|Venice Beach, 2014|
It was a time I'll never forget. I was home in Los Angeles for the summer from college. Right after the close of my second year, which meant that I had that sophomore je ne sais quoi and a habit of (mostly) coming and going as I pleased. It was awesome, that summer. Miles and miles away from that humid Alabama town. Tuskegee--the picturesque family tradition and wonderland with its historic, hand-built brick buildings and its bustling co-ed energy that now had the lion's share of my time. But, no, I wasn't there. I was here. I was home.
Back on the West Coast where concrete was king and freeways had six lanes. The few trees that existed paradoxically sprouted up out of the asphalt abyss on the sides of buildings or houses, lonely, thin and young appearing. Or they were those tall, resilient palm trees near the beach towns. Otherwise they were mostly desert shrubs; the antithesis of the mighty, mature pines and oaks with their outstretched arms that owned the shady paths I took to my classes each day. But what L.A. lacked in greenery? She always made up for in activity.
Yes, she did.
Twenty minutes was all it took to hit a legitimate beach. That is, one with real waves created by a real ocean and not some wannabe lake front or man-made stand-in. An hour and a half could get you to the sho' nuff desert, oven hot with sparkling pools and people with their equally sparkling teeth. How about snow-capped mountains? That, too, was a jaunt away as well, although not one I took often. The highways unfolded the city into this sprawling world of eateries, malls, vintage stores, clubs and swanky people. And I was from all of that. A girl born and raised in this place that was universally accepted as cool. I wore it as a badge of honor across my chest, especially once I left, and savored every drop of those weeks I'd get to return to it all.
In college you get used to leaving the house at strange hours like midnight-thirty and, oh, "just crashing" at a friend's house. Plans change on a whim and, when you're nineteen and that's your world, it doesn't really seem like a big deal. Or even a deal at all. So that's where my mind was that summer. And likely where the minds of many home-for-the-summer collegiate kids reside.
In high school, my parents invested in a vacation condo in Palm Springs. A two hour drive did the thing that California does better than any other place--took us from one world to another in just moments. Yes, L.A. was warm and wonderful, but the desert was decidedly different. A heat that felt equatorial but a world of wet and wonderful places that countered every degree of Fahrenheit on that thermometer. Luckily, mom and dad still had the condo for several years after I finished high school. And now that I was a pseudo-grown up with a summer income and a car and a new normal that including "doing my thing"-- this Palm Springs option was a great one to have. Especially since I was officially at a point where my parents would allow me to go without them.
Oh yeah, baby.
Admittedly, I was mostly a good egg. I wasn't really into extreme anything back then and had a fairly decent sense of right and wrong. That said, I feel 100% certain that I rode in far too many cars where every single inhabitant was legally intoxicated and far too impaired to be driving even to the corner. I wasn't big on things that weren't legal, but I also wasn't the one who rained on doobie parades either. So this, combined with my parents' decision to loosen the reins a bit, was a recipe for potential disaster. And since my parents had both been college students before, I think they inherently sort of knew that. I do. Thank goodness God takes care of babies and fools.
So. My point. Yes. That. Okay, so one weekend my high school BFF and I decided to jump into a car and head to the desert. Poolside splashing and Bartyles and James wine coolers along with Tex-mex delicacies and rap music? Count us in. I said that I was a "good egg" but my good girl status was always upped a few notches by my BFF, Kimivette. In addition to being a straight A student in high school, she was also knocking it out of the park at Spelman College. What could possibly be more innocent than going to the family condo with her?
Honestly? Not too many things. She was no Eddie Haskell. Kimivette was (and is) a really good person and the kind I sure hope my kids befriend in their adolescence. But, like me, we both had just enough mischief to be typical nineteen year-olds and also just enough ignorance to not even know what we were doing wrong sometimes.
You know what I'm talking about.
Anyways. Kimivette and I headed to Palm Springs. We hung out, had a blast and did exactly what we'd planned. It was pretty innocent, actually, unless you count the wine coolers we picked up with those laughable ID cards we presented. Outside of that, it was swimming and laughing and listening to music. This was the pre-cell phone and internet era, so landlines were the rule. Like good eggs we'd called the folks to let them know of our safe arrival. And that Sunday morning, rang once more to report our "in one or two hours" departure.
Good enough, right?
But then the phone rang in the condo. Which is super random considering nobody was usually there, nor did anyone even have the phone number. Assuming it was one of the parental units reminding us to do something like buckle seat belts or avoid some big construction work near 29 Palms, I picked up.
The voice I heard on the other end was squealing with delight. Voices were laughing in the background and music was playing, too. I laughed out loud when I heard the voice because I immediately recognized it to be another of my close friends that I hadn't seen since returning home from college.
"JOCELYN!!!! OH MY GOD!!!! TELL ME YOU ARE NOT HERE?!?"
"I AM SO, SO TOTALLY HERE!! A BUNCH OF US ARE HERE!!!"
And when she said that we both started screaming and jumping up and down. We did.
Jocelyn was a buddy who'd grown up with me in Jack and Jill as a kid. We didn't attend the same high school but, like a lot of families in that organization, we grew very close over those years. She was now miles away in Nashville at Fisk University, so hearing her jovial energy through that landline was a welcomed surprise.
"I'm here with my homegirl Kimivette. You remember her, right?"
"Of course! She's at Spelman, right? Tell her I said hello!"
I covered the receiver and turned to Kimivette. Jocelyn says hi! I mouthed. Kimivette's eyes were already lighting up. We were totally on the same page.
"What's up? Where are you guys?"
"At our condo just kicking it! It's like me and Albert and Alfred and Marlo and Sherman and . . . oh my gosh. . . a bunch of us! Come over here!"
And since Jocelyn and I were old friends, I knew exactly where her family's property was. And I knew all of the kids she named since most of them were also in Jack and Jill with us. Oh, and before anyone rolls their eyes at both of our families having condos in the desert, let me just say that the even bigger coincidence about her calling is that she was my only other friend that had a vacation home there. This wasn't like "The O.C." or "Laguna Beach" where every family had retreat properties. And the fact that the one person who actually did have one was my good friend? It was awesome.
"We were just about to head back! What are y'all doing?"
"Kicking it!" she laughed back.
And that was that. A decision was made to lock up our condo and head to hers. After we'd just reported to our parents that we'd be heading back to Los Angeles very soon. And you know? Not for even two seconds did we see the fault in this plan. Nor how, just maybe, it might worry the people who loved us the most.
Yup. So off we went to condo #2. There were boys there and even more Bartyles and James wine coolers. Her pool was private so the music was up louder and the hips were shaking with more abandon. Boys pushed girls into pools and chicken fights on shoulders ensued. It was like MTV Spring Break, except the college kids involved were mostly brown. Yet equally free-spirited. And all of it was wonderfully magical and memorable and fun.
And so. As the dusk began to fall, we finally decided that it was time to make our final descent toward home. The same place we'd reported we'd be heading to nearly eight hours before. Would you believe that it STILL had not occurred to us that this whole thing was fraught with selfishness? Nope. Because that occurring to us would have been unselfish.
We laughed and giggled the whole way back. We discussed which boys looked cuter than they looked in high school and which ones didn't. We talked about things like pledging sorority when we got back to school and whether or not we thought we'd make it when that time came. We lamented about how "if only we didn't have to be at work on Monday" how "rad it would have been to stay the night at Jocelyn's." Yes. And let's be clear: Our summer internship jobs were the ONLY rate-limiting step to that plan not being executed.
So as the story goes, we pulled up at Kimivette's house. It was nearly midnight and her mother came erupting out of the front door like a bat out of hell. Her fair skin was beet red and drenched with what I now recognize as relief. She pulled her daughter into her chest first, and then reached through the window to touch my hand. I remember thinking it was weird how she did that, squeezing my hand so tightly it hurt and saying over and over again how glad she was to see us.
"You need to go straight home, Kimberly," Mrs. Woodson said. "It's been a long day for us parents."
And that's all she said. I saw her cupping Kimivette's face in her hands and pushing her forehead into it as I pulled away. I drove down the entire block and glanced back one time before turning. Mrs. Woodson was still frozen in that same position, rhythmically patting her daughters cheeks and shaking her head while still pressing it into Kimivette's.
And that? That was the first thump I received on the side of the head that day. And the first time that I realized that, just maybe, we'd made a poor choice.
Now. I was still nineteen, so my next set of thoughts were commensurate with that. I worried about getting in trouble. For that two minute drive through our neighborhood from the Woodson's home to ours, I dreaded the tongue lashing that I'd surely get plus or minus some awkward form of punishment. Ugggh. I pulled up, put my Volkswagen Beetle in first gear, and parked next to the curb outside of our house. Dad's car was in the driveway and, even though it was past midnight, several lights were still on. My eyes rolled skyward as I sucked in a big drag of air and pressed my head against the back of the headrest.
Even though it was bright inside, the house was eerily quiet when I unlocked the door and walked in. Right after I closed the door, I heard my father's voice. It wasn't a yell. Instead it was this soft beckoning, an intonation I'd never heard from him before. Dropping my head, I trudged toward his office where I knew he was.
As soon as I entered the threshold, he slowly turned around from the computer screen. "Here we go," I muttered in my head. I froze in my tracks, unsure of just how bad this was about to get. Particularly since the expression on Poopdeck's face was impossible to read.
"Come here, Kimberly." That's all he said. No hollering. No f-bombs. No nothing. Just that. He didn't even get up out of the chair. He just waved his hand toward himself and pointed to the floor right in front of where he was sitting. I did as I was told.
What happened next is something I will never forget for as long as I live. My father--my strong, stoic, stern patriarch--grabbed me by the waist and pulled me hard into his face. He clung to me with such tenacity that it immediately frightened me. After about thirty seconds I felt his body vibrating against my torso. He wasn't speaking, either, which was extremely uncharacteristic--especially if you knew anything about my father when he was upset. A few moments later I could hear something though. Almost like he was trying to talk but it was muffled. Almost like a sob. Wait. A sob?
"Daddy?" I finally spoke. All of this was just too weird. What the hell was going on?
The moment I saw his face, it all crystallized. His eyes were red and puffy. Tears covered his cheeks, confluent with a moist nasal drip. I had never seen anything like this out of my father--or any adult for that matter--in my entire young life.
"I am so, so glad you're home," he whispered. And when he did, he started crying again. Hard. Hard like grown-ups aren't supposed to or that they just try not to in front of their children. He'd periodically look at me and then let out this audible sigh. Then he'd cry some more. And that? Seeing my father like that? Seeing him that worried, that sickened with angst? It broke me into a million pieces.
"I'm so sorry, Dad. I just. . .I just didn't think. I'm . . .I'm sorry."
And he just kept on hugging me and touching my hands, my hair, my cheeks and even occasionally pulling in big inhalations of my body scent. Then he said, "Being a dad is so wonderful. But sometimes, it's so hard."
And you know? I didn't really get what that moment truly meant until I became a parent. What it means to smell my children--yes, smell them--and feel the essence of what it means to love on that level. To worry about their well-being and hope they're okay and to try to loosen my grasp a little but still keep my hand on the small of their backs. Now? I know.
The only other time in my life since then that I have ever seen anything even close to the look I saw on my Daddy's face that night didn't occur until many years later. It was at Deanna's memorial service and one of our sorority sisters was singing this stunning rendition of a song by Whitney Houston called "You Were Loved." Her voice rang into the rafters of that church and shook us all to the core. I glanced down the pew only to find my father broken and haggard with grief. But the first thing I saw in his eyes was the very expression I saw that day.
This time, it was just worse. Way, way worse.
I knew my father loved me before that day--I did. I felt safe and protected and cherished as a child. But it was to until that summer night in my father's home office that I understood what it truly means to have someone loving you on that level. With every fiber of their being and in ways that are so intense that it confuses even them. Where every piece of who they are is intertwined with you and how, no matter how much time passes, that doesn't go away. This need to protect you and keep you from harms way. And this hope that they've equipped you with enough once you're out of their reach. Yes. In that moment I caught my first glimpse of what I'd eventually know for myself.
And now I know from paying attention that it just grows exponentially. It envelopes more people with it like your own children--their grandchildren--and even your spouse and closest friends. Yes, it does.
And I get it now. I get it. And I am so, so glad that I do.
Today is Father's Day. And I was dealt a mighty fine hand when it came to the man God entrusted with my upbringing. I know it isn't always like that. I know that. I know that there are blessings in the father who fathered him and how it all helped me to know how to be cherished. And to not push it away or become devoured by it either. I know that were it not for my father, I couldn't be Harry's wife. At least, not like this I couldn't.
And, of course, I think of the BHE on this day and honor all that he is to our family. But I guess I'm just reflecting on that pivotal experience and the continuum that came after it. I'm thinking of what it meant to worry my parents that way and how badly I wish I could present Deanna to them through an office door in the wee hours of the morning. . . . but how I can't. And with children of my own, I get that now. I get it.
Those are morose sounding thoughts, but they aren't meant to be. You see, life with my father has and always will be a celebration. Always, always, always. And we don't shy away from saying he is a father of four amazing people and how much we all miss his "big girl." We don't and we won't. We also focus on the blessings and enjoy each and every one--present or past.
And you know what? Somewhere along the way, he stopped hiding his tears from me. But he also welcomed me into the heartiest parts of his laughter and in on the very best of his adult jokes, too.
It's Father's Day. And I'm a daughter who knew then, knows now and always will know exactly what it feels like to have her father's love. Not even death can take that from me.
Happy Father's Day. To mine and to thine. So happy one of mine is with his grandsons on this day.
(From this morning's FaceTime with Poopdeck.)
Now playing on my mental iPod. . .
First this. . . . I cried myself sick when I first saw this. And again just now when I watched it again. Because I knew it then, know it now, and am fortunate enough to live it with the love of my life every single day. And I know every piece of that is a blessing and not promised. I'm grateful.
And then, this. . . . . that perfect song sang that couldn't be truer of Poopdeck's "big girl."
Poopdeck? Thanks for being a hand on the small of my back--then and now.