There we stand in my grandfather’s kitchen. We stare awkwardly at one another. My aunt was crying, my cousin was giggling, my grandfather disappeared somewhere; and there we stood, father and daughter. He took me to Red Lobster for dinner. I hated seafood of any kind. My palate is getting more refined the older I get, but I was a kid. Red Lobster?? Are you actually kidding, is what I was thinking. I do not even remember what I ordered. I just remember he tried to order “oysters on the half-shell.” I am pretty sure I was vomiting inside watching him eat that. Now I know that ordering “raw” fish from a chain restaurant is probably food poisoning waiting to happen. We talked, we laughed. I watched him curiously as he ate, as he spoke, and listened to the things he had to say. That was the beginning of me searching for that “father’s love.”
Just as he had appeared, he disappeared just a quickly. It would be almost two years before I would hear from him again. He flew me to New Orleans on a TWA flight from St. Louis. It was my first time ever flying, and I was 12 and alone, I was petrified. I was in the 7th grade, and it was Labor Day weekend.
He took me on the grand tour of New Orleans. Jackson Square, Bourbon Street, Riverwalk, it was splendid! I was in awe, and felt like a princess. Whatever I wanted, whatever I asked for, wherever I wanted to go he made sure he delivered. I went home in tears after that weekend, because I had so much fun. I would call him every so many weeks. We would chat forever it seemed. He was a talker. I can honestly say this is where “Tara Talks A Lot,” inherited the gift of gab.
Again, seemingly overnight, he vanished. It would be another four years, when I was a but a month away from my 17th birthday, that I would see him again. My grandfather died. He came home for the funeral. We spent two days together again. Again, he would tell me of his world travels; the people he met, the foods he would eat. I listened to this man, my “father” tell me of places that I had only read about. He mesmerized me. I could see that we were so much alike in the way we thought. The way we carried ourselves. I was quite literally the female version of this man. I longed to have a relationship with him. I could not understand or comprehend WHY he would disappear and leave. I could not understand WHY he could not just be my dad. Even if he was traversing the globe why could he not at least stay in touch with me. The funeral was over, and he was gone, again. I am not sure if we communicated much after that visit. I think I was getting older and realized that I may never know this man.
I would get married three years later. New Orleans was my honeymoon destination. I thought that perhaps I would find him and visit. That I would introduce him to my new husband. I recall trying to call him. I left countless messages on his answering machine. I would find out many years later, that he was actually hospitalized for pneumonia. That was the story that I had gotten at least.
In an ironic twist of fate when I was pregnant with my first son in 1995, I received a random phone call from a man with a very familiar, but gruff voice. He said, “I saw you outside, do you wanna come and mow my grass?” Confused, as confused gets I nearly hung up because, well, what kind of weirdo calls and asks that? A stalker? I was getting ready to hang up when the voice said, do you know who this is? Of course I did not. All I knew was some crazy was asking me, at nearly nine months pregnant, if I wanted to mow his grass. It was my dad.
I lived in a small two bedroom home that my husband and I had spent the previous year renovating. It was a quaint little bungalow, that was almost 100 years old. I loved that little house. My ex-husband hated it with a passion. I found out later that he low-balled the agent in hopes the offer would be rejected. Which did not happen. My first home was a project that Chip and Joanna would smile at. Damn, I loved that house. Anyway, I was outside clipping landscaping in September. My son was born October 19th; to say I was ginormous is an understatement. I delivered a 9lb 5oz, 23 inch long baby a month later. I was HUGE. I walked back into the house, and five minutes later the mysterious phone call occurred. After his horrific and utterly awkward attempt at joke, he tells me that it’s him, he tells me that he moved in down the street. Get this….he moves in one block down, on the same street. Like 15 houses down. You are kidding, right? Nope. Guess what is even more bizarre? I never saw him but one time in a car the entire time he lived there. I had my baby, he never saw him. I am not even sure how long he lived down there. Putting this into words even now, I have no idea why we never saw one another. I cannot answer that for myself, or for him. However one day, not too many weeks later, he was gone. Again.
At this point in my life I was a wife and a mother. I had my sweet baby boy to focus on. I was getting used to his pattern. He would show up. He would disappear. He was like fucking Houdini. I could not understand. I honestly did not want to understand anymore. I did not care. Or, did I?
I had two more sons over the next four years. We moved from the little bungalow in 1997, and moved to where our kids would go to school. We moved again just after 9/11 in 2001. The years came and went. The children grew. I grew. I learned who I was, and was figuring out what I wanted in life. My marriage was stagnant and stale, and falling apart. Which is another story, for another time. I threw myself into school, and work. My babies were starting school, and I was going about my life. Until one evening, my phone rings. It’s my dad. We talk for a few hours. We were catching up on lost time. He was repeating much of the same things he had said in the years past.
Have you seen the movie Groundhog Day? Over, and over, and over Bill Murray finds himself reliving the same day. This is how I was feeling at this point.
This phone call from him was so insignificant, that I cannot even recall what year it was. It was spring, because the kids were out playing. It must have been around 2003/2004. I just cannot recall. He told me he had been living in Venezuela and had a wife that he brought back to the United States. He left Venezuela when Chavez came into power in 1999. He had been living in the states for about 4-5 years before he called me. He also told me that he had another baby. A son. The story goes that the mother left with him when they came to the United States. He told me a story of going to the airport to pick his wife and the baby up when they returned from a visit to Venezuela. He told me that he went to the airport and they were not there. He implied they just vanished. I know now that this was a lie. Like so many. He had a wife, and a baby. However, she did not “Dear John” him (you might have guess correctly, this is yet another story). We talked for some time, and hung up the phone. I mailed photos of the kids to him, and that was about it. We went our separate ways for the next few years. Until 2010, to be exact.