Elizabeth Arlen

October 9 2008


I chose to remember the good things most of the time. He liked going to Skippers, he would only eat the white tic-tacs, and he drove a blue, metallic car. I remember the sunny days at the park where he would watch me play, smoking a cigarette quietly. Most of my life, in the short time I knew him, my father was a disappointment; he never showed up when he was supposed to, and eventually my mother stopped telling me when she was taking me to see him, just in case. I was three years old the last time I saw him.

One night as my mother put me to bed, she had that look on her face; that look that said she was trying to keep herself together as best as she could. When she left, I waited awhile before sneaking out of bed quietly. When I was little, I figured out a way to sneak into the living room and watch my mother without her seeing me. I tip-toed through the hall, but she wasn't in the living room, she was in the kitchen. I could see her, sitting in the corner, her knees to her chest, talking on the phone to my godmother, Mary. She was crying, her hair falling in her face. I don't remember specific words, but I remember thinking and knowing that it was my fault that she was crying. I had upset her earlier with a question. I stood there for awhile before going back to bed and crying myself.

I don't know much of the history between my parents, but I know that they were never married. My father had three other daughters from his first marriage and his wife had died. I guess my parents met because she was his baby-sitter. I think he must have been a little older than her. He got married to another woman with three girls twelve days after I was born. His birthday and mine were a day apart. Happy birthday; have a child you don't want. My mother didn't hear from him until I had just turned three. It was sudden, but she agreed that he could see me.

We met very often at Pioneer Park, or as I called it, 'the red park.' He would drink beer out of a coke can and smoke, and say very little that I remember. It's possible he didn't say much, but I was only three and I don't expect myself to remember. But I wish I did. He sat on the curb and I'd talk to him about the things that three-year-olds talk about in my little pink coat and mittens, putting my hands on his knee and leaning on him. I don't know for the life of me where my mother was when we did this; of all my memories of my father, I don't remember her being there with us, but I know she was.

Sometimes, in the months after he stopped visiting me, my father would call on the phone, but he wouldn't say anything (my mother could tell from the caller id). I still wonder what he was trying to say. I used to devote days to wondering what it would be like if he'd asked to talk to me, or if he'd said anything at all. But as I got older, I stopped caring and I started to hate him a little bit. As I got even older, I began to get scared that I looked like him or acted like him. I was scared that I would remind my mother of him and she would be sad or wouldn't love me. I tried to be nice to her. I never wanted to see her sitting in the corner crying ever again because of a question that I'd asked her. "Mommy, if I clean my room, will daddy love me?" It was a ridiculous question; the kind only a child would think made sense. I don't remember what my mother's face looked like then, but if my child asked me that, I don't think I could help myself from crying. While I do know that I didn't know any better back then, I still hate myself for saying it.

In elementary school, I told a girl, who I thought was my friend, that my mother and father had never been married. She told everyone in my class and my nickname was soon 'bastard.' I didn't really know what it meant at that time; I was pretty sheltered. But I knew that it had something to do with the absence of my father, and it made me sad. I begged my mother after fifth grade if I could change schools; I'd go anywhere that wasn't there. When she got me into a private school in Tacoma at the last minute I was excited. I pretended that I was excited about the school uniforms, which made sense to her because I always wore second hand clothing because we didn't have much money. But really, I was just excited that I was going someplace where nobody knew anything about me, and I knew better than to tell anyone this time.

In seventh grade, I was looking through some boxes and I found a long document with a lot of detail about my father. I know it was some sort of divorce documents or custody documents and I later found out that these things were available to the public and my mother had gone down and photocopied them. I read them and began to learn things about my father I had never known; due to my fear that anything related to him would make my mother sad; I never asked many questions about him despite her constant assurances that it was ok. He was an alcoholic, and had been in and out of rehab for that and for an addiction to prescription to prescription drugs; oddly enough around the same time that he'd been visiting me. He lost custody of his own children to his current wife, and my guess is that he was estranged from his regular family and he decided he would see what I was like. At one point, he tried to take his three girls back and almost succeeded in getting the youngest one, with a gun in hand. At that point I was happy he had never stayed with my mother and was reassured that I was better off without him.

I grew up practically best friends with my mother, and I'm sure if my father had been around, things would have been much different and potentially dangerous. But there's still that part of me that remembers the few good things and yearns for him to show up one day and say he's sorry and tell me that he really did love me all along. I often think that I get my, as a counselor once said, "destructive tendencies" from my father, and I think that I look and act like him more than my mother, which used to bother me a lot more than it does now. I don't think that I'll ever see my father again; a man who doesn't care enough to pay more than three dollars and eleven cents of child support but can afford to send six girls to private school isn't going to come looking for me and I won't ever look for him. So at this point, I chose to remember the good things.