I am sitting in my 6th grade classroom at Wyatt Elementary with all of the other students having a normal uneventful day when the school secretary comes to the door and looks straight me and says, “Maura, you have a phone call.” My first thought is, “She knows my name?”
“Ok.” I answer getting up and begin heading to the door. The whole class quiet as I make my journey. I see she is holding the phone. It’s a big heavy, black rotary dial phone, funny, I didn't realize it before. It has 5 clear buttons on the bottom and one red one that I know is for putting people on Hold.
My mind is a blank as to who could be calling me at school. I have never gotten a call at school before and I wasn't sure what to make of it. It can’t be anyone at home since we don’t have a phone, because we can’t afford it. Maybe my mom or my sister are calling from a neighbor’s house, but why would they do that when the school is just two short blocks away? While I ponder all of this the secretary plugs the phone into the classroom door jam. This is not peculiar to me. “Thank you.”, I say taking the receiver she is holding out to me. I turn away from her for privacy, facing back into the classroom which is now empty. All of the students are gone.
Dreams are funny that way. The way the most unusual things seem normal.
“Hello?” I answer.
“Maura, It’s your father.”
“I know.” I answer, recognizing his voice at once. This too is peculiar since I hadn't heard his voice in 6 years and wouldn't recognize it, or him for that matter, if this weren't a dream.
“Do you love me?” he asks.
“Of course I love you, you’re my father.” I answer.
“That’s good, because nobody else does.” he replies.
That is all. Dream over. Just my dad calling to ask if I love him. Weird, but aren't all dreams? I tell no one about my dream, but it stays with me, talking to him seemed so real I can’t really shake it, but no, I don’t share this. I am worried that if I tell any of my family they will make fun of me or be mad at me for loving the man they all hate so venomously. They won’t understand that I can love this dad who left when I was 5, never to contact us again. Ever. Who almost choked my mom to death in front of us in one of his angry drunken episodes. Who regularly, and thoroughly, beat my siblings and made their lives a living hell.
Not me though, he didn't beat me. I was “the baby” and too young for such abuse. Funny how even monsters can have boundaries. I was his little buddy. I was the one he took to the bars with him when Mom was at work and my siblings at school. We would go to one of the neighborhood bars along Colfax, The Squire Lounge being one of his favorites. Mine too, I loved the way the door opened directly on the corner. It was magical to me. We never sat in the red booths liked I liked, instead he would lift me high up on the bar stool at the bar where the bartender would give me a Shirley Temple (7-up with grenadine) or a Roy Rogers (Coke with grenadine) or a Coke with cherries, I never got to pick for myself, but that was ok, I enjoyed them all. Yup, at these times, I was his little buddy.
My Dad also defended me when no one else did. One night I woke up scared and crying because I saw a giant eye on the wall by my bed. No one believed me, they kept saying it was a dream, that got me even more upset and I cried harder, desperate for them to believe me. | “Enough” dad told everyone, “If she says she saw it, then she saw it!.
“Here”, he said giving me a long thin curtain rod. “If it comes back, you poke and it will go away.” My first lesson in self-defense.
Though I was his bar buddy and he defended me, I never missed him after he left. The tension in the house went down considerably and we didn't have to walk on eggshells anymore, and there weren't any more beatings, for mom or the kids, but I didn't hate him either. He was just gone and for the most part our daily lives were more peaceful.
About a week after my dad dream, my Mom came home late after work with a friend, a women she met through political work. She had been someplace else first, I wasn't sure where but I could smell she she had been drinking. Not beer which was almost the only thing I ever saw her drink, but liquor. For courage it turned out. She was visibly upset as she gathered us together and quietly told us “Your Father is dead. He killed himself in California about a week ago.” Nobody cried, everyone was just quiet with their own thoughts. My thoughts were of course about my dream. The last part. The “That’s good, because nobody else does.” part. He committed suicide and in my dream when I said yes I loved him, he said “That’s good, because nobody else does.”
I am happy believing that my dad died knowing that there was one person in the world who loved him when he died. I didn't mourn his death. I hadn't seen him since I was 5, so I didn't miss him in death. Gone is gone, whatever the reason. Later I would mourn that I never got to know him and that I never got to really have a father. Later still, I realized that if he hadn't left us when he did, I too would have ended up hating him and he would have died unloved. Funny isn't it? That his selfish act of leaving his wife and five children ended up allowing a love for him in his death that he wouldn't have had otherwise.
No, I have never hated him and all these years later, I no longer love him either. It has been so long since I last saw him and being so young at the time I never really knew him. Regardless of it all, he still is and always will be my father, a part of me. Even though I can no longer remember the sound of his voice, I have not forgotten being in my 6th grade classroom and getting his call.