This is a story I wrote for a writing class in college. It was when Amy and I had just started dating. I'm posting it on request from Katrina John.
It was pretty obvious that she liked me. The sly way she looked at me out of the corner of her eye, the way we talked in shorthand like old friends almost immediately. Still, sometimes people are just friendly. Did she like me, or did she like me? She was taking the LSAT on Saturday.
“I’m taking the LSAT on Saturday.”
“What’s the LSAT?”
“The test to get into law school. I’m taking it on Saturday and I’m not allowed to study on Friday. I’ve got nothing to do. I don’t know how I’m going to keep from studying.”
You’re not supposed to study the day before a big test. You don’t want to overwhelm yourself. Besides, if you’re not ready by then, you never will be. So she said. Whatever, it was clearly an opening to ask her out.
“So you’re looking for something to do on Friday?”
So two hours later she called me and said, “Ask me out, idiot!”
Okay, that’s not what happened. I asked her out and she said yes. She liked me. For some reason. She was clearly cooler and more interesting than me in every way. She had spent a semester in England and a month in India doing missions. She had red hair and a nosering and a tattoo and she’s smart as hell and what am I going to do on a date with Amy? Crap! She’s way cooler than me.
My father died when I was twelve. He was diabetic, and he had a heart attack in his sleep, surprising everyone. He was only 41. Ironically he was probably in the best shape of his life. People sometimes assume that my parents got divorced, the way I only talk about my mom. I tend not to talk about my father. It’s not that I’m uncomfortable talking about it. Then again, maybe it is; if I was comfortable, I would have used “him” in the preceding sentence rather than “it”. Why do I only think or talk about my father in terms of his death and its impact on me? The man was more than that, surely.
I picked Amy up at her indescribably awesome house in my very describably crappy car. The only good thing about my car is that the passenger door only works from the outside, so I always have to get out and open it like I’m a chauffer or someone with manners. I took Amy to the movies. The early, old people movies. We were out of the theater by five and it was disturbingly still bright outside, like we were living in Alaska. Then, brilliantly, I took her to the pet store. I knew she would like the pet store because she has a rat. I’ll repeat: this chick has a pet rat. Why is that so appealing?
The rat’s name is Geoffrey. He’s fat, kind of, in a Will Ferrell way, not a Chris Farley way. He’s extremely friendly and I’m pretty sure he was my first test. Women have tests, you see. There’s the best friend test, the music test, and the all-important animal test. If you’re not ready when the tests come, you never will be. I passed the animal test like it was a Cadillac with its blinker on.
The pet store was fun because it’s the pet store, and it has to be. The fish were pretty, which is half the reason I believe in God. The lizards were lazy and bored with you immediately, like rich teenagers. The dogs were all suitably pitiful, staring at you with the look that says, “You know you don’t want to leave me here in this little box.” And you don’t. So you look back apologetically, saying, “Yes, but I also don’t want to pay my landlord $200 and then feel bad because I’m too busy to take care of you.”
Pet stores are bittersweet in this way.
My father was a minister, which, like being a doctor or government official is a time-consuming profession. He was a good man, and a great father. I think. It disturbs me how truly little I remember about him. You don’t know your parents as people, as Jim or Cynthia or Mary, when you’re a kid. I know my mother now not just as Mom but as Janet. We talk about things like grown-ups, because we are. I never got there with my father, and I never will. I don’t know who he really was, which means I have to figure him out from vague memories and other people’s stories, like an archaeologist trying to describe an entire civilization of people from broken pottery and the shape of their turds.
Amy is the first romantic interest I’ve had to get to know from the ground up. She is, without exaggerating, one of the most interesting people I have ever met. “Interesting” sounds like it’s not quite a compliment, like it’s a fallback word for when you want to say something honest but not unkind about someone or something you don’t like. That isn’t the case here. She’s bloody fascinating and that’s all there is to it. She talks in funny voices and smiles like a child is passionate about important causes. When we got out of the pet store and went to eat it was only like 5:45. It was official: this was an old-people date.
Or it would have been apart from the fact that we went to a Thai restaurant. I don’t think old people eat Thai food. Except, of course, old people in Thailand. The food was good but I wasn’t very hungry, it being a first date and all. We talked really well. That sounds dumb when you say it out loud. “We’re good at talking.” But it’s true. She is, challengingly, direct. We were talking casually the way people talk who are getting to know each other. Then there was kind of a long silence, what people who use clichés like to call a pregnant pause. She leaned in, tiny smile like she was going to tell me a secret, and asked, “So what are your thoughts?”
Unspoken rest of the sentence: about us.
If I remember my father only vaguely, I remember his death with startling clarity. It was Sunday afternoon and he was taking a nap. I don’t know what I was doing, but I remember sitting on the couch listening to my mother explain to my brother and I that he apparently had a heart attack and was dead. I was twelve and wearing silk boxer shorts with the Tazmanian Devil on them. We went to a neighbor’s house because for some reason they make you leave when someone dies in your house. It was Sunday so we were supposed to go to church, supposed to like you’re supposed to brush your teeth. There wasn’t church that night. People rather quickly found out what happened, and came to us and said the sorts of things people say when someone dies and you are left. I went outside, and sat on a trampoline, somehow knowing silence is the best response to tragedy.
Amy had asked me a question, one that required an answer. My thoughts about Amy include, but are not limited to, the following: I like her, and I like being around her. We get along well together, and the more I know about her, the more I want to know. That was my answer and I think it’s a good one. She seemed to agree. I asked the waitress for a box for my uneaten food. We left and I still can’t believe this incredible girl smiles at me when I tell her I like her.
We went back to her place. It’s a big awesome house and her roommates are funny and nice and it’s just a great place to hang out, warm like a fireplace hearth that makes you want to stay there and maybe take a nap. We sat and talked of many things. I don’t remember any of them specifically, but sometimes those are the best conversations, the ones you get lost in like an old city.
Sometimes not having a father is like not having a circus tent, and sometimes it’s like not having a lung. Most of the time it’s not a big deal, not anymore, not having grown up used to the fact that my dad is dead, like a tree that long ago adapted to a fence or a post and is okay with the weird shape it’s in. Sometimes, though, I am unmistakably aware of the void, of the fact that I have questions I can’t ask the man who gave me half my DNA. I don’t know who my father really was, and more damning, I don’t know what he thought of me. What he would have thought. It does no good to say, Of course he would have loved you, been proud of you. I know this. But he’s not here to say it. I am forever waiting for the approval of a dead man.
It was pretty obvious that she liked me, but I knew for sure when she ate my leftovers. I accidentally left the box of Thai food in her refrigerator, and she totally ate it. Even the part of me that is insecure cannot deny the fact that you don’t eat someone else’s leftovers unless you’re comfortable enough with them. She didn’t even really apologize, just told me my food was gone. It was strangely intimate.
I had left at some strange early time, like 9:45. She had the LSAT the next day, which gave me a perfect opportunity to call her and ask how it went.
So I did.
My father is dead. I know that has shaped who I am and will continue to. I wonder if I’ll be a good husband, a good father, a good man. My father is dead and I am mostly left wondering. I wonder who I really am. I wonder about my past and my future.
I wonder what Amy’s doing right now.