the story and was sympathetic, but I still had those unphrasable questions in the back of my mind.
We pulled up to my house and I didn’t even hesitate to leave the car.
“Bye dad,” I said quickly and shut the door. I scurried to the front door without looking back.