I always tell people I don’t remember my dad living with us or when my parents split because I was so young. Between you and me? That’s a lie.
He worked nights, as a bartender, and so he often slept late in the mornings. I remember going into my parents room–my mom already up and starting her day, and he would be sleeping. He slept on his left side and I would sit next to him and whisper, “daddy, when are you getting up?” He would mumble without opening his eyes, “soon, boo. Let daddy sleep a little more” and he would raise his right arm up. I knew that was his way of saying, “lay with me.” I would curl on my left side next to him, he would drape his heavy arm around me, and I would lie and wait for him to wake up.
Sometimes I could tell he was back in a deep sleep and so I would slide out from under his heavy tattooed arm and go play. Always making sure to sneak back in and ask again, “daddy, are you awake now?”
I’ve been a night owl my whole life. My mother is the complete opposite. When I was a baby she had a hard time putting me to sleep at night. A bartender, he would come home late from work and say to my exhausted mom, “go to bed…she can stay up with me.” And I did. My mom said I started out in a playpen next to him until I was older and graduated to sitting next to him on the sofa.
One night he wasn’t working so we were all home. I sat in my usual spot next to him on the sofa and he said, “c’mon boo….I need your help.”
We went to his room and he pulled a brown soft-sided suitcase down from the shelf. I asked, “are you going somewhere?”
“Yes, boo. Now, get daddy’s socks.”
I did. He put them in his bag.
I asked, “are you coming back?”
“No, boo.” And he stood by his dresser and wrote on a small piece of paper and handed it to me. I looked and it was a phone number.
“Whenever you need me, you call that number, that’s where I’ll be.”
He asked me to get his white t-shirts from the drawer–the ones I often watched my mother remove from the freezer, and slowly iron, one by one, in our kitchen.
I sat on the bed and said nothing. He kissed my head and left the room. I followed him downstairs and watching from the living room window I saw the tail lights of his car go to the end of the corner, he signaled right, and he was gone.
I turned and saw my mother and older brother. At some point we three wound up in the corner of the kitchen, sitting on the floor, against the basement door. We were all crying. All of us.
My mother was yelling because he left us. I suddenly thought I could fix it–make us okay again. And I said, “I have his phone number!” My mother angrily yelled, “you what?” and I unfolded my hand so she could see the paper. Snatching it from my hand she called the number and yelled at whomever answered the phone. My brother and I still huddled in the corner on the floor. She kept yelling, would slam the phone down, called back and yell some more.
She never gave me the number back. And not one word has ever been spoken between us about the last time he left us.
For weeks I would get up and see if he was still in their bed sleeping. But now, instead of seeing my father lying on his side, breathing slowly in his sleep, I saw my mother’s bed was freshly made.
I eventually would visit him (and his girlfriend Kathy) but no matter how many times I asked, “can you come back home now?” he never came back.
My mother once yelled at me because I was still so attached to my father. She said, “you think he’s so great? He LEFT you!” and, in my usual way, I angrily replied, “he left YOU not me! He still wants me. He still loves me!” And she said plainly, “oh yeah? Then where is he?”