My empty water glass glowed red in the light of the clock radio, which read 3:12 am. After multiple trips to the bathroom and three hours of staring at the ceiling, I was still aggrivatingly awake. Blurred thoughts scurried through my mind at a pace that would not allow me to grasp a complete understanding . I was able to get the gist of them though: tomorrow, I would be seeing my father for the first time in six years and I was worried.
Part of me was glad. Who wouldn’t be if they hadn’t seen their father in such a long time? I wondered how (if at all) he had changed. Would he like the changes he would see in me since I’d grown from a teenager to a woman? What would we talk about? Would conversation be easier or would it still be forced and strained?
I was also filled with the old feelings of hate and resentment. Maybe “hate” is too strong of a word to use about my father, but I’d disrespected him and hated a lot of the things he did.
I didn’t hate him because of the slurred and often foul tongue used when he drank. I had learned to live with that. I though of the beer as a medicine to an illness that had nasty side effects. I knew that was just part of life with Dad.
The results of his drinking were only a small part of the growing lack of respect I felt through my teen years. I expected him to yell at me when I left my books to clutter up his end of the couch when he came home from work. I endured the early morning fights he and Mom had that sent my little sister to my bed, with tears rolling down her cheeks. I didn’t think he, or anyone else, could control the effects of his medicine, so I accepted them the way one would an ugly birthmark that always peeked over th collar of one’s shirt.
One day in particular stands out in my mind as the day when I truly began to resent him. I had come home early from school one Friday in the ninth grade. I had a sore throat and a stomach ache. I was happy to have a reason to ignore the dirty dishes and crawl into bed with a new book from the Bookmobile. I didn’t expect my father to be home yet and my mom had left that morning to visit her parents in the city.
When I saw his truck in the driveway I slowed my pace and crept silently along the driveway, hoping that I could get into my bedroom without being noticed. So, they didn’t hear me when I pulled open the door and tiptoed past the bedroom. Neither of them woke up as I stood, jaw hanging open like some over-exaggerated cartoon character, staring at my father in bed with a woman that was not my mother.
It was that day when all of my father’s shortcomings became magnified in my mind.
From that day on it mattered if he didn’t compliment me on a new haircut or an outfit that I had painstakingly put together from my mix of hand-me-downs. It hurt when he asked my sister to help him with a carpentry project and never asked me.
Feeling this renewed resentment, how could I walk into his new house and eat the meal that his new wife would prepare, and hide how I really felt inside?
After the last trip to the bathroom, I decided that it was useless to go back to bed. Instead, I decided to go for a walk. Maybe fresh air would help clear my mind.
Although it was only late September, the early snow on the hills were sending cold winds into the valley – almost cold enough to send me back to the warmth of my bed. Before I could walk back up the driveway though, I noticed the stars vividly lighting up the sky. With the visual performance above me, my concerns about the cool air faded into the background.
The stars beckoned to me through the empty branches of the poplar trees that lined the street as I walked the four blocks to the elementary school I’d attended as a child. In the school yard, I climbed the cold, icy steel frame of the monkey bars to the top. I remembered now my friend, Sara, used to grasp the steel ball at the top, as she beckoned us one by one to join her, to have our fortunes told.
Now, clutching the same steel ball, I searched for answers again, this time looking to the stars with my questions. I fond the big dipper, the little dipper, Venus. Then, for the first time ever, Orion appeared before my eyes. How many times had my father tried to show me where Orion was and I’d never been able to see it until now.
A shooting star sped across the sky and I wished for my anxiety to go away. I waited another fifteen minutes for the star to grant my wish. By that time the cold steel of the bars had frozen my bottom through my worn Levi’s. I decided that shooting stars couldn’t really grant wishes after all and climbed down to earth again. Maybe after the fresh air I’d at least be able to sleep and stop thinking.
When I got home I paused at the end of the driveway to look into the sky one more time, as if the answer might appear if I could only connect the right pattern of stars. And as I reached out to turn the doorknob, I saw it.
It wasn’t bright like the North Star or eye catching like a shooting star. It was a hint of a star ambling patiently across the sky, guiding me to memories hidden deep in my mind.
In the late summer, our family would sit on the deck enjoying the soft breezes. Dad would be drinking a Club beer, his pack of Craven M cigarettes near by. Mom would be sitting under the light reading the latest hardcover from DoubleDay Bookclub. My little sister would lay perfectly still on the thin rail of the deck, freckled arms dangling at her sides.
One year, as my sister and I watched the stars, she was the first to spot the lazy little star. It took the rest of us a few minutes to find it. We wondered what it was, as it tentatively swerved in and out of other stars. It couldn’t have been a plane because it was too far out and there wasn’t a red flashing light. It wasn’t a shooting star as it was way too slow. When I asked my science teacher he said it was likely a satellite, but I preferred to think of it as a UFO. I didn’t think that satellites could swerve.
After that first night, we would look for UFO’s after barbeques or after making bannock over the campfire on the lake. Sometimes we’d go weeks without seeing one, sometimes an entire summer. When we did find one though, I always felt like it was a good omen.
Then other good memories started coming back. I remembered canoeing with my dad. We’d glide across the mirrored lake in the early hours of the morning. My father would stop paddling occassionally to point out a deer or a moose hovering at the edge of the lake. And I remembered how Mom and Dad and the neighbors swam in the swimming hole and the kids sat on the wooden steps near the bank. When a push from an older boy sent me floundering into the deep water, I saw my father’s concerned face just before he dove from the bank and pulled me out.
The next night, my father met us at the door. He said hello and then walked back to the living room to sit in his worn armchair. Seeing him again with a lit Craven M in one hand and a Club on the coffee table, I remembered that although I hadn’t quite forgotten the bad, more importantly I had remembered the good.