The essay below is part one of a three-part series of short essays from my coming-of-age memoir, When Love Sticks Around, which will be out on November 15, 2021. Each of these flash pieces are the last three encounters I had with my biological father. Although writing about these experiences rattled some serious negative emotions, I thought they were necessary to share because my relationship with my father most definitely shaped the person I am today. Thank you for reading. I hope that when my memoir is released, you will consider purchasing a copy.
The day I turned eight in 1989, Don knocked on the door at Mom’s house.
“I came to say happy birthday,” he said when I opened it.
I thanked him through the screen door.
“Hard to believe you’re already eight.” He looked away, so I followed his gaze toward his beater car in the driveway, still running. I poked my finger through a hole in the screen the size of a nickel. It had started with a tiny slit I jabbed my pinky into, and over the years—with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, neighbors selling Girl Scout cookies, and Don occasionally stopping by—the hole had gotten bigger.
He wore a faded jean jacket and a trucker cap. His pale skin looked ashen through the screen that separated us.
“I brought your present.” He pulled a cassette from his pocket and waved it at me. That year, Mom had bought me a Walkman to listen to all my cassettes. She and Jim couldn’t afford much else other than that.
I stepped outside the door onto our cement front porch. Green plants with brown tips sprawled from the planters. Soon, they’d die off and sleep for the winter. “Thanks.”
“Is it the right album?” he asked. At that point, our relationship consisted of nothing more than the occasional gift or card. He offered no advice or scolding. He never called to ask what television shows I liked, what food I hated, or the names of my best friends. He didn’t know me well enough to know what I wanted, so I had told him over the phone the week prior.
I looked at the front. The New Kids on the Block band members sat in a sleigh with jolly grins on their faces. “Yeah. It’s the only one I don’t have.”
I looked back to Don. “Will I see you again?”
“I hope so. But not for a while. I’ve been driving trucks down south.”
“Can I come visit you in Tennessee?” I wanted to love him as much as any child loved her father. But I was cautious. I didn’t get too close, because I didn’t want to get hurt by him again. I craned my neck up to see him. Long dark hair, same color as mine, fell almost to his shoulders.
Yes, I looked like him, but I didn’t know him. I only knew that he liked race cars and drove a semi-truck.
“Sure. Listen, I’ve got to get going now.” He scratched his cheek and adjusted his cap.
“Okay. Well, thanks, Dad. Love you.”
“See ya, kid.” He waved and walked away.