Perhaps John Steinbeck is in Heaven, pounding away on yet another flawless masterpiece, pausing to glance down from a cloud and wondering who is swearing at him back on Earth. It’s me.
I’ve read everything at least twice the Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning author has penned. Every page, he writes so well, I can’t help swear at the guy. Me? I’m an unapologetic explosion in a clown factory. Couldn’t imagine not careening off-course in a treatise about dog food to harpoon a bloated Democrat. (See?) Steinbeck is the Zen master of beauty, simplicity and power.
I think it was in “Cannery Row” where Steinbeck described how simple men would hear a rich and colorful story during a night of carousing, then walk home with the tale cupped in hands for retelling later. Like water, the story spilled out along the way home. It’s impossible to relive the moment.
I just had the best six weeks of my life. Put my daughter on a plane last week for New York and her junior year at a snooty and renowned art college. She’s starting her junior year and will be 21 next time I see her. Six weeks was the longest time I got to spend with her since she was 3. Such becomes the math of broken homes.
I close my eyes and smile, trying to summon memories still fresh. We binge-watched every episode of “Justified.” I’m learning guitar and she patiently helped my gorilla fingers reach simple chords. Starbucks was visited daily. I had coffee. I’m hard of hearing and had to finally write down her complicated order for the drive-through. Her hepcat beverage was a hodgepodge of languages and instructions resembling some lost Borneo language with clicking sounds. We took road trips, sat together silently on rocks for hours, watching the soothing cycle of waves. Isn’t that something? Millions into billions of years, they roll in then sneak back out. So it will be hence.
Somehow, we survived The Hurricane Of 2023 and would get into laughing jags and pretend arguments about whether it was really just a rare and robust August rain or the Storm Of The Millennium. By divine happenstance, it was Shark Week and we just had to go see “Meg II: The Trench.” We drove in the back hills of Castaic pre-sunset, talked of art, shared music. An accomplished artist already, she is, to her own consternation and horror, a girly girl. Loves shopping, makeup, hair products and goofball overpriced facial treatments. God has given her the absolute most beautiful head of wavy natural strawberry blonde hair that, to own, most women would murder. She frets it’s the wrong color. I suggest perhaps a mohawk. Lime green and purple. She comes back with those two put-upon words all fathers deeply love to hear: “Ohhh, Dad…” Every night, she’d stumble to her room. But not before wishing, “Sweet dreams, love you.”
I got to see my daughter.
For years, I had a bottomless ache, tempered with a grudge. I wasn’t a father until late in life but I knew myself. The absolute last thing I ever wanted was to be a weekend dad. And yet, so it happened. I lived under a crippled calendar with days missing except for Tuesday afternoons and every other weekends. It’s the simple things you miss. A child’s thousand questions. Sticking your head in a bedroom door just to watch your child sleep. The energy, the wonder, the pure honesty of having a child, your child, just down the hall, under the same roof. It was a test fit for Hercules, of not catastrophizing, not entertaining thoughts that I wasn’t around to protect her. To go there is death. My daughter taught me a lesson. She was 4. It was one of those unfair and short Tuesdays. She didn’t want to go back that eve to her mother’s and sobbed that she wanted to stay with me. She held on to me. I prayed for an answer. It came in the form of Just Be Honest. I confessed that I missed her, too. That I missed her at times so much, I cried. Often, daily. She seemed surprised at that. I told her that I had the choice of how long I would be sad.
“Two years?” I asked. “Two months? Two weeks? Two…”
That darn kid. She interrupted me, wiped her tears and yelled, “TWO SECONDS!” She ran and got her backpack. I owe her for that lesson. I’ve used it often over the years.
Years ago, I met a married couple who had a grown-up daughter who had fallen all the way into perdition. The young woman became a drunk and drug addict, was homeless and sold her body for the next fix and that was just the beginning of defiling herself. She had been kicked out of rehab several times and was on, possibly, her last chance. A hard-core drug treatment house in Bakersfield accepted her, with a catch. For the first six months, she couldn’t see her parents. After that, the visits were limited to 20 minutes, monthly.
Well-meaning friends gathered to console both parents. The mother confessed that friends and relatives meant well, but kept pouring salt in her wounds. They’d ask, “It must be killing you having to stand by, watch your daughter and not be able to help.” Or, “How do you stand having her so far away and looking forward to seeing her for just 20 minutes?”
To this day, I owe that mother with the fallen angel.
It’s been years since I’ve seen the parents. Clean, sober. Dead, alive. I don’t what happened to their kid. But, I do remember the woman’s response to friends after finally, a half-year passed and she spent 20 minutes with the baby she birthed.
The mother made a fist. She put her shoulders back and held on tightly to the blessing all us parents share. She said, “I got … to see … my daughter …”
John Boston is a local writer. Visit his bookstore at johnbostonbooks.com.