Arts in New York City: Baruch College, Fall 2008, Professor Roslyn Bernstein
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Who He Was: A Family Man

           If he wasn’t working he was driving. Driving south, every few months after the divorce from his first wife Marilyn McClure and the separation from the son he always wanted, he just dropped everything and drove. On his way there he thought of her, how when he married her she looked just like Diana Ross- she still did. He thought of Bryan, their son Bryan who was so bright in everything.  It was the thought of them that kept him awake and heartened on the road. From New York City to Orlando he didn’t even make a stop at to sleep at one of the motels that lined the highway.

            He drove down that highway in a trusty brontosaurus of an Oldsmobile station wagon, his Chips sunglasses glinting in the sunlight. Gold rimmed, green tinted Rayban Aviators that he bought right after seeing “that guy from Chips” wear them. He checked the gas, looked left before making a turn and adjusted his rearview mirror as he turned his Ms. Ross’s best tune “Do You Know Where You’re Going To?” up. As he arrived closer and closer to Florida he felt himself grow warmer. Even for early spring it seemed unnaturally warm almost as if the earth were letting off steam. Or maybe it was the warmth emanating from the sheer goodwill of his intentions. If he worked it right he thought, “this might be the last trip I have to make….”

           His son Bryan turned eleven and started his first year of junior high that year. Instantly the corners of his lips turn upwards, he relaxed the tautness of his jaw and his eyes crinkled. He remembered the conversation he had with him the week before, “Dad I am going to SeaWorld next week, on a class trip, two whole classes are going, and our teacher asked us if our parents, you know our mothers and fathers, want to volunteer to help out. Hey dad, when are you coming to visit us dad?”

             As he pulled up to the junior high school he was stunned at the space between the separate buildings. To him they resembled simple one-story houses widely spaced on a thick green grass carpet– a far cry from the stone catholic schools of his youth.

            He strode up to the front desk where a secretary looked up from her paperwork gave him a strained smile. “Excuse me can I help you?”

            “Yes, my name is Julio Alarcon and I am here to get my son Bryan for the class trip to Sea World” His chest puffed out a bit as he anticipated an expression of recognition from her.

          “Bryan? I’m afraid we don’t have a student here by this name…” She trailed of as she saw his smile crumple, “Wait, we have a student named Jules Alarcon is he your son?” At that he let out a loud swoosh of air from his lungs thanked her and mechanically followed her instructions. Even though his son was his namesake, no one referred to him as Jules, not even himself.

          As he opened the door to the classroom he didn’t even have a chance to alert the teacher as Bryan came bounding into his arms with an impetuous hug and a  “DAD!”. It was worth it he thought, as he had to explain to the bemused teacher that he really was his father. Bryan’s mother Marilyn, although of mixed race herself was considered African American. Although America liked to think of itself as racially unprejudiced even in 1979 his marriage to her raised eyebrows. His son was just caught in between these social forces he had no control over. All you need is love.

          In a flurry of commotion he found himself on a bus and then off it, shepherding students from on exhibit to another. All the while he made sure to catch Bryan’s eye and smile reassuringly at him, as if to say he would never leave. His son appreciated that and rewarded him by flashing him a dimpled smile and a wave. “Hey dad, do you know the difference between a killer whale and an orca? There is none! They’re both the same!” The front row of his teeth mischievously peeped out and his eyes shone as he grinned broadly at his own wit and father. He then ran back to sit with his whole table of friends. Julio tried to capture that moment in a photo but at the last minute the whole group decided that they were camera shy. All that remained was hands in front of faces hiding almost as if they wanted to be forgotten.

        As they drove home in his car Bryan jabbered on ceaselessly. Julio was regaled with tales about his latest high score about hoops and his new high score in Mega man. As he pulled up the clean white driveway of 17 Columbine Drive his indulgent glowing smile turned into one of bemused despair as he realized that he had forgotten his keys to the house. Ever handy and prepared from the last time he forget his keys, he pulled out a piece of wire from the glove compartment a proceeded to pick the lock of his own house. Again.

         “Mom! Dad is home!”

And so it began again. He smiled confidently and tried to catch her all the while explaining his surprise visit.  She only had eyes for the exhilarated expression of joy on her sons face as ran back and forth between them, a merry pendulum with long limbs and Cheshire cat grin. All he had to do was wait for the right moment to ask her to come back to New York. All they needed was love.

                Dinner was always a silent affair but on that particular night everyone chattered on as if to dance around the giant elephant in the room. Technically they weren’t married anymore. Technically Julio was free to remarry or move on with his life. Technically Julio could forget he ever had a son and no one would judge him for it. Technically that is what any stereotypical free willed man would want, to ramble on into the world unencumbered by the worries of domestic life.

            This wasn’t what he wanted.

        He told her right after dinner, right as he watched her rinse the dishes with that poised air and efficiency he loved so much and right as Bryan walked into the kitchen. For what reason no on ever remembered, not even him.

          All there was….all there was left for him, was a silence.  In that moment of “damn communication breakdown” as he put it, he knew he had to go.

            “Marilyn could you make me a carrot cake? and upside down pineapple cake you know the ones you always made for me?….before I go….?” He started the question off strong just like anything he undertook and then the uncertainty in the air came stinging clear as he saw the incredulity in her eyes. He trailed off…

              “You want me to bake all that now, Julio look at how late it is! I just got out of work!”  Her left hand worked up reflexively on her right hip yet even as she grumbled she set to baking. His mouth watered from the cinnamon smell as she set them out to cool later that night. By morning he was gone.

As he drove into Virginia later that afternoon he hit the break, pulled over, cradled his forehead onto the steering wheel and cried.

He had forgotten the carrot cake.

And the upside down pineapple cake

But not his family, he never could.

            If he wasn’t working, he was driving. After that last trip, he decided to take a break from driving. He thought back to his homeland Bolivia and that girl, oh girl *intake of breath…girl he took there, and left behind. When he got back to New York he bought a one-way ticket there and left.

             Little did he dream he come back to New York the following year with that same girl. Her name was Ada, now an older woman and in that year she was carrying in her womb his very first daughter, Katie. It would be just like starting over. If he failed then he would try again and again, and again.

1 comment

1 Keyana { 12.15.08 at 11:39 pm }

Katie I like your vivid description and imagery. I could almost imagine it all in my head. I particularly liked the line “He had forgotten the carrot cake. And the upside down pineapple cake. But not his family, he never could.” Your piece, and that line especially, says a lot about your father, good job.