There was a quiet rapping on my door. I tossed over in my bed, startled by a familiar knock I hadn’t heard in two years.
“Can I come in?”
“Of course.” I threw my hands through my hair in a desperate attempt to not look like I’d lain in bed for days.
It was strange, seeing him. My dad looked exactly as I remembered him. There were pictures and memories for me to use as reminders of who he was, but pictures and memories didn’t capture the subtle way his body tilted to the left, or the nervous way he brushed his shirt as he stepped in, or the gentleness in his blue eyes.
“Dad.” I started crying, even as I smiled. “I don’t want you to see me like this.”
“Like what?” He said, pretending I wasn’t a mess.
“Like I’m a sad slob.”
“Well, from what your mother told me, you are a sad slob.”
“I know,” I admitted with a smirk. I wanted to stop crying.
He climbed into my bed to sit beside me. He’d changed his hair. It was almost stylish, with the sides trimmed short and the top a little longer. I wanted to tell him it looked good. But I knew why he was there. “I’m okay, Dad.”
“Now you sound like me,” he said.
“Lying about how you are, just so people will leave you alone.”
“Well, I have to lie because I haven’t seen you in so long, so the last thing I want to do is to start blubbering.”
He closed his eyes a moment. “Sarah, you’re my daughter, so if you’re hurt or sad, I wouldn’t want you to pretend otherwise.”
He said, “You know, after I left you and your mother, shame is what kept me away. For a long time, it felt like I had died and my body was just going through the motions because I’d lost the two people who mattered to me more than anything. I wanted to come back every day, but I was afraid the two of you were doing a lot better without me. I didn’t want to interfere. I thought it’d be selfish. And so, that’s what I imagined, that your life was much better with me gone.”
“We never thought that, Dad. We missed you.”
“I know. But in a way, it was easier for me to live in misery than to try hard to be good again. Does that make sense?”
“That’s how I feel.”
“I know.” He nodded. “Why is that?” He was genuinely asking.
I thought about it. It was something I had thought about for days. “Because we feel like it’s what we deserve.”
He nodded again. He was still the quiet man I remembered. “Your mother told me about everything. About that witch. About your friends.”
“You don’t think I’m crazy?”
“No.” He shook his head and smiled. “Sarah, I’ve known you for a long time. I still love remembering all of our princess dates and all those times watching you sing. Your voice was always so beautiful.”
“So is yours.”
He shook his head. “Not like yours. But that’s not my point. My point is that you’re my daughter and I like to think I know you pretty well, even after being gone all this time. And if someone else told me about witches and strange girls, well, I’d probably think they should be on medications, just like I am. But you’ve never been the type to make things up. I believe you. And I’m sorry.”
“I’m just saying – that hurt – maybe you can learn to let it go. Maybe it would help.”
“I don’t want to,” I admitted.
“I don’t want to stop hurting, Dad. Hurting helps me remember them.”
“I changed my mind,” he said. “You don’t have to stop hurting if you don’t want to.”
“No. That’s your choice to make, just like I made mine.”
“Are you going to stay for a little while?” I asked.
“I don’t think so. I had to stop in and see you. I wanted to surprise you for your graduation a couple of weeks ago.”
“You were going to come?”
“Yeah. I wanted to surprise you. And your mom.”
“Sorry for ruining it.”
“Don’t be like that. I got to see you today without anyone else around.”
“I’d like you to stay.” Having him there with me only reinforced how much I missed him.
“That’s up to your mother.” I could hear the fresh guilt when he mentioned her.
“I don’t think she’d mind.”
“You think?” He smiled.
“I don’t think she’d mind at all.”