I was going through the dumb iPhoto album on this dumb laptop, looking for a dumb picture that apparently is in my old laptop’s dumb iPhoto album, though it’s likely it could be in either my dumb desktop iPhoto album or my old desktop iPhoto album, which is also dumb. I have sworn that when this laptop dies, I am switching to a Windows Surface thing. Seriously, I am doing that. The Mac cloud has failed me too many times and Steve Jobs is dead. These are facts, and I never found that picture I was looking for.
Another fact: that guy up there is my dad, and this was a picture that I didn’t mean to find. There aren’t many pictures of my dad on any of my computers. There are barely any on the Internet; I found two. Now there are three.
Dad and Jane were traveling through California while I was visiting my favorite Auntie in Sacramento some months ago. I got nervous when the prospect of them dropping by came up; I hadn’t seen my dad in over five years. But I agreed. What was I gonna do? Say no? No, because that just isn’t my style, even if my stomach hurt terribly that morning and I bit my thumb cuticle on my left hand till I drew blood.
Aunt Leesa and I made muffins; the meetup was going to be brunch at her house. We made strong coffee. My auntie knows how I feel about my dad (complicated) and she knows the early story of my family (lousy, complicated) but she’s not a Ground Zero Crewmember so she’s about the best person on the planet to sit next to at brunch if you’re me and Dad’s across the table. She also grew up with the guy, so she knows when he’s, you know. Full of muffin. Which he is.
I could write a novel about how that two-hour brunch went, what with all the labyrinthine thought processes running through memory and curiosity at the same time, trying to result in conversation not emotional but still genuine, not slow-burn rage-y but not without bite. You want those who have hurt you to hear a little bite in your voice, don’t you? We all want to punish, even while we eat bacon. Especially while we eat bacon.
My trip to California over the weekend wasn’t for business. I went and spent time with Leesa, my favorite aunt. She was my favorite aunt before the weekend; now I feel like we should fill out some kind of embossed certificate to announce it. Thanks, auntie.
It had been a number years since Leesa and I had spent time together. The last time I saw her was when her father died in 2009. That was a sub-optimal visit, as you can imagine. Everyone was sad about grandpa being dead and busy with funeral and burial stuff. “Sad and busy” is a dreadful state, and it inevitably comes upon you when someone you love dies. Me and my aunt wanted to reconnect without trying to work around a wedding or a funeral, so I flew out to California to see her, her adorable dog, Otto Lieberman, and the beautiful rosemary bushes that line the patio of her well-appointed California home.
We talked a lot. We drank a lot of coffee. We went to the Crocker Museum to have lunch and see art. We attended a black-tie dinner party. We talked more. We made another pot of coffee. It rained all weekend, so the main component of the visit was conversation. Lucky for me and my aunt, we’re good at conversation and share many (all?) of the same values and interests. And since 75% of my family members are also her family members, there was plenty to discuss in that area. The Fons side of the family was broken up into chunks early on in my life and it’s been a Humpty Dumpty ride ever since. This is true for me; I suspect it feels the same for other Fonses I know aside from my aunt, but I won’t speak for them.
Over the course of our visit, I got some information about my father. I haven’t seen him since Grandpa’s funeral either, but Leesa (his youngest sister) stays in contact. I am wary when I’m about to get information about him and hardly eager to ask for it; the presence of my father in any sort of reportage rarely bodes well. His issues are many. Despite my numerous attempts to make even a surfacey relationship work over the years, we have long been estranged.
I looked up “estranged” in the dictionary. I thought it meant “not in contact.” It’s a bit sadder than that:
estranged |iˈstrānjd| adjective (of a person) no longer close or affectionate to someone; alienated: John felt more estranged from his daughter than ever | her estranged father.
My aunt told me something by accident that made me at once very sad and very happy, which is an emotional combination more common than being sad and busy, but not any more comfortable. We were talking about pies, Leesa and I, our favorites and methods for making them. We were at the kitchen table.
“You know, we Fonses have a real sweet tooth,” she said, coffee mug in hand. It rained so hard that day, leaves and mud fell out of the gutters onto the sidewalks.
“Really? Like, all of us?” I asked, instantly brightening.
My love of sugar causes me much anxiety. I’m usually worried I eat way, way too much of it, but when I try to eliminate it from my diet (or even cut down on it) I see no point in being alive. That I was somehow not responsible for it, that my sweet tooth was a genetic sentence, that my love of pecan pie and pistachio ice cream actually served to count me among my tribe, well, this made me feel fantastic and warm inside. I instantly thought about eating another one of Leesa’s gourmet marshmallows from the pantry.
“We’re definitely sweets people,” Leesa said. “Your dad, he’ll eat dessert for breakfast. Always would, always loved to. Pie, cheesecake. That’s not for me, but that’s what he would eat for breakfast every day if he had the option. Isn’t that funny?”
I swallowed too much hot coffee. It burned the back of my throat but couldn’t melt the insty-lump that had formed there when Leesa said the words, “Your dad” and “dessert for breakfast.”
I love eating dessert for breakfast. It’s my favorite thing in the world. If there’s cheesecake in the house, I will eat a slice for breakfast and genuinely take no interest in it the rest of the day. In my world, apple pie and coffee are perfect 7:00am foods. Just today, a hazelnut Ritter Sport chocolate bar and a pot of Earl Grey tea constituted my breakfast and you betcher bippy I was at my olympic best all day.
I didn’t know I shared this trait with my father. I didn’t pick up my love for coconut creme pie with my morning coffee by seeing him eat coconut creme pie with his morning coffee. I couldn’t have; I’ve been seated at a breakfast table with the man no more than a handful of times since the divorce. To be thirty-something and discover things about your father, (e.g., he likes cheesecake for breakfast just like you) this information would be bittersweet if he were dead. But as my father is alive, these sorts of discoveries are bittersweet as well as bizarre. We could technically have cheesecake for breakfast together in the near future, my dad and I.
Technically, we could. But emotionally, we can’t. Philosophically, we can’t. Historically, we simply can’t.
I made a pie tonight for Yuri. Buttermilk-brown sugar. Seeing as how it’s delicious and wrapped in foil on the little table where we eat, breakfast is served.