14.12.09

Challenge: Lost and Found

Hungry doesn't describe the feeling.

At six years old, you don't know how to say, "Don't forget about me" -- even when you know, deep in your gut that he will. My father, freshly arrived from the mysterious wanderings that I later learned were prison sentences, was responsible for packing lunch and I knew the night before he'd never remember. But I held my breath and crossed my fingers that I'd have a full lunchbox when the time rolled around.

Yet it was lunch time and I sat empty handed. I could smell the deep, heavy aroma of spaghetti but tried hard not to stare at the hills of it piled on plates around me. The tears were right behind my eyes, tickling my nose and making my lips quiver. I was at the point of giving in, of admitting to someone -- anyone -- that my mom had trusted my dad to wake up in time to serve us breakfast and to send us off to school with both snacks and lunch ... but he hadn't.

The curling pain in my stomach unfurled like a whip, propelling me toward my teacher. That's when I saw him, hair tangled and wild, in a stained shirt and too-tight pants, barreling through the cafeteria toward me. He held a plastic grocery bag with hard lines and angles jutting from all sides.

I stood there, half relieved, half humiliated. He showed up for me. He wasn't going to let me go hungry. He loved me. He dropped into an empty seat at a table near me and motioned for me to come over as he unpacked container after container of food. He must've packed everything in our refrigerator. There were ham and cheese sandwiches, leftover chicken and rice, fruit slices, pickles, a half-bag of chips, a large bottle of soda, and several small cups of sauces and condiments.

He pushed item after item at me and I tried to eat it all. My teacher came by to let us know it was time to head back to class, but I didn't want to leave. My dad had prepared a feast for me with his own hands and I was bound and determined to eat it. I didn't care that his eyes were crusty or that his breath stank. He was my dad and he was caring for me.

When I finally drug myself away, my belly felt heavy and hard. I waved goodbye to him as he packed everything back into the plastic bag. He flashed a bright smile at me and sauntered away. I wanted to cry out to him: Stay! Don't leave me again, ever. Instead, I made my way back to the life I lived without him.

To this day, the smell of cafeteria spaghetti still fills me with hope.

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This post was written for the (W)rite of Passage challenge created by Mrs. Flinger. The challenge is designed to inspire bloggers to write, to hone their craft and tell better stories, rather than to chase page views and followers. The challenge is open to anyone, so join if it speaks to you!

11 comments:

  • melissa

    i'm crying. as in, big, fat tears running down my cheeks.
    that was so beautiful and bittersweet.
    wow.

  • Steph.

    This is haunting, and so beautifully written. I loved it completely...

  • Hilly

    This is an amazing story rife with such raw emotions.

  • Nanna

    That was amazing and painful. Oh honey...

  • Kelly @ The Miller Mix

    Thank you all for reading and commenting. I have to say, I wasn't sad when I was sitting there, eating with him. I was so proud and careful (so as not to ruin it). It's a bittersweet memory, but I'm glad I have it.

  • Liz@thisfullhouse

    I am all choked up, here. Thank you for sharing such a beautiful memory!!!

  • Brigid

    Very moving. Thank you for sharing.

  • mamikaze

    what a wonderful mix of emotions, thank you for haring!

  • Fear and Parenting in Las Vegas

    Great post and a tragically beautiful story. It's amazing what children will overlook to see the love behind it all.

  • becca

    This was amazingly written. I feel like I was there, sitting beside you watching little you with your dad. I could see the pure love and relief on your face. Thank you for sharing this.

  • Rima

    This is an beautiful, beautiful piece of writing.

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