“How often do you see your dad?” she asks casually.
The question is one of many questions we’ve volleyed back and forth this particular afternoon as we sit in the sun and let our children play on the playground.
How should I answer this question I’m sure she perceives as benign?
I could simply say, “My dad visits a couple times a year.”
That’s true. Or, at least, true enough.
Or, I could say, “I see my father’s shadow every day.” That’s also true but it takes some explaining.
I could tell her I see his shadow every time I pass a big rig on the highway and glance at the forearms of the trucker to see if they are connected to my father’s hub-cap sized hands.
I could tell her I see his shadow in the uneven gait of anyone in cowboy boots. And in every pair of Wranglers with extra slack where a butt should be.
I could tell her I see his shadow in the hand firmly gripping the upper arm of the whining child in front of me in the grocery checkout line. And in the neck swiftly turning to administer a fierce gaze and the promise of action to an off-task child at the park.
I could tell her I see his shadow in the red nose of the man in the bar who asks for another with eyes at once hopeful that the next round will bring relief and simultaneously sorrowful because he knows the amber elixir lost its magic years ago and the bottom of the glass is not where second chances hide. And in the father sitting across from his child at a nearby table holding up his end of a patchwork conversation, pieced together as good as it can be given the uneven stitches of court ordered visitations and shared holidays.
I could tell her I see his shadow in the Vietnam vet on the corner and hold my breath while I check to make sure that the stranger is indeed a stranger and that the remarkable resemblance is only just that.
I could tell her all this and reveal myself to be a not-so-well-adjusted, not-so-resilient child of divorce. I could reveal myself to be the dented can somehow placed on the shelf alongside all the unblemished cylinders that made it through similar journeys without permanent damage.
There are plenty of other moms on the playground that appear normal and self-actualized. Friendship with me will cost the same as friendship with one of them. Surely she would prefer to invest her time in building a friendship with someone else. Someone not standing in the long shadow of what could have been but wasn’t. Someone who won’t tense when she hears kids whine. Someone who won’t weep when she sees the easy affection of a father for his child. Someone who won’t speed up to overtake a semi on the off chance she knows the driver. Someone who won’t lose her train of thought when she sees a bearded man at the off ramp with a Sharpie plea written on a cardboard remnant.
I could pose as an undented can. I could turn my best side forward and hide the imperfections. I could pretend to be unaffected by the bumps and sharp corners of my journey.
I could say, “My dad visits a couple times a year.”
Or, I could reveal the scars of improperly healed wounds and say, “I see my father’s shadow every day.”
I look at her and realize that I’ve taken too long to answer what she thinks is a simple question.