My name is Stella May. I live with my Mother and brother in a small yellow house with a door that my father has never walked through. My finger tips reach the low ceilings if I jump and the bathtub has a crack stretching across its white foot so we wash in the kitty pool out front. My mother is known to quote Charles Dickens and my brother fancies the Tin Tin comics. I prefer reading living people than ones written on paper.
I learned a long time ago that words are just coverup. What one says is simply the surface. True emotions are usually hidden under layers of sing song voices and smiles that leave out one's eyes. A lie escapes every pair of lips at least once between drawing their first and last breaths. Some lips are just better trained to tell believable lies. I like to find people’s tells, the little things that reveal what they really think. Things like a sharp inhale, a lip twitching slightly left, an extra blink.
Last June, I celebrated my sixteenth birthday. I haven’t seen my father since I was five years old. When I was younger I tried to reach out a lot. Everything from emails, to Skype and hand written letters sent in the mail. I tried it all, but he never responded. As the years went by, my efforts lessened and eventually I stopped entirely. The one connection to my father I could control, were the memories I kept of him. But even those were scarce. The only words I can remember him ever saying to me are, “Hello my beautiful girl.” He spoke those to me the last time I saw him. We were visiting my grandparents in Israel and since he lived there as well, he agreed to meet with us. Small stones were everywhere and prickly plants adorned the white windowsills of his cottage. The walls were painted the colour of the sky back home.
Since then we have been back to Israel, but we didn’t see him any of the other times. My mother would inform him whenever we were in Jerusalem but he seldom responded. The one time he did, it was with, “I don’t have time for you.”
I couldn’t believe that that was a real live person’s response to learning that their daughter who lives 8,100 kilometres away was near by. I remember walking down the humid cobblestone street in my favourite pair of sandals when my mother broke the news to me.
“Love, we aren’t gonna see him this time, I'm sorry.” She told me.
I nodded. I hadn’t expected to see him, but I still wished that somehow I would. I felt so betrayed. I remember that feeling of hurt and abandonment perfectly.
The next time a drew a picture for him, I thought better of it, leaving it instead crumpled in the garbage can beside our cracked bathtub.
Then out of the blue, during my 16th summer, he reached out to my mother.
“I want to see Stella.” The message appeared on her facebook. He said it so matter of factly that it infuriated me! No apology, no explanation, just okay, I want to see her so she better want to see me too. Well, I didn’t.
He said it like that was the most reasonable response to 11 years’s worth of unanswered letters and emails. Like it was as obvious and straightforward as one asking a cacher to see their receipt. For so many years, hearing from him was what I wanted more than anything. But now, when I had finally gotten over him and finally excepted that he would not be present in my life, he suddenly changed his mind. I wasn’t a little kid anymore. I didn’t need him now. I didn’t want him in my life anymore.
We scheduled to talk over Skype the following weekend. I braided my hair and wore the green dress my mother said complimented my eyes. Sitting down by the window, I placed the computer on a stack of six books so the lighting would be favourable. His icon bobbed up and down on the screen for eight rings before I was able to place my finger on the answer button. Quickly I changed my mind about the braids and running my fingers through them, let my long red hair fall loosely down my back. Then I answered. He kept smiling at me. He just sat there smiling at me. I hated it. I felt like a painting in an art gallery. I managed a meek smile in return. Finally he must have realized how dumbfounded he looked, and mumbled something about how pretty I turned out and how it was a blessing to hear my voice. That made me feel even more like a painting. I had no idea what to say. What do you talk about with someone you haven’t spoken to for 11 years? I didn’t even know where to start. He knew nothing about me. This man was a complete stranger to me.
Over the next year he often wrote to me on WhatsApp, and I answered only to be polite. I knew what it felt like to be ignored and although I partially resented him, I was not going to do to him what he did to me. His name never appeared on my screen without the accompanied nauseation it caused me.
Period 3, English 11
My chair pushing across the floor ended the eery quite that had settled in the room. No one dared make a noise, in fear of catching the teachers attention and be called upon. I stood up.
"I will," I mumbled.
"Oh lovely," Marcelo said through a plastered smile. His eyes abided to the common manners of our society, but the eye roll escaped in the tone of his words. The masked, "here we go again," unable to stay hidden in his exhale.
Sometimes I wish I wasn't so accustomed to noticing people’s tells. In this situation, it would have been easier to do what I was about to without seeing Marcelo's nostrils flare up ever so slightly.
Walking the five and a half meters to the front of the room felt like walking a tightrope with no end in sight, but it was too late to turn back. The paper trembled in my hands. Reaching the front of the room, I turned around and began.
“I was four, never bored, I loved to explore.
Knew the meanings of words: door, floor and more.
I knew who my friends were,
Knew my family too,
My only question was about you.
Who were you, how were you, where were you, and why?
Why didn’t I know you, did you ever say bye?
My mind panicked, the next part was the only part I was afraid of saying. I felt my feet on the floor, inhaled and kept going.
“You met us at the door,
You where tall, long black curls cascading
Your head, and you said—”
The breath I drew in was cut up and sharp. My eyes welled up. Bitting my upper lip, I continued.
“Hello my beautiful girl.”
The tear fell. But that didn’t seem to be enough. More took its place. I kept going. My lip trembled, muddling my words.
“Last time I —”
My voice was more hiccups than words. I couldn’t stop the sobs that continued to emerge without my consent.
I couldn’t go on.
I went back to my seat and sat down.
Three quarters of my poem remained unread. I wish I could have finished it.
The unspoken words played on in my head.
Last time I was here I was too young to remember.
I was five years old then,
And wondering when
And where in this world
I’d see you again.
What would we do
And where would we go,
But I never did
So I’ll never know.
Many years went by,
I had just turned ten,
And I longed to be held,
In your arms once again.
You seemed happy to see me,
That time that we came,
But as soon as I left,
It’s like you’d forgotten my name.
I tried Skyping and calling,
Letters sent in the mail,
But you were no longer interested,
Like I’d gotten stale.
Time made me used to it,
I no longer tried,
I just excepted it,
But still hoped you’d come by.
That’s how it was,
And how it always would be,
Just my mom, my brother
“We need never be ashamed of our tears,” My mother tells me when I recount the day’s events to her that evening. I smile at the familiarity of the Dickens quote.