I don’t talk about my parents much, or my siblings for that matter. For me, usually, it’s a box of memories I prefer not to open. You can imagine my surprise when I was in the shower this morning, my mind allowed to wander; not tied to work or to-do lists, went to the beach. When I was 13 my mother married my step-father and we moved from Brooklyn to Long Island. We lived two blocks from the beach where my lungs quickly and happily got used to the salty air and my curly hair refused to adjust.
I can’t remember why, (maybe it was my birthday?) but my stepfather gave me a bracelet. It was a simple bracelet of different colored gemstones. Delicate. Pretty. Thoughtful. Aside from the hairbrush he got me before they were married, this was one of his first gifts he gave me and I treasured it.
Growing up without a father has its perks, but comes at a severe cost. You grow up feeling less than, rejected and incomplete. The perk is that, at the time, you don’t realize this will haunt you for the rest of your life and manifest itself in every relationship you’ll ever have. You’re young. Bracelets are shiny and distracting. My stepfather didn’t realize it at the time (and I doubt he ever will) that what he probably thought was a gesture of tradition; this gift giving on another year past, offset a birthday I had when I was younger. A birthday that I still have nightmares about and that no little girl should ever be on the receiving end of.
On a birthday when I was maybe 8 (who can remember time?), I begged my mother to let me call my father. My biological father. I am sure she wasn’t surprised, I’ve always loved milestones and turning 8 was no exception. We didn’t have a phone in our 2 bedroom Brooklyn apartment and calling meant that I would have to go out to the corner store and use a payphone. My request was granted partly because it was my birthday, but looking back it was more to put me face to face with who this man was. She never tried to hide that he was anything other than a cruel, abusive, drunk.
Always the optimist, I got my coat on and began to plan for the birthday conversation with my father. Even if he didn’t think of it, or care to exercise it, he was my father and I desperately wanted to be Daddy’s little girl. I think a lot of me still does. I don’t remember the walk to the store, but I can picture every brick building with it’s small patch of frozen ground in front that would soon be covered in snow, or so the weather man predicted. I’m a December baby, born in freezing weather, just before Christmas. I pulled out a little piece of paper that had his phone number scrawled on it. As I cradled the handset between my pigtails and shoulder, I reached on my tippy toes to punch in the numbers that would connect me to him.
“Daddy? Daddy! It’s Cristina. It’s my birthday!!! Aren’t you going to wish me a happy birthday?”
Silence. He clears his throat.
“I don’t give a *uck. Don’t call me again.”
As I write these words my heart races. I can see me as a little girl, dropping the receiver and watching it swing, my mouth slightly open as I watch that little piece of paper flitter down the street, head cocked slightly to one side. Cracked pavement. It’s cold but my tears are hot on my cheeks. The door to the corner store swings open and I can smell coffee that’s been on the burner too long. I don’t remember walking back home, it was only a block, and who can remember time?
I don’t remember hugs or consoling afterwards. I don’t remember anything really. But it’s connected to a bracelet that my stepfather gave me years later and a glimpse into the daughter I always wanted to be.