I was listening to Alicia Keys, trying to calm my nerves as I completed my first flight into San Francisco. I thought the flight itself would be terrifying, but it was actually pretty pleasant, if not cramped. I imagine being above the clouds like that is the closest I’ll get to Heaven while I’m still alive. No, what was nerve-wracking was the thought of seeing my parents after so much time apart. When I left California, I was angry and all but on the run. Now, coming home under my own steam to make things right felt like coming full circle.
I’ve often said that in order to really know a place, you need to walk it. Put your feet to the pavement, absorb the sounds of the area and get a feel for its heartbeat. Returning to my old streets was like coming back to the house you had grown up in; an uncomfortable sense of familiarity and loss, in which things both changed and remained the same. Bayfair Mall had been one of my primary hangouts when I was younger. I used to shoplift and dodge cops from its various stores. Now, it was nearly unrecognizable.
Electronics Boutique? Long gone. I think all games stores are Game Stop now, anyway…
Red Robin? Gone, although to be fair, it was gone just before I left.
The mall, located at the edge of San Leandro, is about half the size it used to be and shaped like a U. Almost nothing was familiar, and I felt out of place. Still, there are certain things that’re just unmistakably California; like how the sun paints the sky a radiant, deep pink that opens into the brightest blue you’ve ever seen, casting a pleasant shadow over the mall and outlet center beyond, accompanied by a breeze just warm enough to be comfortable, just cool enough to be relaxing…and I’m home.
It was here I met my parents for the first time in almost ten years. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel; I’d processed every possible emotional response—and how to deal with it—on the plane. Would I be angry? Would I hold him against a wall and demand some long-sought answers? Would I be happy to see him? He was still my father, after all. What if I felt nothing? All these questions raced through my mind one last time as I waited for the inevitable.
Blessedly, it was none of those emotions as I saw him—them—pull up in a car I did not recognize. I had honestly wondered if rage would get the better of me in that moment. Truthfully, it was the furthest thing from my mind. I was surprised.
It’s funny how the memories you form as a child stay etched into your mind as an adult. I always remembered my father as this immortal giant who could tear the house in half when he lost his temper. Now, I was nearly twice his size…and he was so much older. The darker part of me—Busterwolf—was hoping for the ultimate showdown. One look at his eyes said it would never happen—and it wasn’t necessary. One thing about my father and I was that we never needed words to know where the other was coming from. My father is also a proud man; apologies come rarely, and today was no exception. But I read it in his eyes. I hoped he saw mine as well.
Ten years is too long. After all that time, it didn’t matter which one of us was right or wrong; both of us were neither. In the end, we were still father and son.
It was good to see all of them. My parents are in great shape for the age. I hope the exercise I do now pays off in later life. My parents don’t eat out all that much anymore, but they made an exception for me and took me to an old seafood restaurant that used to be a family favorite. I got my typical fried shrimp, they picked up the tab, and we took photos. I even took some one-on-one photos with my dad, and out of respect for their privacy, I will not upload those to the internet.
I was only there for two days. I didn’t get the time with my dad alone that both of us wanted—we have a lot to talk about—but I’m confident that I’ll get another chance. It won’t be ten years before we see each other again. Besides, this was day two; day one was reserved for my children.
Seeing the utter shock and disbelief on my kids’ face when I walked into the door of their home was enough. It was more than I deserved. I was then body-tackled by a remarkably strong fourteen year old and an energetic six year old, and we were off from there.
Nothing quite like playing with young kids to make you feel your age. A back-and-forth game of scrimmage at a local park looked like it would be a stalemate until Terry came from nowhere, jumping in front of a kid on the other team to make a miraculous interception (damn, that’s my kid!!) and nearly run it back for a touchdown. I may not have had much to do with my son’s upbringing for the past six years, but I take full credit for his determination.
I got another piece of his determination when we had our first sparring session in years. I had spent the first five years teaching him Tae Kwon Do and kickboxing, the rest he learned in the street and from his cousin. And he has great instincts; I showed him how to clinch once. The first time I put him in one, the wiry little f***er reverses me, clinches me from the side, and drives his knee into my leg like a jackhammer. I nearly submitted. I’m still limping.
I can’t talk about Brandon all that well because, well, I don’t know him that well. He loves everything, but not to a fault. He thinks the world can do no wrong, but has his phobias. He’s fiercely protective of his cousin, as they’re about the same age. He prefers boxing because he “doesn’t like to kick” and has asked that I show him how…which means I need to up my game.
When I was younger, I used to brag that I was alone in the world; I came from nowhere, I had no family, and I was going nowhere. Someone I work with said that your world view changes when you get into your thirties. She was right.
I’ve still got a long way to go, but I’m a lot further than I was. It was good to go home…and I’m glad I have a home to go to.
Thanks for reading.
(c) Avery K. Tingle for Akting Out LLC
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