It was during that time when I put celery sticks in Dixie cups half-filled with purple water and waited anxiously for the stalks to turn purple too, when mixing baking soda and vinegar was an afternoonly temptation to me, when the chameleon I ordered from the back of Boy's Life for $7.99 was in the mail and arriving any day now, when one day my father came home from work while I was reading the A-volume of the encyclopedia from cover to cover (it was the best one, in my opinion, having airplanes, animals, and America) and I was too busy to notice what day it was, instead opting to continue reading about the difference between a Stealth Bomber and the SR-71 (the first was invisible to radar, and the second was the fastest airplane in the world – both looked cool), and he walked into the kitchen like he always did.
Later that night, after dinner, after watching some television, after I brushed my teeth and washed my face, my father awkwardly asked my sister and I to come into the family room because he wanted to say something.
"I'm not sure if you forgot, but today is my birthday. It hurts me that nobody has bothered to mention it to me yet, because it makes me feel unappreciated."
My sister started crying and ran to her room. After apologizing weakly, I decided to go to my room as well, words of explanation or excuse not being exactly forthcoming.
My room had two Michael Jordan posters and a Darryl Strawberry poster, a scorpion encased in glass, a dried-out blowfish, a crab shell I took home from a fancy seafood restaurant and cleaned out myself, a 13-inch television, two karate trophies, a couple ribbons from school competitions, a model of a red convertible that I'd gotten that Christmas, and some National Geographic magazines, but in all my room there was not a damn thing that would make a good present for my great and wonderful father. I felt the kind of horrible that you can only feel when you're still innocent.
I spent the rest of the night writing a letter on paper torn from my sketchbook – a letter in which I explained my own selfishness and expressed my love for him as best I could. A love which surpassed even that for watching fallen baby teeth dissolve in a glass of Coca-Cola, even that for collecting live honey bees in mayonnaise jars, even that for pinning neighborhood butterflies to the inside of my wooden briefcase. At the bottom I wrote, simply, "Happy Birthday."
Long after he had gone to bed, I tip-toed across the creaky hallway as quietly as I could, opened his bedroom door so slowly that the moon's shadow on the floor passed me by, and crept as stealthily as the Bomber itself, placing the folded letter on the table beside my dad's sleeping mass. I think he played along and let me believe he was really asleep as I stood and looked at him for a few more minutes before leaving.
What have you done for love?