In 4th grade, I dated a boy who had a pretty smile. He was shorter than me but he seemed special and I was excited to call him my first boyfriend. In middle school, I dated a guy other girls didn’t like. And because other boys didn’t like me, I thought we made sense together. In high school, I was no longer interested in the boys I couldn’t have but the men I could. While other girls made plans for prom, I scheduled tutoring sessions with the older student intern. Yet in each of these silly childhood relationships, my heart never skipped a beat. There were crushes I wrote letters for, boys I skipped class with, guys who kept me awake at night. Yet, none of them turned out to be my one true love or even my school sweetheart. I never fell in love the way I thought it was supposed to be and they never got the chance to break my heart.
The one who did….I don’t remember when I met him. I don’t remember the first time looking into his eyes or ever noticing the details of his smile. I don’t remember where we met or when I fell in love. But I know without a doubt that it was love; a strong soul rooted love that grows up and out as it burrows deep and firm. It took ahold of me early in life and even now, at 28yrs old, it still grips me to my core.
I remember vividly when he broke my heart though. I was about 5yrs old and the next day, I was supposed to start kindergarden. My mom had already gone to bed or at least I thought she had but I was fully awake. The new braids in my hair were really tight and the beads hurt to lay down on so I couldn’t sleep. I heard the door to my bedroom open and he peeked in. I pretended to be asleep so I wouldn’t get in trouble for being up past bed time. I’m not sure how the conversation started when he got to my mother’s room but I heard my father tell my mother that my hair made me look like a “little African.” He laughed. The way he said it, my 5yr old self didn’t hear “pretty african princess” or anything positive like that. I heard the same type of laughter that the girls at daycare used when they said I couldn’t join their long hair club. The same type of laughter when the boys called me “bald-headed scally wag” and sang the song behind my back on the school bus. My father, who I simply remember being in love with, broke my heart in a million pieces that night. It’s a blur now but by morning, I had cut every bead and braid from my hair and spent my first years of elementary school with a mini afro.
My father and I are not close. He and my mom broke up shortly after that and I have only a handful of memories of his involvement in my life. I remember one time, he brought me and my little brother a box of toys from McDonald’s. There were dozens; he had stolen them. I also remember seeing him at my Uncle Andre’s funeral and wishing he was in the box instead. A few years later, I called to tell him my brother was dying from kidney failure and my father’s only response was that he couldn’t get off work to come and he didn’t have a kidney to spare anyway.
What was most hurthful however was when I told him I was having his first grandchild. He got excited and filled with excuses all at the same time. He suggested names while jutifying why he couldn’t come down to Richmond. My father is not a good father and I expect he’s not a great man. But he’s the only man who I’ve never been able to shake. He’s the only man who slips into my mind at random moments and is met with tears. He’s the only man that I will call back even if he hasn’t first called me.
At the time I started writing this, my father’s mother Edna Holmes, had just died. I gave her a handful of the tears usually reserved for him. I always resented her the same way I resented him. I can’t imagine that as a mother, I’d let my son be a deadbeat. I remember thinking that when my son gets here, I’ll raise him to be more like my big brother or my step dad or even like my mom. I wondered if my dad’s personality would make its way into my son’s. Guess it doesn’t matter, I wouldn’t recognize it anyway.
I don’t attribute my failures in love to my father. One day, I imagine I will be vulnerable again. Allow myself to be afraid, surprised, needy, and anxious. I don’t think he stopped me from loving, not just by breaking my heart. He simply created a stone wall of me that keeps me from getting too close and keeps me from getting hurt too bad.
Update: My son died a few days after the original draft was written. My father came to town for his mother’s funeral. He said he’d stop by the hospital to visit me but I guess he didn’t have time. He called, said he’d be back in a few weeks and he was. He came and left without visiting me or coming to his grandson’s funeral or even calling. I haven’t seen my father in years. I’m still not sure what scares him more; having to face his failures or having to face me.