Looking for My Father
"We believe in one God, Father the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth..." I was raised a Roman Catholic. I have painted my old Reeboks white so they look new; they're stiff as I walk downtown toward our apartment. The steeple from my school and the lake behind it disappear behind the run-together row of clapboard bars, hair salons, and the broken down apartment buildings. Lilacs are always pushing through the dirty fences and even they smell like cigarettes and beer. Gum all over the sidewalk; gum in my mouth. I look down. I'm nervous every day at age eleven. I am shy. I do what I'm told and I have manners. I pray. I pray for my mother. I pray for the holy force to make Joey Larson fall in love with me. My shoes are dirty from the day--in the sunlight I see you can tell they've been painted and I feel for a moment delayed embarrassment. One block to go and I pass the Cassaloma--the last bar before home. The red door is held open by a rusted ashcan and hot, smuggy air permeates from the dark. Bleach and smoke and beer. Stale heat flutters my white blouse and I'm suddenly hot. I take my ponytail out and peek behind my blond bangs, just to see. I always have to see. There's the glare from the chrome of the barstool once my eyes adjust, and I see the silhouette of the man who's there, every day,at 3:20. He doesn't move as empty ashtrays clang and spin across the counter as the bartender wipes them with white rags. The sun catches in his big glasses that always magnified his blue eyes. I want him to see me; I don't want him to see me. I mouth the word "dad" just to see how it feels in my mouth. It's just a fact--as my mother tells us--he has been an alcoholic since we before we were born. A heavy woman in a Mickey Mouse shirt leans back from her stool and stares in my direction. I can't risk her drawing his attention in my direction, so I walk away and wonder if Joey Larson saw my shoes in the sun.