My parents got divorced when I was five or six or seven, I don’t remember. I have absolutely no memories of the divorce, and very few memories of their marriage. My mother kept the house, little A-frame surrounded in woods, kept my brother and I, and my father got an apartment a half hour’s drive away. A single bedroom apartment, but I had my own closet with shelves to keep my things in when I visited. He took me shopping for books.
I was five or six or seven, but I’d been reading since I was three. Little book aisle of a grocery store, and I wanted the big hardcover Lady and the Tramp book, but my father said it was too old for me, made me buy The Poky Little Puppy instead, little goldenbook. I proceeded to read the book to him that night, so the next day we went back and bought the big hardcover. And soon the entire closet was filled with books.
My father moved to Florida when I was eleven, leaving all my things behind. Books and toys, a bedset hand sewn by my grandmother, a wooden carousel hand carved by my great uncle. My father donated them to Goodwill. He said he asked me if I wanted anything. I don’t remember that.
Thus started my life of flying. Usually once or twice a year, Christmas or Spring Break or summer vacation, I’d fly down to stay with my father for a week or two. Two or three hours in transit was the norm, mostly spent on layover in Atlanta or Tennessee or, once, Dallas (don’t talk to me about Dallas). I was a pro. I’d pack my carry-on with snacks and gum, my gameboy and a book.
Another one-bedroom apartment, and I didn’t even have a closet this time, didn’t have anything except what I’d brought along, a suitcase full of clothes. During the day my father would work, and I would watch television; he had cable, which my mother didn’t, so I’d entertain myself with Animal Planet or Cartoon Network. That would last about two days, until it occured to me that everything was all reruns, and I’d spend the rest of the time reading.
My father had a tall wooden bookshelf in the living room, crammed with paperbacks. His favorites were Michael Crichton, Thomas Harris, Robert Ludlum. These became my favorites, and I’d go through two, three novels during my visit. Lazy Saturdays we’d both spend curled up on a couch reading, him with his book and me with mine, silent, engrossed, spending time together in our own way. I kept a running inventory of his bookshelf, so that I didn’t accidentally get him a duplicate book for Christmas or his birthday.
We had a routine each time I would visit. A trip to the beach, often too cold to swim. A few dinners out, a few dinners in. Afternoons on the couch reading, and at least one night at the movie theater. I was 12 when The Lost World came out, and I held off seeing it until I could see it with my dad. We talked, beforehand, about the scenes we were excited to see; and again, after, about the ones we were disappointed they had left out. The book is nothing like the movie, but both are excellent in their own way.
I don’t know my father the way people know their parents. We talk every few months. We see each other once or twice a year. This is how it has been since I was eleven. I can’t tell you his favorite color, but I can tell you he’s allergic to cobalt. I can’t tell you his favorite food, but I can tell you he makes the best Cincinnati-style chili even though he hasn’t lived there in twelve years. I can tell you from five thousand miles away that he needs to dust, and I can tell you what books he has on his shelf.
In memory of Michael Crichton, who helped bring my father and I together.