Where is he?
Clusters of adults sprinkle irrelevant conversations into one another’s ears. I hear the lackadaisical tone in their high-pitched voices, all surrounding the elegant grace of my mother, Annette, her glazed brown skin shines even within the cloud of breath that engulfs her. The sheer volume of words trickling into her ears, I know it is nothing she wants to hear.
Where is he?
He was supposed to be here by now. My principal, Ms. Georgia Washington, taps her foot against the hardwood floor, snacks on bite-size edibles as the time she wastes becomes more and more of a concern. My art teacher, Ms. Brenda Scott, scurries back and forth from outside to in, caters to the many parents and students who patiently wait on the person I seem to wait for every day. They do not know patience quite like I do.
Everyone waits for him. Ms. Washington. Ms. Scott. My classmates wait for him like they did when I was in kindergarten. Or was that third grade? Or fifth grade? Or seventh grade? Or all grades? They all run together like dysfunctional sentences, I cannot even differentiate anymore. My mother waits for him.
I wait for him.
I am always waiting for him.
My mother runs interference. Puts words in the ears of those who matter as to why I cannot seem to move at this moment. My lip quivers but it is simply involuntary. My hands shake but that is natural, is it not? Natural despite the abilities I possess with the same hands I cannot seem to control at this moment, in these moments.
My mother really tries. Not tries as in effort. But tries to calculate how many times we have been in this position. How many times she has nursed multiple conversations with people as they continue to wait for something she nor I seem to ever be able to produce.
My father, Thomas Smith.
I, his 14-year-old son, Vinnie, kiss my scarred knuckles. Reflex screams to punch a wall but I refuse to let anything more than a little sweat, a quiver and a shake be seen by judgmental eyes. I cannot be the only one in this room who has dealt with the inability of a parent to show up.
I hear words spoken – from the mouth of Principal Washington.
“He is simply brilliant.”
My art teacher, Ms. Scott.
“I have never seen a skillset like his at that age. I am astonished every time he presents something new. I almost want to have a class with just me and him. I might learn something myself.”
A classmate whose name I do not remember despite us knowing each other since kindergarten.
All of their eyes seem to be open. They see it. But why can’t he? Why can’t he ever just, see it? It, literally being my newest painting. It, figuratively being the emptiness of what outsiders would see as a father and a son. I only see a man and a boy.
And so I stand here, in a familiar position. Alone, with only you to blame for my melancholy exterior and my mother here to wash away the residual effects of your absence.
I hear my mother’s voice.
“It isn’t always like this. He just works a lot. He’s an ambitious man, what can I say?”
I can say a few things, but words are why we are here in the first place. Need more actions. More detailed responses. My vocabulary – influenced and affected by two hours of reading every day – is still not sufficient enough to properly describe my feelings towards my father. Words just do not do it enough justice. It must be shown. It must be witnessed. It must be everything my father is not – present.
I take a deep breath, turn and lock eyes with my mother. She nods a nod I have seen an innumerable amount of times. She knows I must continue without him. I know I do, too. Does not take away from this aching urge to add more red to the color scheme of my knuckles.
In the front of the class with a half-smile on my face, I present my painting.
“It isn’t much really. A collection of colors and thoughts intertwined with this growing perception that today’s child is not raised with the same values as past generations. And I believe that to be true, mainly because two parents who actually know they are parents is always better than one real and one fake parent, not coming to an agreement on how they should raise the only thing they have created together that is any good – their child.”
Principal Washington dares to respond.
“I don’t know whether to clap or give you a hug.”
“Neither would suffice. But I can’t prevent you from having a human reaction to such an unhealthy situation.”
The room is still. I can hear my mother’s heartbeat. Ours are synchronized. I spend so much time with my head to her bosom that I memorized her palpitations then trained my own to follow. This could be fact or conjecture but either way it speaks to you, does it not? To synchronize two heartbeats is to recognize your inability to function without knowing that their blood continues to run through them.
But back to this room. This room that vacillates between silence and intrigue. My classmates shake their heads – not of disbelief for that would insinuate that they have beliefs – but in a sheer act of not knowing what to do with me and my non-traditional self. They cannot turn away from me but they cannot understand me either. I would not want them to.
I just want him to.
Clap. Clap. Bravo. A congratulations of sort for those that are here and that can see.
I just want him to.
My mother’s voice.
“I guess that’s it, huh?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
Another voice. This one deeper, with a familiar twinge of remorse.
My father’s voice.
“Did I miss anything?”
His son’s response.
“Wash, rinse and repeat… the answer to that question from the last time you asked.”
You see, Pops is always on time.