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The Bravest Thing My Dad Did for Me

The bravest thing my dad ever did for me was wave to me from the kitchen window.
As a child, I didn't realize the courage it took for that heavy brown curtain to be pulled back, for that pale hand to wave even though the sun was already in the sky. If anything, I was annoyed by the flashes of fire when a stray ray of sunlight burrowed into my father's skin.
Once, a car passed in the street, its flat windows reflecting the rising sun into our kitchen. There was a burst of light from our house that day and when I came home there smoke stains on the ceiling. Dad had tried to scrub them away with his red and blistered hands, but they hung there like a shameful reminder of how strange we were.
It got worse when I became a teenager. Everything dad did was wrong. Mostly, I feared meeting my father when he was with his neighborhood watch buddies, feared my friends' snickers as they laughed at his orange day-glow vest and the seriousness on his pale face as he walked the empty street at the tail end of a group of senior citizens feeling brave by scaring away cats, dogs, and pranksters.
I'd scream at him, cursing him for a blood-sucker, telling him to get the hell out of my life. Saying that I hated him, that he didn't understand what it was like to be alive.
And then I'd slam the door to my bedroom ignoring the red trails of his tears as they flowed down his cheeks.
Maybe it is the way with humans, that we do not appreciate what we have until we lose it.
I know that I felt only relief when I finally moved away from home to study comparative religion at college.
In the beginning, dad would call every night, asking about my classes, my professors, wanting to know if the food in the cafeteria was good, or if I'd found some boy or a girl that I liked.
I'd give curt answers, then turn off the phone, glancing around furtively to see if anyone had heard.
Still, I couldn't cut my bonds to him entirely. He was my father, the man who had raised me. I would come home for holidays and summer vacations, holding down summer jobs in the grocery store or the nursing home down the street.
Ironically enough, I'd only get the graveyard shift, spending my nights calming the elderly who had lost their minds and their memories and were only alive because they were feared to die.
Dad would wait for me those nights, to talk me through the difficult times when someone had yelled at me, or died on my shift. It helped, I think.
We'd spend the mornings chatting over a cup of coffee and milk, about the frailty of life, about the willingness to survive at all costs and about what might come after.
And I grew to appreciate him, to appreciate those heavy brown curtains moving as he would wait up for me past sunrise to so he could look for me and give me a hug after I shut the door. And we would talk a bit before we each went to our separate rest.
I was coming home one day, my ears plugged by my headphones, oblivious to the world around me, and the car heading down the street. It's flat windows catching the sunlight, blinding the driver.
Dad was waiting for me at the kitchen window, peeking past those heavy brown curtains. I didn't know he was there, didn't see the car until dad suddenly burst through the kitchen door, already on fire, the sunlight turning him into a magnesium flare that knocked me aside, inches from the car's fender.
We landed in a heap, and by the time I fully realized what was happening, there was nothing left of him but a blackened skeleton, and the only thing truly his own were the fangs that slowly turned to dust in my arms.
And sometimes, I wonder whether he knew that I'd come to appreciate his courage as a parent, and I look at the dark smudge left on the ceiling that I refuse to paint over, and I think that maybe he did.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, September 8th, 2021
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