I am writing in response to one of Mama Kat's writing prompts - and actually, her prompt was to write about a fourth grade memory. I have few distinct memories from fourth grade. I remember my teacher's husband died in a car crash on a bridge east of town, and she moved away with her three kids, and I got a new teacher. There. That's it. So, this memory is actually from fifth grade.
By the time I reached fifth grade, my parents had been divorced about a year. My dad was footloose and a philanderer, so he made pretty poor husband material. He wasn't a great dad, either. I think fifth grade was about the time that light began to dawn. Of course, by that time, he'd lived two states away for two years, and at age 10, I hadn't seen him in all that time.
Remember when you were a kid, and the school halls were always noisy and bustling, full of kids, ringing with sound? Except when you asked permission to use the bathroom and found yourself in the quiet hallway and the only sounds were the echoes from your footsteps as you meandered to the lavatory and back. When I was in fifth grade, the principal, Mr. Knudson, came to get me from the classroom. He said that someone was there to see me. He took me into the empty hallway and began to lead me toward the cafeteria. If there was a ghostlier place in the school in the middle of a late fall afternoon, I don't know where it would be. The lights were off and all was shadow and light. For me, this is a black-and-white memory, literally. All of the hard surfaces were gleaming and every sound seemed like an interruption in the insistent silence. He led me toward a man sitting at one of the long folding tables. "Your dad is here to see you," he said, smiling at me. I looked at this stranger sitting at the table. I was a compliant kid. I didn't know this man, but I sat at the table, and watched Mr. Knudson walk away.
The man began to speak to me. My dad was a radio announcer and had a very distinctive voice. I understand that I have that particular quality, as well - though, of course, no one recognizes it in themselves. But this man had the right voice. He just looked all wrong. When my dad had left two years before, he had weighed between 240 and 250 pounds. He was 5' 10", so that made for a significant bit of extra weight for him. And, in my memory, he'd always looked like that. This man might have tipped the scale at 160. It finally registered with me that this was my dad. But I couldn't tell you a thing we talked about. What I remember is the faint sense of unreality that my dad's voice was issuing forth from this stranger.
After a bit, I was returned to my classroom, walking the empty hallway alone. As I walked, it suddenly occurred to me. My dad was dying. He'd come to see me because he was dying. That was the obvious explanation.
Of course, he wasn't dying. He died much later, when I was nearly forty. But his pattern was much the same throughout the rest of my childhood and on into adulthood. Between that visit, on the cold hard bench in my elementary school cafeteria, until the day of his death, I actually saw him fewer than ten times.
When he died, I felt no real grief. Mostly anger. Anger that he had thrown away his opportunity to know me, and worse, anger that he'd thrown away his opportunity to know his grandchildren.
Today, I have forgiven him. He was broken, and he loved me in his broken way. He gave what he had to give, and I can forgive that.