To Love a Stranger

Leeuna Foster
 


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On legs that are unsteady, faltering, I shoulder my way across the crowded room.

The air is thick with the scent of flowers, perfumed bodies and that unique yet indefinable smell one always associates with this place.

I draw a deep breath, feeling as though I will suffocate. My hands shake as I try to ignore the whispered remarks that ripple through the crowd.

“Who is SHE? What is she doing here? She is his daughter you know. ”

His Daughter! The phrase echoes through my brain with an empty hollow sound, like that of a tin can rolling down a deserted alley. I try to swallow around the tears crowding my throat.

I came here tonight seeking answers to questions I have carried around inside me forever–questions to which I know there are no answers, yet I keep asking them anyway.

Where were you all those years ago, throughout all the skinned knees, scraped elbows, all the broken promises and all the Christmases that never came?

Where were you when I needed a strong male shoulder to cry on after my heart had been broken by a boy that first time?

Where were you on my wedding day when there was no father to give the bride away? You had already given me away the day I was born.

Why did you go away? Was I lacking in some way, unworthy of a father’s love?

I recall the year I was six. For our last Art project of the year, our class chose to make special greeting cards to give to our dads for Father’s Day. I remember copying from the girl sitting next to me. I had no idea of what to write on the card nor how to illustrate it, for you see, I had no knowledge of the role a father plays in a little girl’s life. I was ashamed to tell anyone that I had no father to give the card to, so I brought it home to Mama. I was reluctant to throw it away because I still waited secretly for the day you would return.

Throughout my childhood, I never grew tired of hearing the story of the handsome stranger who swept the beautiful lady off her feet, gave her a year of happiness and a little girl, before he disappeared, taking her heart with him and leaving her and the child all alone.

I longed to meet the handsome stranger in the story. I often dreamed you would return and the story would end like a fairy tale. And the handsome stranger, the beautiful lady and the little girl would live happily ever after.

But little girls grow up, fairy tales fade away and dreams have a way of wearing thin when pitted against reality.

Many times I wished you dead. Better that you had died than to have left us of your own free will, by some choice that you alone made, never giving a thought to the child you left behind.

Did you never long to know me as I longed to know you? Did you never wonder what I would grow up to become?

Perhaps we were more alike than either of us knew. Perhaps we were each waiting for the other to make the first move, both of us fearful of being rejected.

Even without your ever knowing me you have taught me many things. Things such as how to stand on my own two feet, because you were never there for me to lean on. I also learned through the years to accept whatever life hands me and to make the best of it, since you weren’t there to help sooth away my disappointments. Your absence in my life has also taught me how to be a better parent to my own children, how to be there for them whenever they need me.

Now tonight as I stand here I see a stranger’s face. A stranger surrounded by white satin, his head resting on a silken pillow. You lie there with hands folded and eyes shuttered, as though in sleep. I wonder who you really are, other than a name on my birth certificate. I am filled with guilt because I cannot truly grieve for your passing. I feel only regret for never having known you. I feel a deep sadness, for I know now, I never will.

From my pocket I remove a piece of worn, yellowed paper, folded in the shape of a greeting card. The edges are tattered and the paper is brittle with age. The crayon drawing has faded through time, but I can still make out the shape of a man holding the hand of a little girl. The childish scrawl across the top is almost illegible, but I know what I wrote there all those years ago. Ever so gently, I place the card by your side.

I came here tonight seeking answers and I have found peace at last. Perhaps we both have; you in your eternal slumber and I in the realization that it wasn’t my unworthiness that made you go away. It was your fear of love, of commitment, of the sometimes choking ties that are all a part of being a parent.

I bear you no malice. I no longer carry any bitterness in my heart, for I have come to realize that happiness and bitterness cannot exist within the same realm. My one regret is that this understanding came too late for us. Before they close the coffin, I lean down and kiss your cheek softly–-for the first time–-and the last time.

Goodbye Daddy. Rest in Peace.

© Leeuna Foster & Bizmopolatin News .

This article may be reprinted if done in total with this source box added.

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