For Children

Rachel Goldstein


2013 9th-12th Grade Prose Winner

You taught me how to ride my bike that summer, and nothing excited me more than the idea of speeding through central park, glimmering pink streamers flying behind me. But whenever I think of you, I like to think of that summer, rather than what came after. Because even though I might be making this up in my head, I felt like it was a very long time of just me and you. And it was the only time in my life I ever really had with you. It was mostly because, Mommy was pregnant and couldn't go outside, and someone had to take care of me. Someone had to lug the bored seven year old kid around. Mommy couldn’t, and she didn’t believe in baby sitters. The doctor said she was on bed rest because she was too fat, but I always thought it was because she was too preoccupied with watching John Edwards: paranormal psychic re-runs. But you taught me how to ride my bike that summer, when I thought Central Park was the size of Africa. Back when I was blissfully ignorant and the world was unknown to me. I mean I had hardly even been out of New York before; but, you still made me memorize every state's capital and place, because you said one day you would take me to each one. You never did.

I remember I fell off of my bike a few times. You would help me up, even if your cap that had a different city's name on it each time came off in the process.  I would get bruises and scrapes all down my legs, but I didn't care because in my mind they were just proof of the time we had together. I would cling onto our time together like the cellophane Mommy used to wrap up your food in when you missed dinner from working late. It’s just, you were always a distant star to me, you seemed close but you were so far away. I had everything, but you. You had sick people to take care of, and I always thought that was a good excuse for your absence. But those thoughts would leave me when you ran behind me as I sped down winding roads in Central Park on that hot pink bike you bought me. The sun would be shining off of your almost bald head. You would yell behind me to "simmer down", and I always thought that expression was a Virginian thing. Just like the way you pronounced "w" as "doubah- yah". I thought you were a cowboy back then.

I wish I remembered the nights when you didn't come home, as vividly as I do the days in the park. So I could hate you even more. All of those nights-when you relaxed in the dark living room with the blue tv light bouncing off of you- are all too much a blur. I wish I could remember the teams that played every Sunday night on that antiquated screen; they got all of your devoted attention. I wish I could have recognized the smell of whiskey on your breath, I wish I would have picked up on the elongated slurs in your speech.

That was just the beginning of the long road ahead.

I always wish I could have done something to stop it from happening. All of those fights and yelling between you, was the soundtrack of my childhood. I mean, I was just a child after all. I was so clueless as to how fast the innocence was slipping away from me. I try not to remember what it was like to be in a house with four other people, but bhe so alone. Every holiday, every assembly, every opportunity you got, you ruined by showing up late or with the taste of alcohol on your lips. I wanted so badly to believe in you, give you another chance even after Mommy told me it was pointless. And I remember how my stomach caved in when I heard a dial tone. I wish I never would have left those stupid messages on your answering machine telling you to come home over and over again. You never did. You never even bothered to call me back. I missed your accent, so much.

Now you're gone, but sometimes I still hear your football games playing from the other room. Even though we stripped all of your photos from the walls and threw away all of your old ties, I still sometimes expect you to come home.

Now those days in the park are as extinct as the dinosaurs in that museum you took me to that one time. And aside from accidentally in passing, the only time I see you anymore is in the mirror.

I can never escape that drunk gaze of your gray eyes, because they live in mine and they always will.

I can never run away from you because you are more than under my skin, you are in my blood, you are there when I write down my last name. You are there every time I spell out a word with a "w" in it. I pronounce it like you did, but I catch myself embarrassingly and remind myself that I am from New York, not Virginia. And then sometimes it just hits me, that I am the product of a mistake.

You drank that summer away. It doesn’t even live in the lobes of your brain. It's because you just walked away. You didn’t just leave her, you left me too, and you didn’t look back once.  

You taught me how to ride my bike that summer, and sometimes it astonishes me what a normal paternal tradition it was. Because that summer, you were the closest to a dad that you’ll ever be to me. And even though it's the best way to remember you, I would take that summer back if I could. So that way the memories wouldn't pollute my brain and trick me into missing you. Every state, every scrape; and every time I looked up and said to you, "I love you Daddy."