I COULD SEE MY OWN WOUNDS in her squinty hazel eyes. A lime-green Bulls snapback twisted back and hating pizza are her trademarks, an algorithm for adoration not unlike the ones we all experimented with in middle school, and even now.
We arrive in the world, awaiting doves to descend on us and voices to sing of our preciousness. I don't like this any more than I like our need for food. To eat is a wonderful thing. To be found beloved is equally wonderful. But both needs lack the guarantee that they will be filled. And that is a painful gap.
Dust leapt up from the gravel as the powder blue F150 wobbled forward.
Back home, I was a sentimental boy. A giver, I'd scramble Dorito-and-pop-tart-and-pretzel combo bowls for my grandma. A friend, I'd sprint to hug my friends on the playground. A poet, I stayed after class to finish writing my stories. A child, I adored a man who bothered to play Tecmo Bowl with me, creating mythologies no step-dad could ever live up to.
But here I was a stranger in a foreign land, an Israelite ogling at the Promised Land. Here, I was just a little kid with big brown eyes and wispy lemonade hair, full of places to become full of my father's love.
The house was rickety and red, square for a story before bending up into a steep triangle. It nestled alongside a wheat field. My older brother Nick and I would chase each other outside, whirring around the choppy yellow-green grass. Sometimes we would even run into the wheat fields, their grains bronzed by the October sunset and waltzing in its winds. Inside, my father would sink into the basement, smoke bowls and shred Pole Position records with his friends.
We trotted past the wire-and-aluminum screen door our father held open, soon awash in the dank entryway. Playing host, he maneuvered past us into the kitchen as the fluorescent ceiling light flickered on. He clawed the freezer open, pausing for a moment before rummaging through it for a Tombstone pizza.
There was a good man tucked inside. A father, too, even if he was more in love with the idea of it than anything else. One time, he took us to Wal-mart and let us pick out any Hot Wheels we wanted, but refused to leave until we thanked him for all 79 cents. Though I never felt it then, that was his way of teaching us values. At his old apartment, he'd introduce his blonde boys to half-asleep neighbors. Though I never knew it then, that was his way of saying we were beloved by him.
Celebrity Deathmatch blared in the living room. Would it be Rosie O' Donnell or Oprah Winfrey? My dad's voice murmured amid the choppy claymation and blood spatter. He left the Tombstone on the counter. I saw him in the corner of my eye as he clutched the screen door, hesitating under the weight of his good intentions. I tried believing I hadn't seen him for the last time, that my wispy frame was somehow heavier than the lure of Anheuser Busch.
To be found beloved is a lovely thing. But it lacks the guarantee of fulfillment. And that is a gap that turns fathers into strangers. It is a gap that turns kids into attention vultures, scraping the soil for fragments of a father's love.
Even now, I find my ears pressed up to the ground of my life, interrogating the details, weaving through the body language. I am waiting for them to wrap their arms around me, chase me through wheat fields, or cut me a slice of Tombstone.
My eyes were bloodshot and lined with Barbasol, and the summer sun was baking my Scandinavian skin. It was the fourth day of summer camp and I was running on fumes. We had just finished the messy field games, where 12-year olds run around with shaving cream and color powder aiming dead red at half-asleep youth workers.
It was 15 minutes before lunch. Everybody broke for the dock to wash off, but I showered. I joined them squeaky clean, clad in bare feet, gnarly athletic shorts, and a camp T.
The girl who hated pizza and loved snapbacks was there to greet me, and I knew immediately what I'd walked into. Inside, I wanted nothing more than to sink into an IKEA chair, munch on sourdough pretzels and play cribbage like a crotchety old man.
We volleyed back-and-forth, and each time she got more convinced that her youth leader was going to jump in the lake. She had wounds of her own; not unlike me, she had created her father-myths, and she had now lived just long enough to suspect they were hollow.
I didn't think all that deeply upon jumping in, but on the drive back I felt a parallel structure to it all and my face flushed hot with tears, like in that moment I had been clutching a screen door, hesitating under the weight of my good intentions, choosing for her what I've wished a million times another would do for me.
This all feels very silly, mostly because I do a shitty job of living it out. But I have been waiting on the world, watching as it passes without so much as a dove to declare me beloved, waiting for father wounds to burn away in redemption's light.
Yet as I jump in, often half-awake, and meet you in the space that is neither yours nor mine, I feel something wholly other. Something holy. Like the space where we encounter each other is the very home of God, the spot where my belovedness has been playing hide-and-seek all along.
To be found beloved is a beautiful thing. There's a lack of it in this world, to be sure, and that's painful. But strangely, it can be guaranteed. To find you beloved is to find I have been beloved all along.