By Sam Sommer
I was nine when my parents divorced.
At the time I had no idea what had happened between them, only that I blamed my mother for his leaving, for driving him away. Her voice was the only one I heard when they fought. My dad was a quiet, soft spoken man who rarely raised his voice, and the exact opposite of my mother who never had one unspoken thought. If it was in her head, it was on her tongue. Dad’s response to conflict was to shut down.
One week before Christmas Dad came to me and told me he’d be leaving after the New Year. He knew how important the holidays were to my mother and me, and felt it was incumbent upon him to make the best of a bad situation. “A few more weeks won’t make a difference,” he told me. “Any way you look at it, the whole thing stinks.”
I couldn’t have agreed more.
I loved both my parents, but my dad was my best friend. He always knew the right thing to say, no matter what the situation or how badly I felt. I couldn’t imagine a life without him.
“I’m not leaving you, son,” he told me. “I’m leaving your mother. It’s what we need to do. You’ll come and visit on holidays and during summer break. California’s only five hours away by plane.”
Dad made it his business to call every week. He’d let me talk with him for as long as I needed. I could tell from the sound of his voice that this separation was as hard for him as it was for me. Each time we said goodbye he’d say, “Don’t be too hard on your mother. She loves you, and you don’t know all the facts.”
“Then why don’t you tell me?” I’d say.
“When you’re older.”
I must have made my mother’s life a living hell that winter. In my young eyes she couldn’t do anything right; and I took every opportunity to let her know it. She was as tolerant of my outbursts and outright meanness as she could be. She understood how the divorce had turned my world upside down, and was, for the most part, forgiving of what my dad labeled, “my acting out.”
Before I left to visit with my dad in San Francisco, my mother sat me down and told me that she’d miss me very much, and that she was sorry things had worked out the way they had. “Make sure to call me at least once a week and let me know you’re having fun.”
Dad picked me up at the airport in a beat up ’65 Volkswagen Beatle painted an unattractive shade of green. He’d grown a beard and his hair was almost shoulder length. I hardly recognized him, but thought it made him look really cool. I couldn’t have cared less what he looked like. I was just so happy to finally be with him.
Dad was living in a studio apartment above an antique and collectibles shop called, The Lazy Eye, in a neighborhood he called The Castro. I asked him if it was named after that guy in Cuba. He laughed and said, “No relation.” The apartment was small, but cozy. He’d purchased a convertible chair for me that opened up to a single bed, and filled the cupboards and refrigerator with all my favorites. The walls of the apartment were decorated with posters my dad had designed over the years. He was a freelance graphic designer and super talented. He told me he hadn’t taken on any new work so we could spend all our time together. He introduced me to his friends, most of whom were other artistic people like himself. They were all really cool and treated me like I was one of them. It was a wonderful few weeks, and I hated to leave when it was time to go back home. He promised we’d see each other during holidays and every summer. “Trust me, Buddy, I’m going to miss you as much as you’ll miss me.” We both cried when we said goodbye at the airport.
Ten years after that first visit I returned to the Castro to help my father pass on to what I hoped would be a better place, even if my religious beliefs regarded heaven as no more than a salve. I cradled him in my arms when he died of complications from AIDS in the spring of nineteen-eighty-four. At the time he couldn’t have weighed more than ninety pounds. Words cannot adequately express the devastation I felt losing him, or how it changed me.
Sam Sommer is the author of RESERVATIONS FOR 4, a one-act play presented as part of the (2012) NYC, Downtown Urban Theatre Festival; BED & BREAKFAST, a gay comedy (2008) NYC Fresh Fruit Festival, and winner of Best Full-Length Play. His novels, JACOBS’ DIARY: Sleeping with the Past, and the sequel, THE THASSOS CONFABULTION, are available from Bold Stokes Books. Sam’s short stories have been published in numerous anthologies over the years. Sam is presently living in Santa Fe, New Mexico with his husband.