The Shell Game
I'm tempted to ask them what happened, but I'm going to accept it just the way it is.
Every birthday or Father's Day, I would buy Dad a bag of white pistachio nuts. We'd devour them together and then play tricks on each other by hiding bags of shells where the uneaten nuts used to be. How delighted he was when I fell for it and reached in to find a handful of shell! And I was delighted when I could trick him back. The day before my twenty-fifth birthday, my father disowned me. We had a major falling-out at Disney World, where Dad and his new wife were treating us to a week's vacation. Falling-out: a strange way to describe an argument but an apt way to describe the sensation of losing one's balance, of being catapulted out of childhood into a new and more frightening vision of the world and one's place in it. We were about to head off to a dinner show, the Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue, when Dad declared that my husband and I were "no longer part of this family unit." He summarily kicked us out of the hotel at Fort Wilderness village. It's hard to find a car to rent at Disney World on Christmas Day. Later that week, we got home to a letter from Dad. "Please take your husband's last name," he wrote. "You don't deserve to carry mine." For months, my dreams were vivid and violent. I dreamed I would pay him back every penny he spent raising me. Maybe that would unmake him my father. Then I dreamed I would take a hammer to his kneecaps.
I thought of his almost daily, my anger mixed with a yearning for reconciliation. Years passed with no contact until my first child was born. As a new parent, I would not imagine feeling anger and disappointment sharp enough, or pervasive enough, to ever cast off my child. How could Dad have done so, felt so? How wounded my father must be, how damaged his soul from his own father's stern disapproval that never abated before he died. While nursing my son one day, I decided I would reach out to him.
On Father's Day I mailed him a bag of pistachios. I sent no note. He sent me back the empty shells. No note. But I smiled, and I imagine he did too.
--Name withheld at the request of the author, who reports that the process of forgiveness is ongoing and can be a tough nut to crack.