By Holland Sterling
I cannot think of a more shocking encounter than when I saw my father in Minnesota for the first time in eighteen years. I was in Minnesota to visit a friend of mine that I’d made at a summer camp years earlier.
This day, we decided to divide and conquer Duluth. I’d get groceries and she’d get the pet food and gas.
She dropped me off on the corner of the street and I began my walk to the supermarket. I’ve always appreciated walking on days like these. It was around 78 degrees and not a single cloud was in the sky. It was bright out and everyone seemed so happy. I looked ahead to see a man walking towards me. He felt so familiar. When I realized, I almost fell over. He was unmistakably my father. No one could deny it. Of course, the hair on his head was beginning to fade from black to gray and he’d gained a little more weight than when I’d last saw him but it was my father plain and simple. Walking right towards me on a crowded sidewalk in Duluth, Minnesota.
I walked right on towards him too. I began imagining what I would say to him or what he’d say to me. I definitely wasn’t going to throw my arms around him and forgive him for everything he’s ever done but I was somewhat excited to talk after so many years. It gave me a slight rush.
We would say quite surprised hello’s and have small talk; “What are you up to these days?”, “Where do you live?”, “What do you do?”
I’d tell him about college and about my studies and about how Colorado is far nicer than Tucson. I’d tell him about my writing and he’d remember seeing an article I wrote online. I talk to him about my mom and my sister and how I have my own cat in my own off-campus apartment. He’d tell me about working at University of Washington in Seattle and that he does a fair amount of writing himself but it’s all science writing. He’d tell me how old his kids are, probably starting high school and that his wife is the same as ever. We would walk and find common interests like hiking or cooking or writing or photography. Then I’d show him pictures I’d taken and stories I’d written.
I’d invite him to meet my friend and he’d gladly come to dinner with me and her family. We’d have a conversation at dinner about him and his life and career and I’d swiftly veer the conversation away from any awkward topics–especially about why he left. After, he’d say goodnight and have to go back to his hotel room and prepare for his symposium tomorrow at University of Minnesota Duluth. He’d invite me to sit in on it and listen and after, my friend and I would take him for a hike or go “mocking”, as my friend calls it. We’d set up our hammocks and listen to the river and maybe read. Then we would hike back and have lunch at my friend’s favorite deli and my dad would agree with me that mustard is far superior to ketchup. We’d also agree that turkey is better than ham and then all three of us would feel bad about eating meat and joke about going vegetarian even though none of us could give up salami. My dad could show us around the UMD campus and I would dream of graduate school here. My friend and I would tell him about the first time we went to Duluth together along with our camp counselor. We visited
Tettegouche State Park and I had the most beautiful experience of my life. We’d enjoy the view of the lake and when it got dark we’d go get ice cream and sit on the deck of some restaurant. Then we’d have to go because my dad’s plane had to leave the next morning back to Seattle. It was a short work trip, made better by seeing his first daughter. Then I’d say goodbye. I can’t know whether I’d hug him goodbye or just wave. It’s hard to say. Of course, talking to him for the first time in many years would be awkward but we’d be curious about each other and so the awkwardness would pass as quickly as it came.
My dad was almost right in front of me and I mentally prepared myself for this far delayed meeting. Just say hi. He looked up and saw me, and I looked at him. I didn’t smile, I just let him know I saw him. Hey, it’s me, your daughter. He was right in front of me. I opened my mouth to say something. And then he was past me. He continued walking down the street without a word.
He did not even recognize me.
I can’t help but be a little curious of what I would do if this actually happened. It’s a tough subject for me so that’s why I like to write about it. I like pulling from my own personal experiences and turning them into art. It doesn’t mean I am healed from experiences nor does it mean I am forever hurting but it means that I am at peace with what has happened in my life and that I have moved on and become stronger from it.