Sunday, November 9, 2008

Finding my father

This post is part of a series of posts about my father.

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Things get a little blurry for me after we moved to Washington. We settled down, as much as we were able, and started our lives over. Mom met Reginald almost right away; they dated for a while and they got married.

I spent summers in Sacramento, staying alternately with my grandparents, my aunt Betty and my mom's previous husband, Forsythe, with whom we had remained close. One day, while driving in the car with Aunt Betty, she nearly hit a homeless man on a bicycle while backing up. That homeless man turned out to be my dad. I didn't recognize him, but Aunt Betty did. I've always wondered what would have happened if she hadn't recognized him either.

"Honey, that's your daddy," she said to me. She called out to him, shouted that she had his daughter in her car. I don't think I'll ever forget how he wobbled on his bicycle, how he turned around so suddenly and sharply that he almost fell down. Aunt Betty pulled over, and I saw my dad for the first time in what felt like a very long time.

As we were talking a man drove past very slowly, and my dad looked over and acknowledged him by pointing his index finger and saying, "I'll need to see you about a dog later."

And I knew. I was only twelve, but I knew what that meant. I knew my dad was still using drugs, still wrapped up in shady goings-on and partying in dark houses bad furniture and no food. It didn't matter; I was happy to see him.

My mom flew down to Sacramento, and we got together with my dad. He was in bad shape; he had walked out on his wife, and his life was upside-down. He was very thin, and he smelled of alcohol. Not like he'd been drunk the day before but like he'd been drunk for a hundred years; the kind of alcohol smell that comes from having so much of it inside your body for so long that the body's natural way of getting it out of its system doesn't work anymore, when it has to start coming out of your skin. My dad was pickled, and practically sloshed when he walked.

We never talked about the extent of his drug use, but I knew it was bad. I wanted to start over, wanted to put the hurtful past behind us and move on. It had only been a couple years since I'd seen him last but it felt like a lifetime.

It was the summer of 1991, and I was headed into the first of many difficult years.

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