November 17, 2016

Reconnecting With My Used-To Be Father

Originally published on the Huffington Post.  
I hardly noticed the sun had completely set below the horizon while I sat in solitary darkness in my living room. The only light giving life to the room was from the incessant scrolling on my phone. Shifting my thumb up the screen, then down and up again in hopes to find some unlikely-of-animal-friends videos to distract me enough so I can forget about calling him.
My palpitating heart thumped harder as I stood, feeling more doubtful with every step made; every step signifying I was closer to dialing that number.
I went outside and as I paced the patio, I began reciting my introduction to the fully exposed moon.
Hi, Andrew. It’s me Sofia. Scratch that. What if it’s not his number anymore? What if I can’t recognize his voice? Cigarette abuse is notorious for cracking the voice. Assuming he still smokes a pack a day. OK, Ok - how about: Hi, may I speak to Andrew?
No rehearsed speech could persuade my anxiety to simmer down. I just had to get it over with. Get over the first slump and this stomach-pit of fear, and just go for it.
What’s the worst thing he can do? Hang up? Reject my call? Tell me to go fuck myself? Okay.
I’m prepared for whatever outcome. Time forces you to be prepared by a default. To be prepared for the rejection. To be prepared for the silence.
Silence is a comfortable space. Or, at least it evolves into comfort with time. Six years of time approximately. I’ve found that when there’s a disparity of connection and time, it relieves people from having to face the music, to face the grim realities of the situation at hand.
Coddled in the safety net of silence and repression.
I apprehensively hit the call button. The first dial ring felt like it dragged as long as a thriving river that I wished would just shrivel up. The second ring felt like a rat race to the voicemail. Half a second after the third ring, there was a sudden answer of a man grunting out a hello.
My assumptions were wrong. I recognized his solemn, gargled voice immediately.
“Hey, Andrew? It’s Sofia.”
“Who?” he asked.
Without any hesitation or time to process the small blow of this void, I responded:
“Sofia. Your ex-stepdaughter.”
###
I was six years old when I met the man who would not only end up breaking my mother’s heart, but would go on to create delusion in the hearts of both her kids.
My stepfather was a man of his word. He was loyal, hardworking, and Cuban-American. My mother, a stern, wise and virtuous woman, met him in the direst of situations that some people find themselves in on U.S. soil.
She was a recently divorced single mother, whom had recently migrated to Florida from Italy with her baby boy and girl.
With little means and a great desire to find solace, their encounter at a measly bar she worked at, along with their several ventures thereafter, manifested the possibility of The American Dream.
The idea that her kids didn’t have to grow up at the only expense of her blood, sweat and tears with no reward. The idea that she could be happy again.
The idea that my mother could start a life with someone who genuinely needed her guidance just as much as she needed his.
It was the prime transaction of both deep devotion and resources. But, was it love? I’ll get to that.
As time progressed, they married and began to synchronize their lives as one. My mother had finally found consolation and he had found a reason to live again after his beloved mother’s long battle with cancer.
My stepfather took the physical role of being a father figure for most of my brother’s adolescence — and mine. My dad lived in England during this time with his wife and though he was still a part of our lives, the distance created much static in our relationship with him.
For the next thirteen years, my stepfather would attend every dance rehearsal, every soccer game, and every school ceremony.
He taught my brother how to build and repair things. He would take him to work with him on the weekends, show him the ropes, and compensate an allowance so he learns value.
He taught me how to be generous. Anytime I’d see the homeless rummaging the streets of Miami, he would encourage my compassion by giving me a dollar or two to give, or run to the nearest cafĂ© and purchase them a meal.
He was a man of his word. He was devoted to my mother. He was devoted to her kids.
Until one day he wasn’t. Until one day my mother could no longer guide his inner demons to their death. Until the stench of beer and sweet liquor consumed his integrity.
Until one day his supposed love became an infatuation. An obsession with control.
An obsession to control and demonize my mother.
###
My reason for calling was simple. I’m graduating with my bachelor’s degree in English next month, and this milestone has urged much retrospect.
At least that’s what I told him. Though this was true, my urge stemmed much deeper than that. Though I’ve known nothing about him or his life for the past six years, his presence would continuously appear within the remnants of my mind.
I was desperate to know if he was okay. If he had moved on, or if he was in fact the man I admired for so long.
If he was regretful over the vile things he had committed towards the end of our time together. If he had regretted not saying goodbye to my brother and I – never bothering to look back.
Our call was over in exactly three minutes.
Through the awkward chuckles and repetition of overused adjectives, he mentioned what a surprise this call was and how genuinely happy he was to hear from me.
I asked if he would meet with me so we could properly catch up. I couldn’t say what I needed to say to him, what I never got to say to him, over the phone. It was far too important to be lost in translation and not be rightly emoted through the eyes.
He accepted my invite with unfamiliar optimism, and we then scheduled a day favorable for the two of us. Thursday afternoon, it was set. He couldn’t give me an exact time, but “we’d play it by ear” he said.
Before hanging up, we exchanged our excitement in seeing each other again and my heart did not jump or skip a beat.
Instead, it was in state of reconciliation. The regret and resentment that had built over the years had momentarily dissipated.
I immediately called my mother to update her on the successful call. Though she had her reservations about me getting back in touch with him, she was supportive in my intentions to gain closure. She understood how important this was not just for me, but even more for my younger brother.
My brother’s last memory of our stepfather was at the courthouse. His sixteen-year old self sat outside of the courtroom and once deliberations had adjourned, Andrew steps out without a single acknowledgement of him, wearing a grin that represented a win in taking one last stab at my mother’s decision to divorce.
So naturally, my mother advised me to keep my guards up and not allow my excitement to fog my intuitions.
I went about the rest of my night, invoking pride and enthusiasm into the pasta dish I was preparing for dinner.
Mid onion peel, I received a call back from my mother. She tends to do this, call repetitively to overcompensate for any given situation and reiterate her motherly convictions.
The tone of her voice had changed from our previous call. I know this tone far too well. The soft and mellow pitch of disappointment with a hint of pity. The Spanish language tends to make everything sound much more dramatic.
She starts with a prelude on courage and strength to set me up for whatever she’s about to share with me. I respectfully interrupt and ask her to get to the point. My nerves had outdone themselves by now so a pep-talk was far from what I needed.
“Mami, what is it?” I asked, again.
She quickly relays how Andrew’s coworker is also a childhood friend of hers. He’s also the one who helped facilitate this process by sending my mom the number so I can call. This friend was present when I called, and tells my mother that Andrew has expressed that he’s in a good place in his life right now and feels that I may result in opening unhealed wounds.
She gets to her final point:
“Andrew isn’t going to meet with you.”
A long pause of silence makes its debut again, and I return to peeling back the skin of the onion.
###
People from the past always have a way to shift the present into perspective.
I truly felt that I needed to pay grace to him. To show gratitude as my life and accomplishments come into full circle. I truly made myself believe that I wouldn’t have been able to reap the opportunities of academia this country has offered me if it wasn’t for him.
Despite the wrongdoings, despite the foul comments that were shouted, I made myself believe they were forgivable because I succeeded through, despite it all.
It goes without saying that I’m no longer the seventeen year old girl who felt crippled witnessing my mother suffer because of a man who I regarded as a father. Perhaps by virtue of being well into my nearly mid-20s now, I have gained a deeper understanding of his own suffering as well.
I did learn something more valuable though: forgiveness is earned, not gained out of mere compensation — Or worse, out of pity.
I fixed my eyes around my home, looking for any representation of him. Any glimpse of the impact he’s made on my life. I found nothing. Not a single photo, not a single reminiscent object that portrayed his existence in my life.
I had nothing to feel regretful about. He gave up on us. He was the adult. Heshould’ve done the mending. But he didn’t, and I guess that’s okay too.
We paid our dues in double, found pain and struggle, and made it out with humble hearts.
I lit the candles throughout my home, flicked on all of the light switches. I stood in clarity, as the lights illuminated every crevice and saturated the darkness of the shadows.