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I wrote this for a Reader's Digest submission, "inspirational story in 1000 words or less", although it never got anywhere. I'd love to get some opinions on where I could strengthen it, and any ideas of other places that accept this type of story. Thanks!
Oh no, here we go again.
Dad’s whipped out his big checked hanky, wiped his nose with it then spread it out and put it over his head. He’s sitting there straight-backed, eyes closed, taking big breaths like he’s about to blow up a balloon, then snorting out. The other people in the restaurant turn to look at him.
“Dad!” I hiss. Not here!
He opens his eyes and plants his hands on the crisp white tablecloth. “I am a customer in this restaurant. If they insist on using fluorescent lighting then I shall have to insist on covering my head.” I look at Mum. She’s on the verge of tears again. I sip my raspberry lemonade and hope we have time to eat our dinner before he goes too crazy.
It’s not the first time. Last month we tried to have a family dinner at the hamburger place further up the road, and it ended with Mum and Dad having a fist-fight, and the owner threatening to call the police. That was because they used the microwave to heat something within his hearing range.
Back then, when I was twelve, I hadn’t heard the word schizophrenia. All I knew that my dad wasn’t taking those little purple tablets any more and things weren’t good in our house. Dad used to be quiet, wear jumpers with holes in the sleeve and have a job in an office with a swivelly chair. Afterwards there was no job. Mum cried all the time and Dad took up strange exercises, talking about things like “finding his neck”, and “learning to breathe”. Dad smashed the toaster oven in a fit of rage. He bought her a microwave to replace it, but after she finally started using it he decided that the noise it emitted was damaging to his brain. Every time Mum tried to microwave something Dad would yell “Ho HO! Ho HO!” at the top of his voice, like some deranged Santa. The fights got worse, the name-calling more frequent.
After a while I simply stopped caring. Dad and I lived in the same house, but saw very little of each other. I liked the evenings that he stayed late in town, and he was rarely up by the time I left for school in the mornings. By the time I was fifteen he’d left home to live in an apartment over a shop in Hobart. A year later he’d packed up completely and left the state. I didn’t miss him.
That was that. Then one day, the year I turned 20, he called Mum and said he’d inherited some money and he’d like to pay for me to come visit him in Western Australia. I was shocked! He was a stranger to me, and I presumed he’d had as little feeling for me as I had for him. Still, I’d never been that far across the country before, and was happy to have a couple of weeks of all-expenses-paid sight-seeing.
Waiting at the airport, an unusual thing happened. While I was sitting reading, a man in a baseball cap put a large amethyst crystal on the opened book in my lap then walked off without saying a word. I was surprised, confused, but took it as sign of good things to come. On the plane my heart was pounding, I held the crystal tight in my hand. Two weeks with a stranger! I didn’t even know anybody else in Western Australia. What if it all goes wrong?
When the plane landed I grabbed my backpack and made my way out to the passenger lounge. There he was, arms outstretched to embrace me, tears in his eyes. I showed him the crystal and he held it to his chest with one hand and banged his other fist to his thigh. “Testing its energy”, apparently. He looked so weird, but I was old enough now not to care who was watching.
The two weeks I spent with Dad were quietly revolutionary. Neither of us had anything to lose in our relationship, and we talked openly and honestly for the first time, not as father and daughter, but as adults.
We caught trains together, looked in health food shops and scoured take-away places for food that had “the right energy”. We talked about my childhood, about leaving the job with the swivelly chair, and the purple pills. I understood for the first time why he stopped taking his medication; about the fog they caused in his brain, how hard it must be to have to fight that fog on a daily, monthly, yearly basis. I began to glimpse his bravery at stepping out and standing up for what he believed was right, for what he needed to be well, in spite of how crazy it seemed at the time. He told me how sorry he was for the hurt he caused me as a child, and I was able to forgive him.
Two days before I was to leave for home, we again sat opposite each other in a restaurant. I smiled. No hanky on the head this time. This was a buffet, where Dad could see all the food and test it before he chose what to eat. He’d learned to be subtle about the thigh-banging, and didn’t mind my good-natured teasing about it. We ate fat steaks and side salads, and watched Simpsons reruns on the TV in the corner. I looked into his blue eyes, thinking how little we resembled each other; how, if it wasn’t for this trip, we could have simply drifted away with no more than DNA to connect us. I felt the tears start in my eyes as I thought of leaving again in a couple of days. I’d found my Dad again. Even with all his eccentricities, he was MY DAD, and I wouldn’t change that for anything.
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