It started great, actually. I was born May 21st, 2001.
Mama, 19, had me naturally. Daddy, 22, stood there, in shock. Landon, 3, cried because I wasn't a boy.
It was just the four of us. We lived in a tiny home with a decent back yard that we always played in. We learned and grew together.
Dad primarily stayed at home. Mama did the cleaning, the cooking, and the working. We still had little to no money.
But none of that mattered, we were each others only family. We loved and protected each other for years.
Well, up until that night.
That night, we watched The Neverending Story.
"Mija, go get Landon. We're about to start the movie," Mama instructed, stuffing her hand in the bowl of popcorn.
I ran to the kitchen and found Landon staring out the window. It was windy outside that night and the only thing visible was the rustling branches of the pear tree.
He looked at that pear tree that we carved our initials into, longingly. Like he was sad about something.
I told him the movie was starting and all he did was slightly nod his head.
About ten minutes later, all four of us sat side by side on our ratty old sofa. The screen small and square.
By the time the movie was over, Dad looked at us. I never understood what he was trying to convey to us. Now I know. He was looking around at the last day of a life he loved. He was saying goodbye.
The next day, mama told us we were moving . . . without dad.
It was finally summer. School had just ended and I was free to do whatever I wanted for two blissful months.
Well, that is, until mama called us into her room.
I was on the phone with my best friend when Mama called us. When I got there, Landon sat at the foot of her bed with a knowing, and mostly annoyed expression.
I am sure you can guess what she said.
We were visiting dad for the summer.
We packed up and headed out that Sunday morning.
The first thing I noticed was the size of the house. Mama lived in an apartment. This was an actual house with the perfectly manicured lawn and white fence. Everything ever said about 'The American Dream' was in front of my eyes. The second thing I noticed was a women. Her name was Ariel. She looked almost exactly like the mermaid but with dark brown hair instead.
That women was introduced and I soon found her very smart, independent, and beautiful. I found myself comparing her to my mother. I just had a strange feeling about her.
She seemed too perfect. Perfect walk. Perfect laugh. Perfect teeth.
She said things like, "Yeah, your dad actually really likes peas." When just last year, he scooped all of his peas out in the trash and told me not to tell mama about it. I'd kept that secret to the grave.
She made us feel like we didn't even know our own father. But I still gave her a chance. She seemed genuinely nice to us. I wanted to like her.
Dad showed us around. He made us feel at home. We played board games. All the while, Landon was becoming more quiet. More reserved.
A week before we were expected to head back to mamas, I felt better. I also felt stupid. I thought, of course divorce wouldn't completely flip my life upside down.
When we sat down on the huge, velvet couch, they wanted to watch a movie. I felt a bit guilty considering the last movie night I'd had was with mama. But I relented.
We watched Tomorrowland.
Once it was over,
they had an announcement. yippy.
She was pregnant.
Landon was rarely ever home. Contrary to when we were little, we no longer hung out or even really talked.
It was like he'd forgotten about me. About our friendship.
Right when we got to dads house, he was rarely ever around.
It was funny, really, when I'd found out about the baby, I flipped. I had multiple breakdowns. As bad as it sounds, I even thought about dying. It was extreme but all I wanted was for my life to go back to normal. I'd hated Ariel. She made me feel like I was being fazed out and replaced by her children and herself.
But right when we got to dad's house, I fell in love.
My new baby brother, Jacks, chubby cheeks were the same complexion as mine and the same curly, brown hair. His eyes had that chaotic hope that all babys had when they first come in the world. They have all this trust that the world is perfect. It made that dull part of me brighten a bit with that that same sliver of hope he had in his eyes. That missing piece in my chest that supposedly 'broke' had been replaced with the love I carried for this little boy.
I lived for his laughter.
I lived for his sparkle of joy.
But sometimes I still felt different. Ariel was constantly taking care of her kid. Dad was constantly working. He'd quit his job a while back with Ariel and they were building up their own company. They'd become pretty successful so far.
Landon was no longer in my life. He'd stay in his room.
At night, I'd find myself crying into my pillow. Feeling selfish for wanting my life back.
During the day, I laughed and played with Jack. Pushing all negative thoughts away.
I decided it was stupid of me to feel so mad at the world. So I shoved it away.
Our annual movie night came. Landon made an excuse about feeling too nauseated to join.
Halfway through Bambi, Jack started crying from his crib. His parents were too tired to check on him. So I did it for them. Passing Landons room, I smelled the slight but very obvious weed. Damn.
When I reahced Jack, I sang him a lullaby and told him everything would be alright, that his big sister would always protect him.
Walking back to the movie room, the screen was black and the chairs were empty.
Yeah, I understood they were tired. It's fine. But they were always tired.
Dad had been yelling at my brother from the moment we entered his car to the moment we got out of his car. Landon was, once again, in trouble.
We got home, unpacked our stuff and headed inside. They now had a new born baby girl, Jaylen. I'd gotten over being anyones favorite or even being wanted by these people. It was a lost cause.
Then something strange happened. Dad asked me if I wanted to go for a walk with him. That tiny surge of hope fluttered slightly in my chest.
I took the stairs to the driveway two at a time. I was excited. In the car, dad turned the radio to a classic rock station. We sung on the top of our lungs like we used to. He drove fast. I laughed loud. He took me to the Frozen Yogurt place near the lake.
"Okay, would you rather drink a gallon of Tapatio hot sauce or the juice of an onion?" I asked him as we scooped our yogurt and stared out at the water. He considered this for a moment before saying "Tapatio for sure. I'm used to hot sauce but onion juice, hell no. You?" I shrug, "I hate both. So the hot sauce I guess."
Ever since I was very little, I'd been so proud to be just like my dad. I dressed like him, talked like him, and even ate like him. Now I wish to be just like him again. It's a peculiar feeling, wanting the acceptance of a father who, I recently found out, cheated on my mother. I'd hated him for a while. I still hold a bit of resentment towards him. He hurt one of my favorite people on this earth.
And yet, I wanted to be just like him.
I stared up at him and saw a new version of my dad. All these years, I've been so close to him but never close with him. He'd gotten older. He'd gotten skinnier. But mostly, his once happy and bright eyes had dulled a bit. He was not the same guy I once knew. Once loved.
We sat down on the stairs facing the water. Our now empty cups of yogurt by our feet. He started speaking, I savored every word, "You remind me of me, you know? You have always been really strong. Really independent. Really beautiful. Ha, not saying I'm all that beautiful but still. With all that music you've been working on, I'm so proud. You walk tall and speak with confidence. I want you to know that you are one talented soul that will accomplish great things in this world. Look at me, I started life in a shitty environment. Now I'm thriving as a businessman. I want that life for you. I want you to be successful. I want you to be happy."
When it came to a movie night, nobody wanted to join. Except, of course, dad. We watched National Velvet, and I can tell you that I'd never been happier. I couldn't hide my smile. This was our new beginning. This was our fresh start. But when I turned to give him a grateful smile, his eyes were on his phone screen. That little flicker of hope, happiness even, left as quickly as it came.
I'm sitting under that pear tree. You know, the one we carved our names in. It's dying. It's a sign. Except we died a long time ago. I'm not coming back home. We no longer talk at all. You have said maybe five words this entire summer. I watched you tonight. You, Jack, Jaylen, Ariel. You guys were watching a movie. It was like deja vu.
You guys were watching the last movie we ever watched with mama. It hurt. You looked at your new family and I knew you'd moved on. Landon hasn't spoke to you in years and you don't seem to mind. You've let us go.
Remember that day at the lake? We got FroYo? You said I reminded you of yourself? I felt the most pride in myself I'd ever felt. That was your goodbye, huh? Because we never talked like that since. You have a new family. Your priorities have changed.
I'll miss you.
Just one thing: Why don't you love me anymore?
I'm knocking on the door now. I know, it's crazy. I haven't been here in ten years.
Dad answers the door. I walk in.
"Lana!! Oh my gosh! I missed you!" Jaylen hops on my back as Jack hugs my stomach. We saw each other a month ago but okay.
We talk. We eat. I just don't talk to dad.
But for some reason, once everyone is asleep, I find myself in that movie room next to him. We sit in silence as he turns the tv on.
Never Ending Story.
Maybe this could be our new beginning. This time when that flicker of hope comes, I turn to him.
It hurts but I can see that this is goodbye. We're just too late.