Chapter one – Prologue
The year I turned fourteen, I realized that I had spent half of my life without my father. Seven years had flown away mysteriously – almost all of a sudden – since that sunny morning when an ambulance had taken him to a place he would never come back from. If I had had to describe what had followed, I would have used these two nouns: tears and resentment. Like a veil of dark clouds covering a sky way too fast – stealing our smiles. But as I was sitting by the windowsill of our Brooklyn apartment on that cold January evening, the only conclusion I came to was that the man I used to call dad had turned into a perfect stranger now. We say that death doesn't change anything – that we will always remember our beloved ones no matters the years that might pass by. It is a lie. After seven years, his figure was blurry to me – as if the sun would constantly blind me when trying to look up at him standing there in front of me. His voice had ceased to be as well and if it weren't for a couple of pictures my mother would have not been able to throw away like the rest, he would have been a pure fantasy – some sort of an old idea I would have come up with once.
He didn't mean to die. He didn't mean to leave us behind. But it happened – harshly. Unexpectedly. It never stopped hurting – through my mother's constant pain and how her broken heart would never be the same ever again, the semblance of life she desperately tried to bring us nonetheless. We had lost our references and for some reason – as numbers moved into a cruel game of geometry – it hit me like a ton of bricks. Anger boiling through my veins. My father had ceased to make sense to me.
The year I turned fourteen, everything fell down and crashed into pieces – slowly, little by little. It may have been some sort of renouncement if I have to think about it retrospectively. I found out about men and how easy it was to manipulate them. I found out about the numbed world of alcohol and how safe it made me feel. I found out about drugs – hard ones – and a couple of other things.
I made it through. A matter of luck – definitely not determination. But as I finally managed to embrace my own life – the way I wanted it to be – something remained, stuck around in my head: if I ever had a child, I would do my best to prevent him – or her – from regretting to have turned fourteen. Innocent I was to think it would be that easy.
The place looked like a doll house – one of these she always stared at in window stores at Christmas when she was a child – knowing that she would never get one. Small tables coming straight from Alice in Wonderland as if tea were about to be served at any time. Unless you preferred the Art Deco room in the background with its colorful lamps that reminded her of a bistro in Paris she had gone to with Will a few years earlier.
Time seemed to have got suspended when you passed the doors of Serendipity. It was another world as outside – if you looked by the windows – The Upper East Side kept on boiling as if nothing had really happened, nothing that would deserve people to stop and look around.
"We called you Hannah because..."
"Because you majored in Philosophy at Yale – because Hannah Arendt was your favorite thinker – and most of all because "Hannah" means "Grace" in Hebrew which was a way to honor Grace. I know that but... Aren't you supposed to wait for dad to tell me that? Like every year."
Sometimes, Karen wondered if she didn't go too far – if her constant desire to give her child the exact opposite of what she had received once wasn't too much. The minute she had given birth to Hannah, it had been all about rituals and traditions – a subconscious desire to give her child references she herself had cruelly lacked once. Coming to Serendipity for Hannah's birthday was one of them – like telling the story behind her name.
Crossing her arms on the table and plunging her eyes in her daughter's, Karen nodded before looking at the room.
"You are right, sweetie. You are right... I am sorry."
But Will was nowhere to be seen – probably stuck in traffic if he had decided to take a cab instead of just walking his way up to The Upper East Side. Her fingertips brushed the menu abandoned on the table – they wouldn't need to open it for knowing beforehand what they would have. Always the same – it was always the same with them.
"Hannah... There is something I want to tell you – and it is alright if your father isn't here to hear it. As a matter of fact, it might be better like that because it is something... Something personal. Please honey, keep in mind all of this – your birthdays at Serendipity, the way I keep on rambling about the same, year after year – because soon enough, it will look ridiculous to you and... And you will need time to realize that memories like these ones are paramount in someone's life. I love you. Remember this because soon I know that you will think that I hate you."
Hannah frowned – the way Will used to when facing a confusing situation as well – before shaking her head with determination. A curly strand of hair came to fall in front of her eyes but she left it there – as if too concentrated on the conversation that was going on.
"I will never think that!"
The door opened and Will came in – finally. Waving at him, Karen sat up on her chair and smiled with a delicate bitterness to nothing in particular.
"Oh yes you will, sweetie... Believe me."
Her whisper came to die in Will's effusion as he reached the table – kissed the top of Hannah's head – and captured her lips furtively before sitting down next to her. His hand sliding protectively on her hip. A large present suddenly invaded the table to the child's highest pleasure.
"Happy birthday, my princess. Ten years old... Can you believe it? You are a big girl now! Ready for a chocolate ice-cream?"
Ten years old – a new decade. The end of innocence as well.