"Mommy," she says to me, "when's Grandpa coming back?"
My daughter pouts, hugging her stuffed polar bear under her arm. She carries it around everywhere, and I hate it. I can't bear to say no to her doing it, except to preschool, but it's a reminder of what we've lost. She idolizes her grandfather, much like I did when I was a teenager, and it's gotten her as much as it got me – next to nothing, except maybe misery.
"Not for a long, long time, sweetheart. Remember what the men said? No one can find him." I hate having to say those words, too, but Teri will only resent me down the road if I lie to her, for letting her nurse high hopes that my dad will no doubt crush.
"But he's just hiding, right?" she says, her lower lip quivering.
"Yes, honey. Grandpa's just hiding." This conversation has to stop. "Go watch your T.V. show, Teri. I think Sesame Street is on."
My child is lucky. The suggestion of Sesame Street brightens her face considerably, and for the time being, at least, she forgets her Grandpa's broken promises.
I get no such luxuries.
I slip down the hall into my bedroom, and stand in the middle of it, feeling lost. It's been a week since Dad left, since he lost it and fled the country, but his third abandonment is even harder than the first two. The very first time, I came to forgive quickly; after all, he had only my best interests at heart. The second time, when Chloe phoned to tell me he was released from China, I felt abandoned because he was on the run almost immediately, being persecuted by our own government. That, too, was relatively easy to forgive, because of all the things he's had to lose, his freedom should not have been one of them. Still, it was harder than the first, because although I kept searching for him, I couldn't put my life on hold for him; I married and became a mother feeling his absence, and Mom's, strongly.
My eyes fall on a framed picture of him and myself, sitting on my nightstand. It was taken three months after his last treatment, and it marks the time I began to believe…to truly believe that I might have my dad back again. No more private investigators, no more searching the whole world wide, always a step or three behind him, and yet, always wondering if he was okay. No more hearings and trials and bigoted senators trying to make my dad the poster-boy of bad deeds.
God damn, I was wrong.
I snatch up the picture, and before I can stop myself, I hurl it at the opposite wall. I regret it the second it starts to hit the wall, and stare at it as it falls to the carpet, the glass in shatters. It's fallen face-down, so that the picture is hidden from view. I almost expect to see a trail of blood seeping out from under the frame, as if by damaging Dad's picture, I actually caused him harm.
I close my eyes, unable to stop the tears from slipping out beneath them. My anger has disappeared, leaving behind only sorrow. "Go back to your show, baby," I choke out. I take a deep breath and cough to compose myself. My voice is a little stronger when I say, "Everything's okay. Mommy just had a little accident, and she has to clean it up."
Thankfully, faint footsteps tell me that she's done what I asked, without question. My tears run swiftly and persistently, now. I go over and kneel down beside the mess. I take the frame in my hands and flip it over. Triangles of glass still jaggedly cover the picture, but there's enough glass missing to slip it out. I put aside the broken frame and hold the picture before me.
We were so happy. Damn it, we were supposed to be so happy. It didn't matter where he lived, so long as he was in our lives. Yes, I wanted him to come to L.A. to be with us, but even staying back in New York would have been okay. There's email, and phone, and letters, and web camera. We would have been happy.
But Dad lost it. He completely lost it. Anyone who didn't know him personally would have expected him to lose it years ago, but I suppose I came to view him as a stoic, solid barrier, unable and unwilling to waste anything on meltdowns. He picked a fine time to prove me wrong.
I almost want to hate Renee Walker. Chloe filled me in on…everything, and I almost want to hate her. But I can't. Not completely. For one, she's dead, and it's just bad taste to speak ill of the dead. For another, it's a sad fact in life that there is no stopping my dad when he wants to do something. So I have to put the blame on Dad's shoulders, not hers, or anyone else's.
"How the hell is it possible for me to love you, and hate you so much?" I ask Dad's picture.
Dad just smiles back at me, the crow's feet at his eyes pronounced, his grin toothy.
"I'm your daughter, Dad," I whisper, angrily. "I'm your daughter. Aren't I more important than revenge for a woman you barely knew? You let Mom's killer live for years before you killed her, but you couldn't choose your family over revenge this time?" I'm your daughter.
I set the picture aside and start picking up the pieces of glass. One sharp edge catches my thumb, and I shake it, hissing. It's a deep cut; bright blood drips onto the picture. I suck on it for a moment before going into the bathroom for a band-aid.
As I peel open the paper and pull out the bandage, I feel more tears slipping out of the corners of my eyes. God, Dad. I miss you. I love you. I need you. I wouldn't care that you've abandoned me again if I could just see you again. I run water over the cut, dab Neosporin on it, and wrap the band-aid over it.
When I come out, my dresser is right in front of me, and I stare at the second picture of Dad. Unlike the first one, this picture is of Dad and my daughter. He's holding her in his arms, and he's happy, but his smile is a cautious one. Teri's, though, is the uninhibited display of pure joy that only a small child can show for a camera.
The picture sends my blood boiling again, and I want to hurl that against a wall, too. I bite my lip and curl my nails into my palms to stop from doing just that.
I never believed in "three strikes, you're out," but I'm beginning to. Because even if Dad showed up on our doorstep today, I'm not sure I'd even open the door. Not right away. Eventually, I'd probably allow him over, for Teri's sake, but I would never forgive him. He would come over and play with her and eat meals at our table, but he would do so knowing that he would never, ever be able to earn my forgiveness.
He can abandon me all he wants. Lord knows I'm used to it by now. But he abandoned my daughter, and that is unforgiveable. No one hurts my child. Not in any way. Not even her grandfather. I'd forgive him for abandoning me, but never for abandoning her.
And I can hold a grudge; after all, I am my father's daughter.