On the morning after my last day of eighth grade, my father kicked open my door and threw a box of chocolates at my head. I had been sleeping peacefully, but his intrusion startled me awake, causing me to fall off of my bed and onto my saxophone case, which is something that happens quite a bit. At first, I was filled with righteous indignation, but after I saw the chocolate, my heart sang.
“I AM ONE WITH THE INFINITE!” I screamed as I clutched the box to my chest. Then, I carefully tucked the chocolate into my candy drawer. My father watched all of this, barely managing to contain his laughter. At the time, I didn’t understand what was so funny, but I suppose that when you have a child that hoards candy like a large rodent, you have to try and find levity in the situation. When he was done laughing, he looked at me very seriously and asked, “Kiana, how’d you like to spend the day with your old man?!”
I froze. I wouldn’t like that. Not at all. I knew what was happening.
After my parents got divorced, my father attempted to mend the wounds by giving me and my brother extravagant gifts. At first, this was exciting; we’d wake up and find a bike one morning and a PS3 the next. It was a never ending whirlwind of fun!
…Things escalated very quickly.
One morning in particular, I remember my father shaking me awake and asking me if I wanted to play spider, a game we’d invented together. Spider consisted of him pretending to be a large arachnid and trying to wrap me in a web (a hug) and take me to the Spider’s Den (a pillow fort) while I laughed and attempted to escape. I quickly agreed, thinking I was in for some fun, father-daughter bonding. What I didn’t know was that my father had added new rules. I caught on pretty quickly, though, when I watched as my father contorted himself into a vile, four-legged monster.
“It’s more realistic this way, you see!” He said brightly.
Then he charged, his eyes wide and his teeth bared. I tried to run, but he was faster, infinitely so. Time stood still as I lept over sofa and scrambled up the stairs, but the spider was wise; he knew all of my tricks. Almost as quickly as the game had begun, it was over. He dragged me to the Spider’s Den as he hissed into my ear.
“Wasn’t that fun?” he asked happily once he’d won.
“The best ever!” I said as my soul dissipated like the morning dew.
WORST DAY OF MY LIFE.
Anyway, I was more than hesitant to accept his offer.
“Um…what would this day entail?” I asked slowly.
His eyes gleamed and he began to do a little jig in my doorway, “It’s a surprise!”
My anxiety increased tenfold. Even when I had all of the information I needed before we began our trips, they went horribly wrong. If I left everything to chance, well, there was no telling what might happen.
“That sounds like so much fun!” I smiled as I screamed internally.
“Good! Meet me in the car in ten minutes.” replied my father.
I got up and began to brush my hair. As I did so, I observed myself in the reflection: I had the stoic expression of a soldier going off to war. I quickly chastised myself. Give him the benefit of the doubt, I thought to myself, It can’t be that bad.
It was that bad.
When I got to the car, I noticed a large pizza box sitting in the backseat.
“What’s that for?” I asked as I buckled my seatbelt.
“Sustenance!” he boomed in return.
“Where are we going that we need a pizza?” I asked, anxiety washing over me once more.
“Don’t ask questions. Let the wind take you where it may!”
As we began to drive, I couldn’t help but think that the winds were blowing me right into hell.
This feeling intensified the farther we went. My father is a notoriously bad driver and as he recklessly weaved in and out of traffic, I clutched my seat for dear life. At one point he drove a little over the median, and a trail of car honks followed after us.
“Sheesh!” he yelled, not noticing the angry elderly woman who’d just flipped us the bird, “So many crazies on the road today!”
“You’re telling me.” I mumbled in response.
Eventually, our surroundings became more and more familiar until we pulled up in front of a dollar theater.
I breathed a sigh of relief, “You just wanna see a movie?”
“Yeah. What’d you think was going on?” he said with a mischievous smile, “Now, grab the pizza and let’s go!”
The anxiety returned with a vengeance. “Dad,” I said slowly, the way you speak when you’re reasoning with a child, “We’re not bringing a box of pizza into the movie theater.”
“Of course not!” he said, a look of outrage on his face, “We’re not heathens!” I smiled, thinking he’d finally come to his senses. “We’re going to put the pizza into little bags and sneak ‘em in!”
“Sneak it in with what?” I scream/hissed, “We don’t have anything to hold them with!”
“Just tuck them under your shirt like this.” He stuck a baggie full of pizza into his shirt and then smiled widely, “It’s foolproof!”
A giant, triangular bulge was distinctly visible under his shirt.
“I’m not doing that, Dad.” I said resolutely.
For a moment, he looked upset, but the smile quickly returned to his face, this time smug, “More for me then!” And he hopped out of the car and began walking into the theater, his stride confident. As I watched him sashay, I couldn’t help but think that he sure had a lot of pride for a man in his position.
“I would like two tickets for ‘Up’!” he told the cashier merrily as he slid a couple bills over.
The cashier eyed him suspiciously, “You know that you’re not allowed to bring food in here, right?”
“I wouldn’t dare!” said my father, his face aghast, as he spread his arms wide.
At that moment, four bags of pizza fell out of his shirt.
The three of us stared at the pizza, not quite sure what to say. Silently, my father picked the baggies up and walked past the cashier with his head held high. I sighed and shook my head. Here I was once more, staving off father-induced shame. For a moment, I contemplated walking back to the car, but then I shrugged and followed my father to our seats.
As we watched the movie, I couldn’t help but think about the broken family relationships the main characters have; so much of the film revolves around loneliness and reaching out to others for support and validation. I looked at my dad as he laughed at all the wrong parts and tried to feel grateful for the ridiculous day we’d shared and the ridiculous days that were sure to follow. It didn’t quite work; shame still clung to us like robes of fine silk. And even though that wasn’t alright exactly, I consoled myself the way I always do in these situations: I shrugged my shoulders and thought, Hey. At least it isn’t A.I.D.S..
“Dad,” I whispered, “Pass me some pizza.”