“Sweetheart, I’m moving to California,” he said quietly
“What do you mean?”
“I got a promotion at work and the job is in California.”
“But I’m here,” I said as the lump in my throat got bigger.
“I know that. But you can visit whenever you want to. I’ll fly you out anytime.” He didn't look up as he stirred the ice in his drink.
“But I don’t understand why you have to go. Can’t you just stay here?” I couldn’t stop the tears at this point.
“Please don’t cry. I’m really sad about this too.” His eyes were filling up with tears. I’d never seen him cry before.
There was a long silence until the waiter brought our food to the table. I had lost my appetite completely. I know I was thinking a million things but nothing would come out. I wanted to know why.
Aren't there jobs in Colorado?
Doesn't he love me?
Have I done something wrong?
How can I fix it?
I don’t remember anything else from that night. I don’t remember how much longer we stayed at the restaurant and I don’t remember him dropping me off at home. They say that shock can do that. Maybe it’s a self-preservation thing – you forget entire spans of time so that you don’t have to remember the exact moment your heart broke into a million little pieces.
The next thing I really remember was sitting in his dining room a few weeks later looking around at the moving boxes stacked up in the corner. Bathroom. Kitchen. Office. Bedroom. Garage. I remember wondering where the Kendra box was.
He walked in the room and kissed me on the forehead. I wiped it off and made sure he saw me. His shoulders slumped and he walked out of the room again. I was happy I had hurt him. I sat in the dining room with his boxes and my anger.
When it came time to say goodbye, the anger was gone. I was desperate as I hugged him too tightly. I could feel the tears running down my face as I cried into his neck. My nose was running and I was gasping for air. I can tell you that I’d never cried that hard before. I begged him to stay. I promised we’d never fight again. I told him I’d change whatever he wanted me to change if he would just stay.
“Kendra, I have to go.”
“Daddy, please don’t leave me.”
In my seven year-old mind, my father had abandoned me. My parents had been divorced for four years at that point. I already missed him all the time and he only lived across town. I didn’t care about the job he was getting and I didn’t care what kind of opportunity it was. I didn’t understand the economics of it but I understood the geography and California was too far.
He left on a Thursday, I think. I remember being jealous of California because it got him.Just as he promised, I was able to visit whenever I wanted. My trips were filled with sightseeing, shopping, and meals at fancy restaurants. He did everything he could to make sure I was happy and having fun.
Twenty-two years have passed since I begged him not to leave me. When he left, I was little girl. When he came back five years later, I was nearly a teenager and I completely resented him for leaving in the first place. It was tough when he moved back and we struggled for several years. I wanted to punish him for leaving and I found creative ways to do it.
My dad worked very hard to look past the angry rants of his firstborn and did his best to build a relationship with me…even when I didn’t want one at all. But he kept trying and after a while, I tried too.
I love the relationship we have now. We talk on a regular basis and we enjoy spending time together. We talk about books and movies and baseball. He always tells me that he’s proud of me. He supports me and believes in me when I don’t believe in myself. He doesn’t let me beat myself up but he doesn’t let me get “too big for my britches”. I’m proud of us because I know many people in the same situation who never bridged the gap. Our relationship isn’t perfect but we’ve never ended a phone call without saying “I love you” and I know I can talk to him at any time because he’s always been there for me...even when he was in California.