There are two kinds of girls in this world- the kind who believes love brings them butterflies in the stomach and the kind who believes love gives them dark circles. I belong to the latter.
Finishing that thought, I deleted his number from my phone. The ‘He’ in question is not my boyfriend, but not for his lack of trying. He has been a good friend to me since school: we have a lot in common and we get along really well. But when he started bringing in romantic feelings to that relationship, it just became messy and ... I don't think I am ready to commit to that sort of mess, not now, maybe not ever. As expected, he didn’t take the news positively and I had no option other than cutting him off completely.
When it comes to love and commitment, I guess I have been scarred for life. Thanks to my father...
I grew up seeing the immense respect and love my parents had for each other and I always thought I wanted a marriage like that- conventional, but committed and consistent.
Then my mom died...and our lives have been topsy- turvy since then.
Her death shouldn't have been a surprise for us as she had been battling with health issues for quite some time. But the loss impacted the whole family. Her death brought me and my sister closer where as it had an opposite effect on our relationship with our father. He started working till late and only came home just to eat and sleep. He stopped smiling and talked only when necessary. Our dining table, which used to be so lively with conversations and laughter, started resembling a funeral home.
My sister and I spent the nights talking about how our dad has changed since mom passed away. We were concerned that his way of coping with mom’s death will push him into a self-destructive path…
Three years passed. My sister got married and moved into a house closer to the hospital where she and her husband were working. My father and I still talked, ate our meals together and occasionally went out for dinners. But deep inside I knew it was a facade and that our family equation had changed forever.
One day a nasty migraine forced me to skip classes and come home early. The front door was open and I was surprised to see that my father was at home and he wasn’t alone. A lady who looked about my dad’s age sat next to him on the sofa, sipping tea and chatting. Their easy demeanor suggested that they weren’t strangers, after all. My arrival startled them both: she looked surprised, but my father looked guilty. I have a very hazy memory about what transpired between us that day. Maybe my subconscious mind is deliberately trying to block it. I remember running to my room, not wanting to listen to my dad trying to explain himself. I stayed and waited there for sometime, listening for any footsteps to see if he followed. But he didn’t. My father knows when to stay away, or rather whom to stay away from.
I felt like a 15-year-old girl again- the same girl who stood near her mom’s hospital bed, helplessly watching her take the last breath. For me, at that moment my father died too, along with all my misconceptions of finding the ‘one’ and staying committed forever.
I reluctantly came out of the room after an hour or so, looking for signs of my father and his ‘friend’. Seeing the empty living room, I didn’t waste any time and called my sister begging her to come and take me away. She came after what I thought were the longest two hours ever in my life. She hugged me tightly and murmured pacifying words into my ear. After I cooled down, she explained to me that she had suspicions about our dad having a relationship, but didn't want to assume anything.
Long story short, I moved in with my sister and have been living with her since. Later I heard from my sister that my dad got married. I wasn’t invited, but considering the way I kept avoiding his phone calls, it didn’t matter. We do meet each other occasionally now, at birthday parties, weddings etc. I have tried my best to be civil around him, but other than a quick ‘hello, how are you’ we never have anything else to talk about. My sister seems to be a more forgiving person than I am. She has developed some kind of relationship with both of them and I am completely fine with it. She tried to talk to me about forgiving my dad and letting it go.
I wish there was a Ctrl+Z in real life too, to undo the painful memories.
Not possible, right? Exactly!
I am not a witch who wants my father to stay a widower throughout his life. He deserves happiness too, like everyone else. But the way he did it? It’s difficult to accept. He alienated himself, even from his own daughters. And we let him, thinking he needs time. But what did he do? One fine morning, he dropped the bomb on us, just like that, without even a warning.
That brings me back to the reason why I am here now, walking into a busy restaurant, searching for a head with curly brown hair. There she is. Sitting in a corner, studying the menu is Leanne, my father’s wife!
It was my sister who arranged this meeting despite me protesting. She insisted that I meet Leanne and give her a chance to speak. According to her, this animosity has gone too far. I agreed to meet her and listen to what she has to say solely to make my sister happy.
Leanne spotted me and her lips curled up into a smile. I pulled the chair and sat across her, returning her smile hesitantly. We had a strained start, a few pleasantries exchanged between us- weather, my job, her job etc.
So I was completely unprepared when this blunt question came out of her mouth:
“ Do you hate me Sophie?”
I was stunned, but her openness was appreciated nevertheless.
“No. I don’t hate you Leanne. Contrary to what everyone thinks, I don’t hate my father either.”
She nodded gently, absorbing what I just told her.
“I hate what he did to us. He ignored us for so many years. My sister and I stayed where life left us, without a mother. But our father moved on, without us. It’s not fair!”
I saw her flinching at my harsh tone and I immediately regretted my outburst.
“ I am sorry. I didn’t intend to lash out at you.”
“It’s absolutely fine. Moreover you had all the rights to.”
I opened my mouth to tell her that I don’t believe in such rights, but stopped when I saw the waitress approaching.
After the waitress left with our orders, I glanced at Leanne nervously. I am not sure how to proceed from here. She is not to be blamed for whatever happened between my dad and me. Before she even came into picture, we had already grown apart. But when exactly did she come into the picture?
“ How...how did you meet my father?” I asked, unable to hide the curiosity in my voice.
Her eyes lit up with a thoughtful brightness at my question.
“Your father and I knew each other in college, but we lost touch afterwards. Then five years ago, I saw him again; on the way to work, on the same train. He was sitting near the window, looking defeated, tired and sad. I almost couldn’t recognize him because he looked like the shell of a man whom I knew in college. I sat next to him, introduced myself and tried to start a conversation. He said he knows me and that’s it. He didn’t have anything else to say. For months, we kept seeing each other on the train and he continued to stay aloof. Without him saying anything, I knew he was suffering. I recognize the signs.
One day, I told him that as someone who was recently widowed, I understood his pain like my own. My admission shocked him, but the ice started melting from that day onwards. He started opening up- about his loss and fears. I told him that he is luckier than me as he still has his children, but I don’t have anyone. And he jokingly said: ‘I am happy to share mine with you’. “ That was the moment we realized that sharing grief has somehow formed a bond between us.”
There was a momentary pause before she added:
“The day you saw us together? That was the first time I came to your house. He wanted to introduce me to his family. But we didn’t expect you to come home early and as you know, it didn’t end up well.”
She concluded with a watery smile; her gaze firmly locked on mine. I averted my eyes, not wanting her to witness the pain reflecting in them.
A prolonged silence followed, which seems more melancholic than awkward.
Leanne broke the silence first.
“ Your sister knows why I am here. I had to seek her permission to get to you.”
She let out a chuckle before her tone turned serious.
“I have come here to make amends Sophie...I want to be in your lives. I leave it completely up to you to decide how you want me there- as a mom, a step-mom or just as a friend. But you have to trust me when I say that I am neither a replacement for your mother nor a competitor for your father’s affections. “
She inhaled deeply and continued. “In his heart, your mother will always be the first woman he ever loved and you both will be his precious little daughters. He hasn’t forgotten and he never will.“
I closed my eyes and let her words engulf me, emotionally containing and soothing the wounded inner child in me who has been neglected for so long . The bitterness that was preying upon me is finally gone, leaving calmness and serenity in its wake.
I opened my eyes slowly to see Leanne speaking to the waitress. My eyes roamed over the table that was laden with trays and bowls, all untouched. After paying, she got up to leave and I was about to get up too when something on the table caught my attention. It’s a photograph-of me, my sister and my parents taken on my twelfth birthday. I stared longingly at the huge smiles on our faces and a tear fell and rolled down my cheek.
Leanne was still standing there, watching me, the expression on her face unreadable. She reached for my hand, whispering: “Thank you for listening to me. Please call your father. He misses you a lot.” And she was gone.
I squeezed her hand, smiling and a moment of understanding passed between us.
I watched her walking out of the door, her head high and her strides confident: a bubble of happiness grew in me, for Leanne and my Dad, for the love they built through loss.
My eyes went back to the picture in hand and as I studied it over, another mental picture started forming in my head. It’s still undefined, vague.