My mother came from Boston, bred into a family that never spoke about their emotions and pair-bonded based on hedge funds and educational backgrounds. She ran away when she was 17 and never looked back, despite losing a trust fund which was whispered about at the dinner table once I had gone to bed and the wine was being poured in billows.
My father came from Santa Cruz, a child of the sun and the cold, meager waves that crashed onto the shores in a hippie town. He doesn’t know who his father was or remember his name. His mother died years before I was born, and he never spoke of her. I saw a picture, once; she looked like my mother. Long, dark hair and eyes like lipid pools.
The two of them did the best they could in the balmy Southern California wasteland we can San Diego; Dad worked for the gas company and Mom worked part time at the local library. Neither of them ever seemed to want for much, content with just themselves, each other, and me, their first born and only son. We had a small apartment they still keep, a balcony with a tiny garden where the marigolds I planted in 7th grade still bloom.
Most children rebel against their parent’s attempts to control; I never rebelled, per se, but I knew that their staid life was not for me. I enrolled in the Navy the minute I turned 18, anxious to travel and see things I could share with my parents in an effort to get them to break out of their routines. I could never understand how two people could be so content to simply drink wine and grow flowers and sleep 8 hours a night…
The Navy was nothing like I thought it would be. I sat at a desk for 6 hours a day and wandered the decks of ships by night until I couldn’t think anymore, passing into dreamless fits of sleep, waking shiny with sweat, laden with secrets I could never remember come dawn. The women were classless, obsessed with climbing ranks, and most of the men were boring automatons who were there for the free college money and sign up bonus. I grew restless; weary. I felt different from these people; never superior, just…different. I yearned for something formless; nameless. I yearned for…life?
In Panama I found something I had never felt before; a sense of peace and belonging. When the ship set sail, I stayed on land and became a deserter. I stopped writing home, stopped calling old friends on mobile phones. I started walking the city from dawn until dusk, learning Spanish and catching murmured tales of Noriega from the elderly. Much of Panama City was covered in glittering high rises, sophisticated women, and the wealthy elite. I took lovers and wandered in and out of the streets before dawn, watching the sun glitter off of windows that shined as the sun burned the fog off of the coast.
Eventually I walked past the architectural facades and began searching the grasslands of South America for gauchos and tiny spots I could camp on, trying to make the last few dollars I had last as long as I could. I sent a telegram to my mother in my last civilized stop-I had spent what I considered a vast sum on a room with running warm water and a bathtub to luxuriate. A tele came back with fierceness, to come home. My father was dying.
I flew back home, flagged for UA by the Navy on my passport. I knew the ramifications of my actions would have to be dealt with. Not now, I said. Just…not now.
My father laid in a hospital bed tangled in tubes and with wires telling the world his current physical status. The message: delayed. The meaning: unknown. I sat by his bedside with my mother’s long, dark hair grazing my hand as she clutched it. Tears fell, hot and heavy, on her knuckles as she wept for a love she was not ready to release yet. A man who had given her all the excitement she ever wanted, all the security she ever needed. A blue blood who’s blood ran red.
My father died on a Sunday. I took his bag of belongings back to the house, laid down on the couch, and closed my eyes.