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Chapter Twenty One
"Are you ready?" my dad asked as we looked out the windshield of his truck over the sea of cars. I was able to easily recognize the red Dodge Caravan that I thought I'd never see again. I took a deep breath and gave my dad a silent nod as I slid across the seat while he opened his door. He got out of the truck and stepped to the side, allowing me to climb down, then he fixed my collar and brushed my bangs out of my eyes with a gentle stroke of his hand.
"Kevin are you sure this is what you want?" he asked, placing a hand on my shoulder and looking me up and down.
"I'm sure dad," was my solemn reply, and with that, we started the long walk across the parking lot and into Perko's, my favorite place for breakfast. It was seven o'clock on a Saturday morning, and I honestly had no recollection of most of the drive. We left Pittsburg at 5:50 in the morning and headed east, and I fell asleep somewhere between the driveway and the edge of our neighborhood. I was nervous about going back to Modesto, but at the same time, I was excited. Excited to be going back to my hometown. Excited to see the familiar surroundings of the life I left behind. Excited to be eating breakfast with my mom.
We entered the restaurant and a hostess walked up to seat us right away.
"Actually, we're with her," my dad said, pointing to the lone figure in the round booth that was watching us with a warm smile. I felt a sensation of angst sweep over me when my dad slid into the booth right beside me. It struck me at that moment that I was sitting alone at a table with my mom and dad, but instead of feeling vindicated, I realized that I was panicking.
My mom slid over and wrapped her arm around me, pulling me into a hug that I was happy to receive and to return.
"I missed you honey," she said with a tear streaked smile.
"I missed you too mama,' I said, burying my face in her neck, which I had wrapped both of my arms around as tightly as I could. We stayed that way for an amount of time that went unnoticed to me. I was just content to be there, and I would have been just fine if we hadn't moved at all. Surprisingly enough, at least to me, I didn't break down and cry.
I had spent countless nights in my room crying myself to sleep, wracked with the agony of missing my mom and wondering if I'd ever get to see her again. Of course that was something I had always kept to myself, mainly because I didn't want my dad to hear me. When I thought about it logically, I was able to realize that he wouldn't get mad at me for missing her. But there was a part of me that needed him to be a villain, one who wouldn't allow me to feel sorrow over the absence of my mom in my life.
It was during these tearful breakdowns that I had concocted a scenario in my head that involved my mom and I having a tearful reunion. I would typically wake up the next morning feeling terrible because I knew deep down that the odds of any reunion with my mom were almost zero. Then something happened that changed the odds for me.
My dad and I actually sat down and had a real talk.
I knew I had hurt his feelings by spouting off at the mouth, telling my grandpa how much I hated my dad. I had no idea he was listening at the door, and as soon as I realized that he had been there the whole time, my heart sank. The image of him looking at the floor as he walked away was something I thought I'd never be able to get out of my head.
My grandpa took the post hole digger I had been using out of my hands as I stood dumbfounded for a moment, feeling tears well up in my eyes. I wiped my eyes and looked desperately at my grandfather, who simply motioned with his head for me to go inside. I kicked my shoes off at the door and walked to my dad's room.
The door was closed, so I knocked gently, and without a word, he opened the door. I walked in and he closed the door behind me, loosening his tie and taking his watch off, putting them both on top of his dresser before he walked to his bed to sit down. He patted the spot next to him, and I obeyed his silent command without delay.
"Dad, I'm sorry," I said in a remorseful tone, feeling desperate to find a way to recant my earlier statement. I was crushed when he held his hand up to silence me.
"Kevin don't," he said seriously, then his face seemed to drop and he added, "I understand."
Looking into my father's eyes was hard for me. For the first time in my life, I was seeing him as a defeated man, and I knew it. He slowly ran his fingers through his hair and sighed, giving me a look that told me he wasn't going to argue my point because he was conceding to me.
"I know I fucked up, Kevin," he said sadly. "I was given one chance with you, son, and I blew it. I know that already. But how many times do you want me to say I'm sorry, son? Words can only go so far, Kevin. After a while, you have to look at what I'm doing to make up for what I did. I mean, what do you want from me?"
"I want the truth," I said matter of factly, surprising myself with my declaration.
"The truth about what son?" he asked, looking bewildered.
"I want to hear you say it, dad," I said, starting to choke up a little out of the fear I had deep down of my own demands.
"What do you want me to say?" he said, as if I had no business moving into the waters I was steering us towards.
"I want you to say that you believe me," I said in a strangled voice as tears began to stream down my face, dripping onto my forearms as I brought them up to my face to wipe my eyes.
Suddenly I felt my dad grab my face with both hands and lift it so that I was looking into his tortured eyes, and as he used his thumbs to wipe away my fresh tears, he bluntly said, "I believe you, Kevin."
As soon as those words escaped from his mouth, I broke down, sobbing uncontrollably as he leaned forward and kissed my lips. I felt totally out of control of my own emotions at the moment, and as I tried to concentrate on pulling myself together, I felt myself being lifted and moved until my head was lying on my dad's shoulder and his arms were wrapped tightly around my body.
"You believe me?" I sobbed, unable to comprehend that what he was telling me was true.
"I believe you son," he whispered in my ear as he cupped the back of my head and rocked my frame to and fro. "Let it out, son. It's going to be okay."
"Why didn't you believe me before?" I asked as I clung to his broad shoulders and let him hold me tight. The question just seemed to slip out, and I felt a little sorry I had asked it, but he didn't seem to bat an eye when he answered me.
"Because I was stupid, son," he admitted, then he added, "I guess in a small way, it was easier for me to accept that than to accept losing my marriage."
"She's the one who said it was me, wasn't she?" I demanded, but in a non-confrontational manner.
"It wasn't just her, son," he said thoughtfully. "It was your brother too, but I should have known better."
"What made you think it could have been me?" I asked, this time more forcefully, and I was stunned by his answer.
"Son, I know you're different," he said. "I'm not saying you're capable of hurting anyone, because I know better. But still, you're different."
"What do you mean?" I asked, lifting my head from his shoulder to look at him, genuinely confused by what he was saying. He simply sighed and gave me a small smile as he ran his fingers through my hair.
"I'm talking about your grandma's high heals," he said. "Or the makeup counter at Macy's. How many boys try on blush and spray themselves with perfume?"
"I just like how it smells," I protested weakly, but it was no use.
"Son I hope you don't smell your grandma's high heels," he said, and I chuckled a little. "You've always done that kind of stuff, buddy. It's just who you are."
"Does it make you mad?" I asked worriedly as I looked up at his face for a way to gauge his response.
"It makes me think sometimes," he said quietly, his expression introspective, as if he were trying to choose his words carefully. "But that doesn't mean I love you any less, Kevin. Do you understand me?"
I slowly nodded, looking up at his face and wondering how much he had figured out on his own. He smiled warmly at me before he went on.
"Regardless of what you like and you don't like," he said. "You're my son, and my first responsibility is to you. That's what I'm doing here, son."
"You didn't come here because you're getting a divorce?" I asked.
"No, I'm getting a divorce because I came here," he said a little ruefully. "I came here because I needed to be with you, son. Do you understand what I mean?"
I looked up at him and tried to reconcile in my mind what I was hearing him say. For as long as I could remember I always dreamed of hearing my dad say that to me, and there I was, in a room with my dad, all alone, and he was finally saying it. The problem was, I couldn't digest it.
"Do you mean it?" was all I could manage to ask, and as his eyes moistened a little, he nodded.
"Kevin, you're the most important person in the world to me," he said.
"Then why did you abandon me?" I asked, feeling the tears welling back up in my eyes as I shot off the most taboo question I could have thought to ask.
"Because I'm a dumb ass," he said in a defeated tone. "God gave me the perfect little treasure, and I didn't realize what I had until I didn't have it anymore. But Kevin, you have to believe me when I tell you that as soon as I got off the phone with you that night, I cried. I cried because I wanted to come get you and bring you home with me, but I knew that my marriage was on the line."
"Why does she hate me so much?" I asked tearfully. "I always loved her. Even when she was mean to me."
"I just don't think she could relate to you son," he said sadly. "I should have just called off the wedding, but I was in love with your brother, too. I wanted to try to make it work for his sake."
"I always felt like a stranger at your house," I told him bitterly. "She always made me feel like I wasn't welcome. Then the night I called you..." My voice trailed off and was replaced by a new set of sobs that wracked my body. I felt him pull me close again and kiss me on top of the head.
"I know buddy," he said softly, but with a tone of desperation in his voice. "I'm so sorry, Kevin. I just don't know how to make it up to you, buddy."
I didn't answer him. Instead, I just let him hold me until I got myself pulled together enough to go on, then we started to talk again.
"What happened to my mom?" I sobbed, suddenly met with a whole new batch of anxiety.
"She's still in Modesto, son," he said. "She's doing okay."
"How did you know?" I asked, a little bewildered that he had access to that kind of information.
"Because Jackie keeps me posted," he said with a small smile. "You know, your mom's going through a lot of counseling right now. That's a good thing, Kevin."
"So she's doing better?" I asked hopefully, and he gave me an affirmative nod. "Does she still see him?"
I already had it figured out that my dad knew I meant Billy. There was no one else I could have meant.
"I don't know that, kiddo," he said. "But I know she has a pretty good job, and she's taking good care of herself. That's what's important."
"Why did you guys get divorced?" I asked, reaching out and touching his face with my hand affectionately.
"She had a lot of problems I couldn't do anything about, Kevin," he said. "I know you know what I mean, son. I tried to make it work but there was no reasoning with her. I didn't want you to see us fighting all the time, so I left."
"Mom said you were abusive," I said, and a look of resignation crossed his face.
"I wouldn't say that, son," he said. "Do you think I've ever been abusive to you, Kevin?"
I shook my head no as I snuggled up to his chest and clung tighter to him for security, thinking back on my life. Growing up with my mom was no easy task, and if anyone had been abusive, it was her. Thinking about some of the things she put me through sent chills up my spine.
"I love you dad," I said out of nowhere, once again surprising myself with my spontaneity.
"I love you too little buddy," he said as he tightened his grip on me.
"You don't care if I'm different?" I asked, my face buried in his chest.
"It doesn't matter one little bit to me, kiddo," he said warmly, and for a moment, I felt like I could feel his love radiating down on me like I had when I was sitting in his lap all those years ago with a bloody nose.
"I am," I confessed quietly into his chest, wondering if I had just come out to my father or not.
"I know you are Kevin," he said, giving me another tight squeeze. "Anytime you're ready to talk to me about it, I'm here for you."
"Okay daddy," I said, grinning up at him as he leaned down and kissed the top of my head. I was ready to talk to him right then and there, but I was so happy that we were having such an open talk about things that were so much more important to me that I decided it could wait. I also realized that I was enjoying being a little kid and soaking up as much of my dad's affection as I could.
"Dad?" I asked, resting my head back against his chest.
"Yeah little buddy?" he answered as he lightly stroked my hair.
"Can I see my mom sometime?" I asked. If it had been just ten minutes earlier I might have considered such a request ludacris, but after what he told me, I had to at least ask. I was lonely for my mom's presence, and as dysfunctional as she was, she was still my mom."
"I'll tell you what, kiddo," he said, continuing to run his fingers affectionately through my hair. "I'll talk to Ron and Jackie on Monday. If they say it's alright, I'll call her. Maybe we can go have breakfast somewhere. But that all depends on her situation, okay?"
When I released the grip I had on my mom's neck, I smiled and kissed her on the lips .
"I love you," I said with a grin as I leaned into her, sitting up on my knees in the booth.
"I love you too Kevin," she said, managing a smile even as she dabbed tears from her eyes. I took my seat and smiled up at my dad, who looked back down at me confidently, then over to my mom.
I was a little shocked when he reached out and took her left hand into his right hand and gave it a gentle squeeze as he greeted her. My heart started to race a little as I watched the joined hands of my parents right in front of me, and as if I were tasting candy I wasn't supposed to have, I reached out with both hands and ran my fingertips over the union of flesh that I never thought I'd see.
"I can't tell you how much this means to me," she said, looking gratefully at my dad. "Thank you."
"You know, it's just as important to me," he said quietly. "I want you and Kevin to be in each others lives too. We'll talk after breakfast, okay?"
With that, she smiled and the two of them released their grip just as a tall, blonde waitress was approaching the table, three menus in tow.
"Will this be together or separate?' she asked, and my dad immediately told her to put it all on one bill.
I think the most shocking thing about sitting at the table with my mom and dad, besides the fact that they greeted each other so warmly, was the fact that my dad ordered for my mom so handily. He knew exactly what to get, and how to get it, right down to the freshly squeezed orange juice and water on the side with two lemon slices. With that action, though, the thought that they were actually married at one time sunk in for me and seemed more real than at any other time in my life. It meant more to me than any pictures I had seen of my mom and dad, or of hearing family members speak of when they were dating and of their wedding day.
Sitting at the table with my mom and dad, I realized that I was building a memory of the two of them that I never had before. I almost hyperventilated when I let the thought linger, but I was able to calm myself down and enjoy the time I was spending alone with them. Before I knew what was happening around me, I was totally at ease and talking freely to both my mom and dad about anything and everything.
As we ate, my mom asked me a string of questions about school and friends. I told her about my different classes, and about PE, noting that I had to change in a stinky locker room with everyone else, and that we ran everyday and that we ran a mile every Friday.
"It's a good thing PE's my last class," I told her, lifting my arms and sniffing my pits. "Sometimes when I get home I have to change my clothes because my armpits stink like BO. I feel sorry for the kids that have to go to first period PE."
"Well I'm sure daddy get's you deodorant to take, right?" she said, and I happily nodded my response. I was beaming as I sat between them, and all of the sudden, I realized that the six months that I had to endure had disappeared. I wasn't worried at all about what had happened, because the time I was spending with my mom and dad was slowly erasing it all away.
I finished about half of my meal before I got full, so as I waited for the two of them to finish their plates, I got comfortable between them, leaning into my mom with my head and resting my feet across my dad's lap as we continued our conversation. The subjects seemed to jump around from my mom's new job at Safeway to my dad's work. I was a little shocked to find that my mom knew some of my dad's associates and the details of his job almost intimately, but the two of them were talking about it all as if it were nothing.
When my mom finished her plate she wrapped her left arm around my chest and I found myself reaching up with both hands to grip onto it as I nuzzled the side of my face into her forearm. Much to my surprise, the three of us sat and talked at the table long after our meal was finished. When the waitress came to gather our plates, she asked if they wanted her to leave my plate at the table with us, and I almost giggled when both my mom and dad told her no almost in unison, knowing me well enough to know that I wasn't going to touch another bite.
I felt a little sad when it was time to go. I was enjoying sitting in between my mom and dad, and I didn't want the morning to end. Still, I accepted that it was time to get up, so I slid out on my moms side and watched as my dad threw a five-dollar bill down on the table as he carried the bill up to the register to pay for breakfast. I had to go to the bathroom before we left, so I excused myself while my dad paid.
While I was still in the bathroom my dad walked in and took the urinal next to mine. As I was washing my hands, he came up beside me and smiled happily.
"Someone was enjoying himself today, wasn't he?" he said cheerfully as he stepped up to the sink and washed his hands.
I smiled shyly and said, "Yeah. Thank you for letting me do this daddy."
When we walked out to the parking lot, my mom was sitting on the bench right outside the door, waiting for us. She got up and I took her hand as we walked to her minivan. As we stepped off the curb into the parking lot, I felt a small lump forming in my throat, wondering when I was going to get the chance to see her again.
"How about if we go to the park?" my dad suggested, and I looked up hopefully at my mom for an answer.
"Are you sure?" she asked, as if she were getting something extra she wasn't expecting, and I had to wonder what terms my dad had agreed to in advance of our meeting.
"I'm sure," he said with a warm smile, looking back down at me, then back at her.
"Thanks," she said quietly, squeezing my hand with hers as I brought her hand up to my face and rubbed my cheeks with it, desperate for any contact I could get with her.
From there my dad drove us to a park I had never been to before with my mom following us. When we got there, we all got out and walked over to the playground, where I had to resist the urge to get on the swing and ask someone to push me. Instead, we sat down at a nearby picnic table.
I took a spot next to my mom and my dad sat across from us, and I found myself a little disappointed that he hadn't taken the spot next to me. We sat there and talked for what felt like an eternity, but it was an eternity that I didn't want to see come to an end. As the sun burned through the morning clouds that had been blanketing the sky, my Sidekick went off. I knew it was Justin, calling to see if I was back yet. I blushed a little and answered, feeling a little rude for taking a call in the middle of my visit with my mom.
I told Justin I'd call him back later, and apologized to my mom for the interruption. As it got later, I knew we were leaving soon. My mom had to work at noon, and as it got closer to ten o'clock, I knew our separation was inevitable. We got up from the table and I held her hand as she stood up, then I reached out for my dad's hand too. As we slowly strolled to the street where we were parked, I felt a sense of completeness that outweighed the agony I was experiencing over going back to Pittsburg without my mom.
Saying goodbye was easier than I thought it would be. My mom knelt down and wrapped me in her arms, hugging me tightly and telling me how proud she was of me, and that she loved me. I told her that I loved her too, and that I wanted to see her again soon. I felt my dad put his hand on my shoulder and give it a gentle squeeze, and I knew that it was his way of saying that we'd be back.
As she drove away, I got teary eyed. I was holding my dad's hand as we watched her van disappear around the corner, and as I sniffled, he crouched down and wrapped his arm over my shoulder.
"We'll do this again, Kevin," he said. "As long as she keeps moving in the direction she's moving in, we'll do this."
"Do you promise?" I croaked, my tears becoming more steady.
"I promise little man" he said softly, pulling me into a hug. "Are you ready to go?"
I nodded and let him lead me to the drivers side door of his truck. He opened the door and I felt him lift me up from behind into the cab. I purposefully sat in the middle seat, buckling the lap belt and waiting for him to get his seatbelt on. When he started the truck, I leaned into him again, clutching his arm with all my might and trying to be brave as we drove out of Modesto.
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