I remembered he was waiting for me along 9th avenue, a cigarette on his lips, dressed in baggy pants and a yellow long-sleeved flannel. He had a pencil tucked behind his ear, like one of those teachers in old-school movies, along with retro owl-eye glasses. When he spotted me, his eyes widened for a fraction of a second before breaking into a grin that showed his teeth, yellow with age and tobacco. I remembered wincing when I first set my eyes on him. It had been too long, and my only memories of him were like flashes in a pan, gone before I could properly inspect them and tease any remainder of his being from them. Not that I wanted to in the first place. I did not want anything to do with him.
You look just like your mother, I remembered him smiling, holding his cigarette stick between his long, bony fingers. I could only force a smile back, unable to keep myself from staring at his emaciated frame. He looked worn beyond his years, older than he truly was, and seemed so very, very tired. I must have stood there for a long time, staring at this stranger. There were flickers of recognition, of course, but most of it had dissolved in the recesses of time. Before I knew it, he had gently ushered me into the brownstone cafe, its interior smoky and warm with the smell of tobacco and coffee.
I remembered we sat there in the corner. Behind him was this large, wood-edged mirror, so that I was staring at the imperfect me right in the eyes. It was one of those tacky, old-school cafes that tried very hard to mimic the homeliness of the traditional, classy cafeterias that one sees in movies all the time. Unfortunately, the mimicry was poor and the wood around the mirror was chipped, the surface of it unpolished and darkened with dirt and oil. This meal was on him, and he clearly could not afford anything better. Contempt was in my eyes the entire time as I stared at him from across the table. Our first and possibly last reunion, and all he could offer me was what barely counts as a meal in a dingy cafe in the middle of nowhere? Still, I looked on mutedly as he tried in vain to make slight conversation. I’m only here because she asked me to, no more, no less. He was no idiot. Surely he could figure that much out. And still he tried.
The waitress came over, eyeing his raggedy frame with the slightest tinge of worry. He must be in worse shape than I could tell if even strangers were concerned by his figure. A rush of sick satisfaction ran through my veins, and I pursed my lips. Good. Let him suffer. He kept it simple and ordered a large americano. Whether that was due to his financial situation or if he just had the worst eating habits known to mankind, I did not know. Neither did I care. Or so I thought. I, having skipped breakfast, went for a large serving of mac and cheese along with a ginger lemonade. The air inside was rife with excitement and conversation, but our tiny little corner seemed to be a bubble of inconsolable indifference and tepid silence, mostly on my end. By then, he had realised that I had no desire to talk to him about pretty much anything, so he finally fell back into a begrudgingly resigned kind of silence, one punctuated by the occasional clearing of his throat and his annoyingly incessant tapping of fingers against the table. He kept fidgeting with his crusty gold ring on his left finger and staring off into space, occasionally stealing a glance at me and opening his lips by the merest fraction of a gap before shutting it once again. And I sat there wondering if this was a huge mistake on my end, whether listening to my mother’s advice really was worth it after all. This was her idea, yes, but perhaps a tiny part of me wanted to see him too. To see if the person who I imagined he was truly existed, or if I was just being overly pessimistic about this entire affair. After all, he had left me with some good memories, tainted only by my mother’s words after he had left us for another family, left us to die with nothing but the clothes on our back and a diamond ring that was more trouble than it was worth, after all the shit that he had put my mother through. Over the years, the hate within me had hardened into a nugget of carbon, one that has weathered me through many storms in life. By giving up on what could have been, I found the strength to fight for what the future could become. His absence had given me the grit and determination to strive toward building something better than anything he could ever have left me with, had he been there for me. This hate would not go away that easily. Not from a single meeting, not from any number of meetings.
So why then did I accept his invitation? There had to be another reason, lurking within my subconscious. Did I really hate him, this man who was once my father? The man who IS my father? Is this my own sick method of finding closure for the lack of a father figure that caused me much pain and confusion in my formative years? As I stared at him sipping his americano, the wrinkles on his face deepening with the faint sunlight, I groped around within myself for a definite answer, but could find none. There always had been a voice inside my head, guiding me forward, my subconscious always knowing which was the right path to take, and why. My gut feeling had always been strong and decisive, for I was the type to go with my feelings rather than think things through. Thinking things through would take too much brainpower, and I usually had neither the patience nor the desire to do so. But now that voice stayed resolutely silent. No answers were being offered up, and neither were any courses of actions I could take to defuse this awkward situation. Father and daughter, sitting across from each other at a dining table, unable to hold even the simplest of conversations.
I remembered that after a while, he finally gathered enough courage to open his mouth and he asked me how I had been doing. All this time, for 10 years, he had been absent from my life. And then he dares to enter it now and throw me a curveball of a question like this. the anger inside of me bubbled like molten lava, threatening to erupt. but I forced it down and smiled amicably. I could not answer even if I wanted to. How HAVE I been doing? School was a mess, I could barely keep afloat with all the internships and work that life was throwing at me at that instant. The question came back to me, haunting my mind. So why did I spare the time to meet up with him in the first place, if my schedule was already this packed? Somewhere deep down inside, I knew the answer to this question. I could feel it in my bones. My silence seemed to affect him greatly, and he looked down, eyes shaded against the afternoon light.
Finally, I remembered how looking at his pathetic frame slowly but surely pissed me off. The silence between us lengthened and grew as the afternoon stretched out and grew older. we were surrounded by laughter, yet our silence drowned out their sounds of happiness. His hand brushed against mine. Something in me snapped, and I pushed it away roughly. It was too much. All of the emotions were too much for me to bear.
Exuent. Don't look back in anger.