Dad

Dad and Watch

In my experience dads are often absent.

Once, I bought my dad a fishing pole, as a way, maybe, to remind him of when he took us kids fishing off the dock at the Lake, how much fun it was. But the fishing pole went into the closet. 

One year I bought him a kite. It went into the closet next to the fishing pole, under the rack of boisterous ties. 

I didn’t want a dad who went to work and, when home, kept to himself. I wanted a dad who was sort of clownish.

My dad was funny but was not a clown. He was compact and sturdy, without a sliver of clumsiness. 

He thought a lot about money. In my younger days when I needed his money, I had to meet with him, usually for lunch, and act proper and businesslike. That’s hard for a person like me. But I was always enthusiastically grateful.

My dad was precise. He sketched out his ideas, drew little maps, measured twice. If there was a door to be hung, he was the person you’d want.

My dad could be rigid and we had nothing to say to each other. 

But then he became clumsy and clownish. He laughed boisterously like the ties he never wore. His dress, his stance, became less than impeccable. Sometimes he choked and coughed food onto his shirt. I am certain that had I asked him then, he would’ve taken me fishing. He would’ve put those curly worms on the hook for me. He would’ve stood with me at the end of the dock watching the little sunfish shimmer under the water. He would have. But ALS got him.

Starr

Starr

My mom and Starrie’s mom were friends. They played Bridge together. They took turns directing plays for the Player’s Club in Valencia. They were den mothers for Starrie’s and my Girl Scout troop. While the other girls earned one or two badges, Starrie and I earned more.

To earn our camping badge for Girl Scouts, we went to the beach.

I remember that day, that weekend. I remember being in the hammock with Starr. I remember we pushed our arms and legs to its edges, wrapped the thick cotton around our limbs and flipped so we were suspended, pinioned, our faces staring down at the sand. I remember the feel of my legs falling out of the hammock, my toes digging into the sand. I remember the scratch of the sand on my sunburnt arms, the rub of it against my cheek. I remember washing a green plastic plate in the sea with a fist full of wet sand and rinsing it on a low crashing wave. And I remember Starr and I took a raft, charged over the breaking waves, kicked our way over the swells until the water calmed and we drifted out further and further, floating away on our friendship.

I remember another day. It was a Saturday during the rainy season and I was spending the night at Starr’s. I walked into the house, past the familiar lamp with a base made from three zebra legs, the shade made from its leather. I never wondered about that zebra. Instead, I wondered why the base of the lamp was made from three legs and not four.

I walked out onto the veranda where the maid was pushing water off the tiles with a squeegee. I was sick. All I wanted to do was to lie still and drink tepid water. There was a hammock strung from the wooden beams of the overhanging roof and I climbed in.

Starr twisted it up so my arms and legs were trapped and she started to swing me. I didn’t want to play hammock games. I didn’t want to climb into our fort above the garbage can storage area and drink coke from baby bottles. I didn’t want to wait for the Tio Rico ice cream man and see if he’d give us some dry ice. I couldn’t keep my eyes open.

“Starrie,” I said, “I can’t make my body move. I just need to sleep for a little bit.”

“Are you hungry?” I barely heard her and fell asleep until it was time to go to bed.

It was hot in her room. The fan whirred on the table next to the lamp. When I closed my eyes again, I didn’t see the creamy blackness that I usually did. Instead, I saw black jagged lines against a blindingly white background slicing the space behind my eyes. My hands and feet felt huge and heavy like water filled balloons. And the noise of the fan was breaking my mind.

“Turn off the fan,” I screamed, “Turn it off! Turn it off!” Starrie leaped out of bed and switched it off. That may not seem like much but when I remember this, I think she saved me.