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The Birthday Text: A daughter's attempt to find peace with her fathers absence

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Today I gave my father my mailing address.

I turned the shower on and walked back out into my hallway, taking a seat on my old roommates bed which lay in the walkway between my bedroom and the bathroom.

I get a text message: "This is how I remember you mijita."

A picture. A birthday party. A long time ago.

A polar bear sweater with a pink quarter-zip.

I was so happy. So acute back then. Sitting up straight and staring into the camera; cheerful. Obedient. Just happy to be there.

Life is weird because we grow. You were always larger, but the same. I catch glimpses of your face every once in a while, do you know that? In a Chinese restaurant, in the kitchen. As if every day was a dream.

"That guy looks like my dad." I'll tell a friend across the table. They've never met you, no one has.

"Oh cool."

"Yeah." I'll respond, stealing glimpses at the man's face. Terrified. As if someone grabbed my neck and told me to stop breathing.

"Yeah." I'll snap back to the scene. It's easy.

The subject changes. The food arrives or we turn the corner. The feeling in my limbs come back.

When I was little I called you "Fufu."

There were bugs on the porch of the old house. You'd always stand pretty far, with gray sweatpants tied up on your waist, in the corner of the lawn. I think I remember it because of the pictures; beads in my hair.

We'd go to arcades and you shared your love of Pacman. A movie for a dollar, between the pet store and Sam's Club. Ski-ball. I'm so good at it because of you.

Rock music. Trailer parks. Sega, video games and vampires. At grandma's house we only had two VHS movies. At yours there were so many.

Pinata's and birthday's. A celebration to prove something.

Rocky Balboa. Rocky Balboa. Rocky Balboa. My favorite movie series.

A boxing ring in the garage.

Then.

A knock on the door so someone could save me. Heavy and mad.

Mom racing through Texas; nighttime. A bedroom and talks in the kitchen. Four hours, four hours.

Whataburger parking lots were safe zones. Transfers from car to car.

The police came; once.

You knew how to support, but you had your own demons too.

Dirt roads the same shade as me. Walks in the park.

Everything was so happy until you'd get mad.

For a time I stopped fooling myself.

I was 12, 13. I had a step-mom and a little brother, but I also had things to do.

Kids would fight each other and I'd walk by; it was normal. I had a boyfriend and he cheated on me; I was 12. Did you know that? Was it in one of mom's emails? Tennis by the bedside.

I'd come home and draw Indians on a wooden board underneath a cushion in the living room. Sharpies worked best because they had soft tips that curved against the grain. Grandpa sat at the kitchen table, he couldn't see me. Back then it was an undershirt and blue jeans because the fruit trees needed tending and the thunder was too loud.

"It's okay," he'd say.

I was always so sad.

When I was ten I got my first cell phone.

It was for the times I went to see you since you wouldn't let me call mom.

Or for the times you could call, but didn't.

"Oooo, you have a cell phone?" The kids would awe and judge. I was brown, they were white. It wasn't normal back then.

"Yeah." Dead-pan. Emotionless. How do you tell a ten-year-old your father won't let you contact your mom so your mom got you a cell phone to make sure she'd hear from you when you went away?

"Yeah." Dead-pan. Emotionless.

The darkness was always so scary in the bedroom that you made for me.

Pink and fluffy; a birthday gift from someone in your office with a "pre-school" aged sticker on the box.

"Oh, she's eight?" They'd ask between pizza slices at Peter Piper. Balloons and people I don't know; kids to play with because we were kids. Were these your friends? Do you have any?

"I had no idea," they'd look at me from across the table. A smile. Embarrassment.

Pink and fluffy; bedsheets that'd clash against the blue. I was a tomboy, after all.

Bars on the windows, gunshots down the road. A corner store. La Virgen.

You tried.

Jesus Christ and rosaries. Prayers by the bedside.

You always tried.

Crying in the nighttime; hiding in a closet. The door blocked.

But sometimes.

"Be quiet or they'll hear us." Hands over the little boys ears.

Yelling outside. A baby bottle filled with change. A woman crying in the hallway, falling to the floor. I don't mind loud music from my neighbor's now because I think I got used to the thumping against the walls.

"Don't tell your mom," you'd say the next morning over cereal; Lucky Charms. It was a deal, not an order. You're a lawyer after all.

Then the silence came. Seven years.

--

Eyeliner drips on my legs now. My hair is up. The water's running. The glass is fogged. My phone keeps buzzing. It's my birthday.

Today I'm 20-years-old. Do you know that? Or do you just remember the day? You're good with numbers, so you can do the math- I know.

Have you? It's okay. Dad.

I look up to Lebron James sometimes not because of his basketball skills but because of the attitude he has towards his father. Somewhere along the road my mom told me I could still strive for greatness because that's what the basketball players do. Space Jam and Looney Tunes.

"Look at them," she'd say.

"Okay," I'd say.

Space Jam and Looney Tunes. Swimming in the summertime.

--

Today I am 20-years-old.

And today you wished me a happy birthday.

You missed a couple along the way, dad. Did you know that?

Everyone always made you seem like the bad guy, Lex Luthor from the comic books. But I think I'm remembering my childhood now and I don't think life was fair to you. Mom's told me the stories. Dumpster-diving. No dad of your own. Hospitals and hospitals. Remember the time we slept in the car under the highway? I do.

But today you wished me a happy birthday and today I'm 20-years-old and I want to say that I'm proud of you, dad. You really accomplished a lot. You came a long way. I hope someone's told you that; I hope you feel appreciated. I think everyone should feel that way. I think your narcissism is a defense mechanism, because I'm afraid no one's told you they were proud of you. You got good grades, you went to college. You have so many reasons to be angry. I know. But I hope you know that someone's proud of you, even if you made some mistakes. I hope you know that distance doesn't have to mean silence but it's okay if that's what it did.

Today I gave my father my mailing address.

And today I turned 20-years-old.

"Happy birthday mijita."

Thank you, dad.

You missed a couple along the way, did you know that? I think it's okay, though.

--

The shower is off; I never got in. The windows of my apartment fogged up with the hot water.

Sometimes I joke that I'm a 35-year-old woman in a teenager's body. I feel so old. I understand now that we can't live in anger forever. I understand now that we are the products of our experiences and your experiences made you who you are. I think my heart is too weak to not want to forgive. I think everything is okay because everything made me, me.

I know you're far away, but as I transfer into adulthood I think I need to practice something and that's forgiveness.

So,

I forgive you,

dad.

Everything we have makes us who we are and everything happens for a reason.

Cheers to a new decade. Cheers to new life and good friends.

Thank you, dad.

"Happy birthday."

This post first appeared on The Whitest Brown Girl Blog