You See It's All Up to You
When I was a kid my dad was always in the middle of a project. Usually it was a repair of some kind. He was an electrician who worked at Boeing. At home, he was usually under the sink or the hood of a car, either swearing if it wasn’t going well or singing something from the ‘40s if it was almost finished. Would you like to swing on a star? Carry moonbeams home in a jar?
He was always carrying around a part or a tool: a screwdriver, a piece of PVC pipe, or those little plastic caps that go on the ends of wires. His hands were always rough and dry, with grease in the cracks of his fingers. When I sat next to him on the couch he could scratch my back using only his fingertips. My brother and I liked to go with him to hardware stores. We’d play with light switches or nuts and screws while we waited for him to buy us a pack of Juicy Fruit at the counter.
Last December, when I went to see him in Seattle with my family, he had slowed down. He still puttered around the house, but he had hired someone to do the yard work and fix the car.
We went to lunch one day, at Whole Foods. He got a salad from the salad bar. He had a hard time swallowing it and was grateful when I brought a glass of water for him. His eyes watered. We talked about my brother, now dead for eleven years. He said, “I really regret not spending more time with you guys. When you were kids.”
I felt he deserved to have room for regrets. I was quiet with him. “Yeah, I get that.”
He nodded, pushed his salad around with his fork. “When your brother got out of prison, I wanted him to come home. But your mom didn’t. And I didn’t have the balls to tell her how much I really wanted him to come home.”
We sat facing each other. I nodded. “You were ready to embrace him, and mom, as usual, wasn’t ready to let her guard down.”
“Well, I understand,” he said. “I just wish I had let him know how much I loved him. I wish I’d been there more. For you, too.”
He looked vulnerable, sitting there with that shitty salad that was making him choke. I said, “You might not have played with us all the time, but you were always there for me when I needed you. I love you and I always will.”
He smiled and touched my hand. “I love you, too.”
When we got home, my dad decided to fix the thermostat. He was holding the new thermostat in one hand, the wires sticking out from the back. “Hang on,“ I said. “I want to take your picture.”
“Because,” I said, holding up the camera. “This is just how I remember you.”
Erika Kleinman lives in Austin, Texas. She has work published in The Rumpus, Salon, Mutha Magazine, and The Apple Valley Review. She has numerous projects happening around the house right now. Much to her dad's chagrin, she pays some crooks to change the oil in her car every three months despite the fact that she could easily do it herself.
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