Please enjoy this post where I tell you a story about an event from my life. Nothing more, nothing less. Today’s story is the second in a series about some of the women my dad dated.
I am 7 years old and my parents live further away from each other now then they ever have before. My dads latest apartment is a five floor walk-up sitting squarely against railroad tracks in a building filled with a myriad of loud, strange characters. I sleep there only once a week but in the night, every night, a train passes so close to the building that the brick exterior sways and the floor rattles. I am so unaccustomed to it that I wake up feeling as if the train has passed through me and I can never get back to sleep after that. With the ghost train in my skin I am restless and I lay awake in the living room, on my mattress on the floor, starring at the dark ceiling counting the minutes until morning.
One weekend my dad picks me up from my mothers house and we take a trip to the local electronic store and buy a computer. We stay up late in to the night setting up the computer. We play cards and watch a movie and eat popcorn while waiting for things to install, getting AOL hooked up, and figuring out what screen name my dad should use. It’s a fun night. I wait for the train to pass and I fall asleep after it does, starring at the adjacent space on the floor the computer now occupies.
I have a computer at my moms house and we’ve had the internet for over two years so it’s not that exciting, but it’s something to do when I can’t sleep. I have my own screen name already and I like to talk to strangers and look at pictures of cats and read articles when I can’t sleep. My dad even buys some games for me and in the middle of the night while the floor shakes and I play Hell Cab or Who Shot Johnny Rock?.
Despite using computers at his job, I have to teach my dad how to use chat rooms. I show him my favorite chatrooms and what all the slang on the internet means. I make fun of him when he types slower than I do even though we both learned how to type on typewriters.
Dad: nice 2 c a new face: a/s/l?
Peggy: g8 2 b here! 36/f/FL, &u?
Peggy is a ghost to me. She’s a blinking box on a screen. She is a voice on a line. She’s a picture that takes 5 minutes to download and looks like it could have been ripped out of any music video. My dad buys endless pre-paid phone cards to talk to her even though we have so little. I think I am jealous at first but really I feel cheated. She feels far away and empty so when I have to talk to her on the phone I have nothing to say.
She sends us a gift one day. I feel confused since we didn’t ask for anything. The first package is full of expensive tea and candy: both of which taste like potpourri. After that she sends books but the first books are romance novels with bodices ripped open on the cover and my dad quietly removes them from my hands. The next package with books comes without half-naked people on the cover. Instead it is a strange shaped book called Griffin and Sabine. It’s the first in a trio of books: a love story where the two characters never meet but exchange letters. The book is made in a way where each letter is removable as if they were real letters and postcards. I become obsessed with the book. I become obsessed with the idea of loving someone whose existence isn’t in front you, someone that you don’t know. My dad won’t let me take the book to my mothers house so instead I simply carry it around whenever I’m in my dads apartment. I take the letters out when I surf the internet and talk to strangers that I don’t fall in love with.
I’m not sure if my dad tells her that I liked the book or not, but she dutifully sends the second book to us a month later. This time with a note saying she might visit soon and she can’t wait to meet us. My dad spends $600 on pre-paid phone cards that month. Peggy sends two more pictures of herself. The first picture is a head shot and she’s youthful and in heavy handed makeup. Her hair is tightly coiled red-brown curls and her forced smile says “beauty pageant”. She is wearing a sweater that looks too warm for Florida. I’m not allowed to see the second picture.
I insist that we ship her gifts after she sends the second book. Candles and girl scout cookies and a map of NYC. We wait for her to visit. Well, my dad waits for her to visit, I read the second Griffin and Sabine novel three times in a row. This book has more questions than answers for me and it makes me want. I want to know what it’s like to travel in Europe. I want to know what the Sicmon Islands where Sabine lives look like. I want to understand how Griffin can love Sabine so deeply with just letters. I want to love someone so deeply from just their letters. I search for pictures of the Sicmon Islands on the internet but I can’t find any. I ask people in chat rooms about it, but no one knows what I’m talking about. I want.
Another package comes and the third and final book of the trilogy is inside. It also contains a set of themed postcards from the series. I am elated and devastated. I want to write to a lover but I don’t have one. I cry when I open the postcards but my dad doesn’t understand why. When I try to explain that I have no one to write to he suggests Peggy and I make exasperated noises at him. In the bottom of the box is a printed page of a flight itinerary in two weeks, but I’m too cut up about the postcards to care.
The train that runs through that night doesn’t wake me because I am already awake, running my hands over the edges of the postcards, wondering if someone will love me.
I never meet Peggy. My dad never meets her either. The next week my dad breaks up with her after a heated conversation where she admits she is talking to many men, vying for attention and affection since she already has money and time. In a funny way she was telling us all along who she was by sending us those books but the message was going to the wrong person. She was spelling it out: She was Sabine, a figment, writing us postcards from nowhere, living on her imaginary Sicmon Islands. In the end, my dad couldn’t love someone like that.
But it turned out that I might be able to.