Please enjoy this post where I tell you a story about an event from my life. Nothing more, nothing less. Today’s story: The doorbell rings in Pittsburgh.
It’s March 2006. 7am. 2nd year of college, past the point of no return. It’s my one day a week where I don’t wake up at 4am for work which is why when the doorbell rings, I let Austin deal with it. I am already weighed down by my thoughts, exhaustion seeping in my bones as the sunlight peaks through the window in the bathroom. I repeat my to do list like a mantra: brush my teeth. brush my hair. pack a lunch. catch the 61D. go to class. try not to die.
I assume it’s Jehovah’s Witnesses anyway and good on them for getting an early start. Instead of a polite closing of the door there’s a yelp and a slam that tears through the large apartment. “He can’t be here, you said he wouldn’t come here” Austin’s voice rings up from the stairs. I walk to the top of the stairs with a puzzled look, hair brush in hand. “Who?”
It’s my dad. It’s 7am in March and my dad is standing on our doorstep 400 miles from his house, uninvited.
Austin’s body pressed neatly against the front door as if to hold back a flood as he stares up at me. I don’t know what my dad is doing here but I have classes in 30 minutes. I have things to do. I have a life to live and I need to live it without him. Both of our eyes dart to the back of the house where there is a second stairwell but it’s mostly inaccessible. We’d have to go down past the trash and down past the people who live under us and through the yard of a man we call “Truck Guy”. Instead, I tell Austin I’ll deal with it and I leave my dad standing on the porch a little longer.
Austin’s already met my dad twice and I’m pretty sure a third time is not a charm. It’s hard to describe the special type of distressing my father brings to the table but it’s a slow burn that leaves you looking for an escape route after just a few minutes.
I grab my backpack off the floor and make my way out the door. Immediately my father starts talking a mile a minute but I put my hand up and tell him I have to go to class and that he should go home. He stops for a second but I try not to look. I put my headphones in, make my way to corner bus stop, and try to look as adamant as possible. I hope that my winter jacket makes me look imposing but I don’t look back to see if my message was received.
I go to my first class, jumbled but okay. By the time I’m in my second class I feel the anxiety ripping up my nerves. I know in my gut that my father will be still standing on that porch, waiting for me when I get home in 8 hours. He will be desperate to talk to me about nothing and then, if I’m lucky, he’ll leave dejected after begging me to come back in New York or something. I stare straight ahead and try to focus on listening to the lecture – it’ll be over soon.
Watching other people gather up their belongings at the end of class makes me feel weary. My notes from today are merely scribbles and doodles with a few singular words that broke through to me written in the margins. I grimace, wondering if I can borrow notes from someone else. Exiting the room and turning to the right I see a small, stout familiar man. A smile peaking out from under his mustache. I feel like I am trapped in a nightmare. I want to bang on the walls and wake up. I want to scream but the hallway is full of people and an itch starts under my skin and never stops.
“I had to ask for your schedule” he jogs up to me cheerfully. Catch a clue! Catch a decade of clues! my brain yells. I pause, realizing he’s gone over to the registrar building to even show up here. I also realize I didn’t even give him my address so he must have done the same thing to get that. Fury is ripping through me. Stalker! How dare you take my safety and happiness away from me again!
I experience all the emotions but “Hi dad” is all that comes out, my shoulders now slumping.
The fear starts in my chest that I will never escape. That he will always find some reason and some way to come after me. To find me. I can’t see why he would though. We’ve talked one time in the past year, when he showed up unexpected at our previous apartment. Suddenly I just feel stupid, not knowing why I feel so surprised to see him again now following me around acting like a slammed door in your face and turned back is the equivalent of friendly banter.
I give up. I stop fighting. I go to lunch with him at a diner and he sits across from me, all smiles and chatter. I say maybe three words. “Uh huh” “Yeah” “Okay”. He doesn’t hear those either. He talks about my grandmother dying, he talks about how grateful I should be that he sold me his car last time he was here. How it’s not the deathtrap it is. He tells me I have money coming from my grandmothers will, once he sells the house. He tells me he bought a $32,000 car with the money. He tells me he wishes I would call. That we could talk. That he loves me. That he cares. That he doesn’t know why I’m so mad.
I tell him I don’t want to see him until he can learn to follow the rules I laid out three years ago. I tell him that he’s violating them right now. I tell him I’m having a hard enough time without him screwing things up. I tell him he knows why I’m mad because we’ve talked about it before and he doesn’t have any right to bring it up in a public place. I tell him to go to hell. I tell him I don’t need his bribery or his fake sadness over his mothers death.
He lays all his cards on the table just as I feel myself slowly crushing the glass in my hand. He asks me if I can loan him some money and I laugh. I tell him to get fucked. He tells he needs a smoke.
That’s how I end up alone in the parking lot of a diner 20 miles outside of Pittsburgh with a waitress telling me I can’t leave because the bill hasn’t been paid yet.
I pay the bill and leave all the change in my wallet as a tip and then I sit on the curb with my head in my hands and cry. There’s not going to be enough for groceries this week. This is all I have and it’s not enough. I got this far away and he’s still here, looming over me like a shadow. Waiting to turn up at any moment and upend my entire life. I stay on the curb for almost 30 minutes, head pressed in my lap. I’m at least old enough to know my dad isn’t coming back. I’m at least old enough that I can pick myself up, find the nearest bus stop, and go home. And now I’m old enough to know it’s not my fault either, but I hold my breath the whole way back until I’m standing alone on our porch, terrified that any second everything will be ruined.
The next day when the doorbell rings, I break down in tears but instead of my father, it’s just the mailman. I cry harder in relief.