Nonfiction by Kelly Wallace
Saturday morning you wake up when it’s still dark, put the kettle on for coffee, and let the cat out. You and your Dad have plans to go to breakfast at 9:00. He’s in town early to drop your stepmom off at the airport so she can visit cousins in Palm Springs. It’s the first time he will come to your house. You didn’t speak for 11 years. Your grandfather sexually abused you and your father refused to believe it. You’ve done two years of reconciliation therapy with him and your stepmom. It’s time.
You pour hot water over the coffee grounds in your Chemex coffee maker that you have to buy special filters for at the coffee shop on Division Street. Out the window, you see a gold SUV driving by slowly. In your tiredness, you squint and realize it’s your dad in the driver’s seat.
What the fuck. He’s almost three hours early.
The sun is starting to come up.
He stops the car and looks in the direction of your house. You stop pouring the water and go out onto the front porch. You were going to clean your house and write before he arrived.
“Oh, hi!” he says in his cheery, Dad way. You remember the sound of morning Dad from childhood.
“Hey, Dad. Do you want to come in?” You’re bleary-eyed.
“Sure. If it’s not too much trouble?”
“Nope, come on in. I’m making some coffee.”
“I tell you what. I got Ronda to the airport at 5:45 a.m., went to Denny’s, read the paper, and drank some coffee.” He is walking up the driveway. “I didn’t really know what to do with myself, so I figured I would just check out your neighborhood.”
You drink coffee and try to wake up. You had plans to take him to the yuppy brunch spot with the rosemary truffle fries down the street, but it’s 7:00 a.m., so you decide on Elmer’s Pancake House. After breakfast you have plans to drive to Olympia to pick up a Formica kitchen table you bought on eBay.
At the breakfast table you sip your tea together.
“Would you like some company on the way up to Olympia?”
“Sure.” You think for a beat. “That might be fun.” You like driving by yourself.
“I’m not really doing anything today, and I’ve never been to Olympia.”
Some company might be good.
He rides in your car for the first time. It’s your first field trip together. It’s two hours of coffee, catching up, and partly sunny.
You drive fast, but your dad doesn’t seem to mind your lead foot. You do everything fast in your life: drinking your morning coffee and cramming in as many appointments, loads of laundry, and Jazzercise classes as you can. You try to be perfect in everything you do. There’s this need to prove to everyone that you are accomplished. That you are worth something. You are worth something. All of your accomplishments are worth something.
You were called a liar. All abuse survivors are called liars. We all have to prove what happened really did happen. Reconciliation therapy is when you decide not to talk about the abuse with your father, anymore.
After driving an hour from Portland, you stop at a Starbucks in the middle of nowhere and get more coffee. You try and pee in the same restroom that every Starbucks has: brown walls, white sink, brown towels, and clear, liquidy soap. Your bladder is clenched. You take a few deep breaths to relax. Sometimes you blow your nose and this helps the stream of pee come out.
You order a tall coffee with cream. Dad gets a tall coffee, black. Dad drinks coffee throughout the day and into the night. You have to stop at noon or you will have insomnia. Dad copies your drinks. You’ve gone out to eat a handful of times outside of therapy. If you order coffee, he orders coffee. If you order tea, he orders tea. If you stick with just water, he drinks water. You are not sure what to make of it.
You are blood, but you don’t really know each other. When you were little, after the divorce but before the trial, he would take you for weekend trips to Grandpa Dee and Grandma Opal’s house. During these visits, Grandpa Dee sexually abused you. Now you and Dad are trying to figure each other out. When he brought you home to Mom, there would always be something missing: socks, a barrette, a t-shirt. This is how Dad has been most of your life. You know this.
You get to Olympia and drive to the Capitol building. Dad’s never been there before, so you park and go inside. You climb a bunch of steps and there’s a tour guide giving a tour. You join the tour because you are both history nerds and you have two hours to kill before picking up the Formica table. Dad is a war history nerd. He’s a retired circuit court judge who spent a year in Iraq working as a military judge. He’s spent some time traveling, visiting the orphanage in Jecheon, Korea where your sister Katie was adopted, going on a cruise to the Baltic Sea, and stopping off in St. Petersburg. But he’s also small-town Eastern Oregon. He loves Pendleton Rodeo time.
He can name off just about any battle and tell you all the details about the generals, location, and what each side was up against. You can remember history dates from high school social studies class. You remember the date of your Grandpa Dee’s trial: December, 1984. He doesn’t believe Grandpa Dee ever touched you. You remember.
After touring the Capitol, you park downtown to find a restaurant for lunch. It’s raining. There’s a Thai restaurant that, inside, looks like a Chinese restaurant from the ‘80s: pale pink walls; fake flowers on glass covered tables with white tablecloths that are too long and hit your lap. There are a few people in the restaurant and it’s quiet.
Dad asks what’s good to eat. You recommend pad thai because he’s an amateur Thai eater. It’s good for beginners. You order massaman curry with chicken, mild plus.
Your food comes, and Dad tells you about being in the war in Iraq.
“Did I ever tell you I got a gold star in Iraq?” He is very proud of his time there and has told you this before.
“I think you did,” You pour tea for him and yourself.
You don’t really know what a gold star is. War medals and the war in Iraq make you mad. It was a pointless war for oil. You don’t tell your dad that. There’s no talk about war, politics, or the abuse. You’ve learned this in reconciliation therapy.
Neither of you finishes your lunch. Dad asks for a doggy bag, and the waitress brings containers for the leftovers. You scoop the tiny remains of his leftover pad thai into one container and massaman curry into another.
“You can have the leftovers,” he says. “I probably won’t have time to eat them because I have so much driving ahead of me.”
You close up the boxes.
Google maps guides you five minutes from the Thai restaurant to the house where you are picking up the Formica table. Both you and dad get out of the car. You ring the bell and an older couple in their late 50’s lets you inside. Their house is mid-century modern awesome: Danish chairs and lamps galore. Dad follows behind and is quiet. You don’t think he knows what mid-century modern is.
On the drive back, he falls asleep instantly. You grip the steering wheel. Rain pours and you glance over at your dad who is 66, pale skin, bald and the same ring of hair, white now, that he has had since your childhood. To you, he’s still 35 with the ring of hair. Back then it was brown.
He sleeps most of the drive back and wakes up outside of Vancouver.
“Looks like that’s Portland,” he says.
“Yeah.” You look out the window and it’s clear in the distance: Portland.
You and Dad unload the table into the house and put the leftovers away. Dad has a three-hour drive to Hermiston ahead of him.
You fall asleep at 9:00. You fall asleep easily despite drinking the coffee at Starbucks.
The next day you wake early. It’s daylight saving time. It’s Sunday raining raining raining and you wonder why you live in Oregon. Thirty-nine years of rain gets old.
Outside, the car is parked in the driveway backward. For a beat, you wonder if someone stole your car and returned it. You forget you backed in to unload the Formica table with help from your dad. You microwave the leftover Thai food, yours and your dad’s. It’s a good thing, too; you rarely have any food in your house.
Kelly Wallace is a writer and currently addicted to:
Tillamook Salted Caramel ice cream bars
Taking pictures of odd things