August 1, 2008

I return to the park frequently. Usually I come alone. Once I went with an acquaintance, a boy, who didn’t know me well. It was 1:15 a.m. when we had arrived with a bag of fast food.

“Let’s go eat on the bleachers,” I said, and we did. We sat on the bleachers behind the softball diamond where I had played as a teenager and ate Big Macs and fries. Maybe I was hoping that being there with this boy would shake the first image that springs to mind every time I think of the park. That we could do something special there, he could lean over and kiss me or say something so beautiful that I could forget what happened in this spot two years ago.

“The worst day of my life happened here,” I had said to him, surprising myself. I had never told anyone about that day.

He had nodded and I knew why I had felt like telling him, because I knew he wouldn’t ask me what had happened.

Yesterday I went to the park to jog. I could have jogged anywhere, but I like to see what kind of people come to this park, play soccer on the grass, eat nachos from the snack bar. I want to be certain that there are good things that happen here too.

There was a man kicking a soccer ball with two little boys. Father and sons, I assumed. Each time my laps brought me back to their side of the park, the man was laughing.

A woman about my mother’s age was walking on the same path as me, but in the opposite direction. She held weights in each hand and pumped them up and down as she walked. She averted my gaze each time we passed each other, which I didn’t like. I wanted to smile at her, encourage her, convey that yes, those weights will pay off eventually and your arms will be more toned than you could have ever imagined! But she didn’t give me that chance. I changed directions after a few laps so I wouldn’t have to pass her again.

Two years ago I met my dad at this park. I was sitting in the dugout of the softball field, the visitors’ side. He arrived, found me and said, “Why don’t we sit on the bleachers.”

I followed him and we sat. This was a confrontation, but it didn’t feel like it.

“So,” he said. He wanted me to speak first, to give him the okay to begin his explanation. I said nothing.

“Well,” he said, crossing one leg over the other as he often did, an effeminate gesture I was embarrassed by when he performed it in public, “I think there’s been a misunderstanding.”

I could feel my eyes becoming moist. This was not something I could stand being lied to about.

“That woman you heard on the phone, her name is Mari.”

Her name, her name, I did not want to know her name!

“She works in marketing. She’s helping me with a project right now,” he said.

I kept my eyes down. There was dirt caked into the metal lines of the bleachers.

“Her father’s in the hospital,” my dad said. “It’s not looking too good. She just called me to talk about it.”

Now it was clear: My father was lying to me, lying to my face, as if I wasn’t twenty years old and knew better, as if he wasn’t the same person who grounded me for three months in tenth grade for lying about riding in a car with Jake, my first boyfriend, and sat next to me in church every single Sunday without fail.

“That’s all,” he was saying. “No big deal.”

I cried. It was the kind of tough crying where your tears come endlessly, but your face otherwise doesn’t betray your emotions. Then my dad tried to hug me.

“I heard you,” I said. I didn’t want to say anything but I had to make sure he knew. “I heard what you said.”

He never faltered. Shaking his head, smiling – smiling – he said, “It wasn’t what you think.”

But it was, undoubtedly, what I thought. There’s really only one way to understand the words “I love you.”


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