We had a small cramped apartment. It stunk like cigarettes among other things, but I liked it there. The alley behind our building was a place only I went, and it was safe, other than the occasional broken bottle or stray cat. The neighbors were his good friends as well as mine, even though I was so young. It felt like a small community, and it was my home. We were a fifteen minute walk through a heavily wooded park from the Puget Sound. On rainy days, walks would find me at small rocky beaches jutting into cold blue-green water. I used to love listening to the raindrops hit the cold water while the world passed me by. I remember watching as every drop bounced and absorbed into the vastness and became one body. Usually I would walk home after those outings to find a home cooked meal and my dad. It seems like I fell asleep so easily then, to the sound of rain tapping gently at the window, happy, full and comfortable.
I was fourteen at the time, about to start my freshman year of high school. When the day came for me to go to this new school, I was anxious. I said to my dad, “Can I please just have one more day? Please?”. After some bartering and begging from me, he obliged. For some reason he didn't have work that day. We decided to bike to one of our favorite places: a small secluded beach near the Ballard Locks. We called it our “secret beach” because while we thought it was so wonderful, we never saw anyone else there. We took off with our lunch packed, the sun on our backs, and the wind in our hair.
The route we took paralleled a set of train tracks surrounded by dense thickets of blackberry bushes. In Seattle, wherever there is plants growing wild, you're almost guaranteed to
find blackberries. Around early autumn, the berries start to get ripe; they are the most delicious, juicy, tangy, sweet berries in the world to me. I made my dad stop every 50 feet or so to eat berries with me, and he was happy to do so. By the time we got to our secret beach we were both purple at the hands and mouth from all those stops along the way. While my dad set up a blanket and started reading his book, I jumped into the cold water and started finding shells and rocks. This was something we had done so many times over the summer, but I remember this day like it was yesterday. We biked home tired and happy and ate a small dinner while listening to Bob Dylan. I slept with ease that night and I went to school happy the next day. I was ready for anything with the help of my dad and that secret beach.
I didn't have any friends other than a few neighbors and my dad, and I didn't want or need any more. My dad was my hero, he was my best friend, and he was the only person I could confide in. He had overcome Chemo-therapy treatments for Hepatitis C and immediately bounced back to working full time. We would sit in the living room and just listen to music and talk for hours, him doing most of the talking. He would tell me all the thrilling stories of his life. He would tell me of the sadness that he could never escape. We would talk about life, the universe and everything, and what it all meant. He taught me what it meant to be a man, he taught me of good music and film, and he taught me how to cook exotic dishes from all over the world. The most important thing he taught me, I have come to realize, is that life isn't fair and sometimes it fucks you over.
One day my dad told me he wanted me to move back to Salt Lake City with my mom and grandparents once the school year finished. There was no reason I could think of for this sudden change, and I was in shock. For the first week or so, I thought that maybe he would
change his mind, that it was a drunk mistake. He was an angry drunk, and a mean-spirited person if he wanted to be; he knew that this would devastate me. In that way it seemed so cruel and intentional. I loved living in Seattle: the smell of the rain, the dense green foliage all year round, and the Puget Sound surrounding us. It rains so much there it seems plants grow anywhere and everywhere. I used to go to a record shop down the street from my house weekly. The guy who owned this shop knew my name and was like a friend to me, always recommending great new music. The public bus driver that took me to and from school also knew me by name. She would always ask me how school was going. I knew every square inch of the mossy alleys, steep hills and crumbled old stairways and cobblestone roads of Queen Anne, reminiscent of a time before mine. I felt like I belonged there, I was happy and comfortable. That started to change from the day my dad told me I had to leave my home.
After a couple of weeks passed I realized he was not joking, and we stopped getting along. It seemed like I couldn't talk to him anymore, or he didn't want to listen. He had formally resigned as a father in his mind I supposed. He would yell and scream at me for no reason, calling me names I don't want to repeat. One day I was watching TV in my room (I stopped going in the living room as it was where he slept). He told me to turn it down and I did but I guess it wasn't enough for him; he came in and smashed my TV with a wrench we had found at our secret beach. Then he walked out of the room and left me with a pile of broken glass and a lump in my throat. It seemed like he was losing his mind, there was nothing I could do to understand him or to be better in his eyes. There were countless moments like this, and after five months I knew we would never be as close as we were that first day of school. This was the first time I felt what people refer to as their heart breaking. I had lost my only good friend, my best
friend, and I had lost my dad. Who knows what I lost him to, maybe it was depression, maybe it was alcoholism, maybe he was just sick of being a father. I don't even think he really knows. Whatever the reason was it ripped my world apart.
The last day of my freshman year at Ballard High School, the day my mom came to pick me up, was a sunny spring day. My dad and I had been getting along well that past week (spring will do that to people). I was so anxious to get it over with I had all of my stuff in boxes on the front walkway when I left for school. I remember walking the halls and talking to my teachers and thinking how I would miss that place. Not so much the school and it's warm welcoming library, but this life I had come to love as a whole. I took the bus home, like every other day, saying goodbye to the driver I had come to know for the last time. I got off one stop early to take a walk through the fresh spring air, taking an extra moment to cherish the smell of a fresh rainfall on plants baked in a day's worth of sunshine. I walked through the alley that day, and there were broken bottles there among the moss. I remember being so angry and grief-stricken that I barely even said a word to my dad before my mom arrived. This was my last day in my home, my favorite place in the world. It was hard to believe I was actually leaving for some unknown reason.
My mom called before she was close, giving us time to talk I think, or maybe she was just lost. “Do I really have to go?” I asked my dad, as if it was all hitting me with perfect clarity at that exact moment.
“Well, your mom's already here” he replied as if it was all a mistake, as if it was just a matter of bad timing, that broke my heart even more.
“Well we could tell her you changed your mind. She won't be mad, I promise!” a last
attempt at changing his mind, maybe tugging at his heartstrings. Of course, futile, he was already drunk and numbed up, ready to let go.
“It's too late now Stefan,” he replied, letting it sink in like a ton of bricks. When I asked him why he said, “That's just the way it is. I can't really tell you why.”
When my mom arrived I ran up to her and hugged her like I was drowning and she was a life preserver, that's how it felt. We quickly packed up all my stuff and were ready to leave. Her goodbye to my dad was short and terse, and she left me to say mine. Those words weren't many, and I don't remember what he said exactly, but as I left I said to him “I love you and I will miss you very much Dad.” I took one last look at our little apartment building and my alley full of broken glass. When I got in the car I rolled down the window right away to keep that smell of rain for as long as I could. When we were out of seeing distance of my home and of my former best friend, I started sobbing. I probably cried for the whole drive to our hotel. I left a part of myself there that day, as people sometimes do, and to this day there is a hole in my soul.
He never has told me what his reasons were, and I haven't talked to him in over a year. I often think back to that trip to our secret beach, sometime I even pull out all the shells and rocks I kept. Whenever I buy blackberries, they are not quite as good as I remember them being that day. The last time I visited Seattle I went to our secret beach, and there was a family having a picnic. I haven't been able to sleep so easily since that warm spring day when I left my dad behind. I miss the rain on my window.