You Were the Fisherman

I have often heard that a young girl’s father is her first love. I used to know what that was like. My dad was always distant. He always seemed to have eyes that looked past you. I never noticed that when I was six, but as I grew older and saw him in places like Walmart, I noticed. He was never really a father at all, more like a shell of a human being with a handsome smile and a curious way of making you hang on to every word he said. The words “I love you” made you drop your guard time after time because, boy, did it sound like he really did. Then one day I stopped believing him.

I was about eight years old, he had just moved back from Florida, and after not calling me once in a little over a year, he wanted to see me. I begged and begged, and it took days for my mother to give in to my vicious pleading and hundreds of puppy dog eyes. I packed my suitcase over and over, trying to make the judgement on whether I would be out playing baseball with him, catching fish on my hand-me-down rod, or if I would needs lots of PJs for the movie night he promised me once when I was about five. I called him every day to tell him how excited I was, and he filled my little head with bike rides and cartoons and all the Kraft mac and cheese I could eat.

“Hi, Ems!” he said into the phone. I could hear the smile on his face. “I bought you a big surprise for tomorrow, and I wanted to call and torture you about it until you can finally get it.”

“Can I have three guesses, Dad? Or a hint? Maybe a guess with a hint,” I said.

“No, sweetie. All you’re allowed to know right now is that I picked it special for ya.”

We said I love you and that we would see each other tomorrow. I had been picturing him in my head that whole day leading up to seeing him. I wondered if he would still have that squishy bump on his forehead that he let me poke. I wondered if he looked old, or if his eyes were still the sad gray they were the day Mom and him told us they were getting divorced.

Dad used to play cavemen ball with me. A baseball game played with a bat made from a large stick in the woods and one of those stress balls that were painted like a baseball. Maybe now that’s why I hate baseball. However, those memories danced in my head all night. I could hardly sleep. He would pick me up at nine the next morning, and I was trying my best to rest up for all the games we would play. I wondered if my surprise was the bike he promised a while back. I forced myself to shut my eyes in case we had a huge bike ride ahead of us.

The next morning I grabbed my suitcase and was waiting outside with it at 8:45 sharp. I sat with Jake, our Great Dane, on the stoop of his dog house door. I stroked his big, golden head, tracing the dip where his nose met his skull and told him I was sorry he couldn’t come play with Daddy and me like we used to. Mom stood at the window the whole time. Clouds began to loll about overhead. Maybe we wouldn’t be able to ride bikes or go fishing or even play caveman baseball, but we could still watch cartoons.

As a breeze rolled past me, I realized that 8:45 had turned to 9:45 in the blink of an eye. My mom came out and held me. I shivered and accepted the warmth she provided. Looking back, it was because she knew he wasn’t coming, not from the cold. But being so young, I refused to believe it. He hadn’t called and cancelled. He probably hit traffic or popped a tire. Yeah, I’m sure it was just his tire. Daddy did that a lot.

Suddenly it was 11:45 and no call. Mom went inside and called him on the cord phone in the kitchen so she could still see me through the window. I watched her get angrier. I watched her cry. Then I felt myself cry. Heaving and sputtering, I screamed for him. I sobbed not just with my eyes, but with a heaving body and a breaking heart. I thought about dad’s eyes, the bright green I was hoping to see. My own eyes are green, but when I was sad, they were a dull gray green that showed my whole mood. I only saw Daddy cry once, when him and mom told us they were splitting up. They were red on the outside, storming and empty on the inside.

I thought about caveman baseball, and the bike, and the cartoons. I thought about the hugs, and the London Bridge song him and mom used to sing to me before bed. I hated him. I hated my mom for divorcing him. He was my hero, and she pushed him away from me with no care in the world about what I had to say. He was my best friend. Was my best friend. I would never love him again. Not the way he always wanted to get into trouble, not the way he took me fishing. I would never find safety in his arms ever again. He wasn’t coming to get me.

He never came back to get me after that either. I saw him once a few years later. My mother had asked that my grandmother on Dad’s side take me to his storage unit to get the belongings I had been missing all that time. However, my grandmother picked me up from my mom, then promptly delivered me to my father. That would be the first of many times that she would ambush me like that.

There he was though, standing with that grin right in front of the door to his storage unit as we pulled up. His hand was in his pocket, his hair wild from his constant tendency to brush his hand through it without a sense of direction, but as we got closer, my heart sank even more. His eyes were gray. They weren’t even storming or sad. They were just hollow. So I avoided them and kept quiet while I collected my things. It was like being eighteen and moving out of a house, except I was probably ten and taking my belongings from my deadbeat dad in a storage unit.

As I put my things in my grandmother’s van, I glanced around to make sure I got everything. I didn’t. Up in the corner was the present dad never delivered the day he blew me off. A brand new fishing pole with a price tag still on it. It was pink, just like my old .22 rifle. He had planned to take me fishing but never followed through. I had taken the bait, swallowed the hook, then let him reel me in and gut me like a fish.