Tuesday, January 29, 2013
The Cheesecake Factory/Connecticuit Avenue, not far from the White House
My fifteen year old daughter and I emerge from the subway station. It's a snowy gray day, a few days after Christmas and we've come down to the city from the Maryland suburbs where I grew up.
"Are you o.k, Mom?" Chloe asks me in a concerned voice.
"Fine." I reply "No big deal."
When I say it, I think I mean it. Even though my stomach is flipping over in somersaults and my hands are clammy.
No. Big. Deal.
We are going to meet my father. It will be the first time in my life that my father and I will be sharing air space, a table and breakfast with this man who is responsible for my existence in this world.
It will be the first time my daughter will meet her seventy four year old grandfather.
We arrive at the restaurant. He is standing, tall and lanky with a head of white hair near the entrance.
"Tanya?" he asks quietly.
He goes to shake my hand. I lean in and give him an awkward half hug.
We step back.
"This is Chloe. Your granddaughter"
"Chloe." He repeats after me. "Chloe, I've brought you some gifts. They were my mother's"
The hostess leads us to a table next to the large clear window at the front of the restaurant. The sidewalks are empty on this cold Saturday morning a few days after Christmas.
The waitress brings us three plastic sleeved menus. I cannot focus on mine and the pages of choices. Instantly I decide on a cheese omlette.I peek up and look at him from behind the menu. There is a slight resemblance, but it is not overt, at least to me. I peer again as he offers Chloe books from the thirties including a copy of "The House at Pooh Corner"
There are no tears. No overt displays of emotion. There is a familiarity but I can't place it.
Within a few minutes we are settled into a fairly comfortable level of conversation. He says a few things that annoy me. We take pictures together. I tease him and tell him that he is not photogenic.
He walks us all over DC after breakfast and shows us spots that are meaningful to him; a square where he saw Martin Luther King give an impromptu speech. A converted carriage house where Jackie Kennedy Onassis lived for a while after JFK was shot, the building where his father, an artist, designed stamps for the government. The Starbucks where he gets a piece of coffeecake everyday on his way to his sales job at Macy's.
We walk together in the cold to see the National Christmas Tree for another hour or so. By then it is time to get on the train and go back to my mother's house in Frederick, before we depart for New Mexico in the morning.
My father takes us back to the subway and rides two stops with us before he gets off and walks back to his apartment.
As he is standing by the doors which are about to open, he turns his head and looks back at us to wave. I suddenly remember where I've seen him before.
He is me, age five crying on the stairs because I don't believe my mother loves me.
He is me, age fourteen, anguished and bereft at the loss of my grandfather.
He is me, age seven who writes poetry and slips it under my family's bedroom doors as presents.
He is me, who has the messiest desk in her third grade classroom with papers strewn around it, on the floor.
He is me who has been told, at various times in my life, both with admiration and disgust that I march to the beat of my own drummer.
In the last moments with my father, I see my own life-long acute sensitivity mirrored in his kind blue eyes.
The same blue eyes that look out in every one of my elementary school photos.
Blue eyes that do not relate so much to my mother's pro-active, take the bull by the horns approach to life.
Blue eyes that wonder why it hurts me so much when the teacher yells at my friend.
Blue eyes that are wide and scared and wonder why the world feels so lonely.
There he is. And he is me.
Yeah, no big deal.