Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Erased: Memoir Part 1

Sometime Last Year:

We are navigating our way through the crowds at The San Francisco International Airport. I walk ahead, cringing, waiting for my father to say something embarrassing to the woman pushing his wheelchair. She is Filipina and works for the airport. He is Mexican-American and darker than she is, but that has never stopped him from making a racist remark. When he spots a Chinese person, he does a little sing-song that makes one think of rickshaws racing across cobblestones. I can’t wait to get him on the plane back to Los Angeles and check the monitors to make sure his flight is on time.

When I glance over my shoulder, the airport worker is looking a bit alarmed at my father’s non-stop conversation so I force myself to slow down and ask my dad how he is doing. He is seventy nine and his legs are bad. As it turns out, this is a big mistake. This unusual display of daughterly concern thrills him and unleashes our entire family history. Except it’s not historical. It’s some revisionist version that sounds vaguely familiar.

Words have always poured - unfiltered - out of my father’s mouth. Whenever a thought pops into his brain, nanoseconds later it makes its public debut. When I was ten, we were at a wedding and he told a young couple that their big, bald baby looked like Nikita Kruschev. I can still remember their startled faces. It didn’t stop there. He told a high school boyfriend about my latest bowel movement. He informed a nurse that she had a big butt. He once told a woman he’d just met all about my mother’s "Oldtimers." Except now he is not making some flippant remark or sharing a sad tale of woe. He’s telling our story. My story. To a complete stranger.

She’s my only daughter, he says. The only family I have left in the world. He sighs.

You don’t have any other children?, the airport worker asks.

My father shakes his head sadly. Oh no, he replies wistfully. After my wife had little Nina the doctor told her she couldn’t have any more children. So that was it. No more kids for us. Just our one little girl.

He says this in his loud voice. Not a quiet, just-between-us voice. I stop and stare at him. He continues with his story. She looks exactly her mother, he explains. My father has warmed to his subject and he’s waving his arms around. She has her mother’s light skin, he says, not like me, dark. And she’s stubborn like her mother, too.

I stand, frozen. The airport has faded away and I am transported to another plane where I am suddenly two dimensional. A giant pink eraser appears and begins to rub me out. I am there but not there. In several sentences, my father has managed to make me disappear.

I am adopted. I am not my mother’s biological child. She did not give birth to me. It was never dangerous for her to bear a second child because conceiving the first was medically impossible. I look nothing like my mother. I do not have my mother’s temperament, her so-called stubbornness.

When I am able to breathe again and the third dimension is restored, I glare at my father. He has a large, egg shaped head that I have always found both funny and slightly repulsive. It wobbles on his neck and I resist the urge to knock it off its stalk. An elevator door opens in front of us. I imagine shoving him inside and running away. But I do none of these things. I wait with him to be wheeled onto the airplane. A good daughter would have bought a ticket and traveled with him back to Los Angeles, but I am not a good daughter.

I don’t miss him when he’s gone.

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