Since I had last seen him, my father had shaved his beard. Ever since I could remember, his jaw had hid behind curly brown hair. When he would come in from shoveling the driveway, his beard would be peppered with snow. He would scope me up and twirl me, and at first, I’d be scared, but then he’d pull me into his flannel shirt. Even though it was itchy, it would be warm and smell like him. I’m eighteen now, and I still remember those moments because there were so many of them. I don’t like my dad without his beard.
I don’t like how a lot of things are now: the move, the discovery, the divorce, the shuffling between the extremes of my now torn life – Mom’s and Dad’s. Mom had moved back to St. Paul but not back to our old house. No where near it actually. She said there were too many memories. Dad had stayed in New York, and even though Mom and I had left, he bought a bigger apartment. Swankier was the word I overheard his realtor use. He could afford it now.
The move, the discovery, and the divorce were all events my mom lumped into one single event. She called it the Change, always certain to emphasize the need to capitalize it. Dad had been a professor at a college so small and private I was shocked people knew about it and applied there. He taught communications. His specialty was the news, so I was never interested in his work. Apparently, he was good at it because four years ago, he was hired by NYU.
So, we became New Yorkers. Not really, actually. Sure, we lived in Manhattan, and I went to school there, but nothing was familiar. We had to find new restaurants to like and - more importantly - afford. Whenever I went to the grocery stores to get stuff, I wandered up and down the aisles like a blind tourist. The accents were thick, the subways smelled, and the smell of garbage lingered over everything. Back in Minnesota, our yard rolled right into a forest. At night, it was silent, and sometimes I wondered if the whole world around my bed had fallen away. No such luck in New York.
My mom took it harder than I did because it wasn’t easy for her to make friends. She’s pretty, but not in the way she was expected to be in the Lower West Side. The other professors’ wives scoffed at her, and after a while, she stopped going to my dad’s faculty functions. I could make friends at school and around the neighborhood, but my mom was holed up in our apartment, going from one small room to the next like she was trapped in a crazy pinball machine.
The three of us only endured three semesters there. I had started to suspect my dad was doing something. He was not particularly discreet. I think my mom chose not to see it at first, but as it went on, my father became sloppier about it. Maybe he was starting to be proud of it and was trying to provoke my mom. Since we moved, my father had made a point to switch accents. He dressed in crisp dress shirts, even on weekends. He had started working out and spent a lot of time at presentations and forums at night. It was like watching a predictable movie that, for some reason, thought it was original, so it drew out its action. When the climax finally came, there was as much angry about its delay as there was about the fact that my dad had been cheating on my mom.
The divorce was over pretty quick. That was probably because my mom just wanted to leave. She and I were back in Minnesota for Christmas. The Change was complete. My parents worked out a complicated schedule that involved me getting tons of frequent flier miles. Some nights, I dreamed about taking all those miles and flying somewhere plush and exotic, somewhere that I wouldn’t be bothered by my parents. I knew places like that existed, but I couldn’t decide which destination I trusted.
Now, the summer before college, I was in my dad’s BMW speeding along the LIE. The clock on the dashboard read 5:05. Outside the car, the sky was turning gray, and I could make shapes out of the trees and buildings. We had left his apartment hours ago, and I had slept for most of the drive. When I turned to him, he looked at me and smiled.
“Hey there, sleepy.” He smiled. It was weird seeing his whole face when he smiled. I missed seeing his cheeks lift his beard, but his dark brown eyes still had a mischievous twinkle to them that described his personality.
I murmured a reply, too groggy still to start up a conversation.
“We’re almost there,” he said. “About an hour or so.”
We were headed to a house he was renting for a few weeks. What I learned my first summer in New York was that no New Yorkers spend their summers in the city. I quickly smelled why. There was an entire temporary expatriate population that emptied all the good restaurants and stores, but tourists took their place. Now that my dad was a professor who took blondes who wanted to be actresses out for coffee, he could be fancy and summer in the Hamptons.
“I’m really glad you’re here,” he said after a moment. The sudden sound of his voice and the honesty in it shocked me. “Really glad.”
“Me, too.” Those seemed like the right words to start off with.
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