I am sitting on the staircase looking out the window while the mother takes down the balloons and streamers. Painful quiet in the air until finally the gray car pulls up in the driveway. I stand up and go to the door with my shoes on already and say goodbye to Michelle who is watching TV now. I say Thanks for inviting me and I hope you have a happy birthday. She waves without looking and the mother comes up to give me a goodie bag and I say Thank you very much for having me Mrs. Evans I had a very nice time and she gives a tight smile and her eyes are wanting me to leave so I go out the door. Your face behind the windshield then I get in the back. Youre late again I say. You say work was busy and you came as soon as you were done. I say The last person besides me left thirty minutes ago. And you say you did the best you could and I say Well it wasnt good enough then you make that tch sound with your tongue and say to just be thankful for going. It is quiet and the sound of driving. Your hands on the wheel and your head stares straight without looking back. I am thinking. It is hard to understand.
Dad, I say. Why are you not like them. What do you mean you say. I say Like the other dads. Where is your pack of cigarettes in your shirt pocket. Why dont you smoke with the window down when you drive. You say smokings not good for you, it makes you sick. Nevermind that I say. Where is your Weber grill on the back porch. Why dont you cook up hamburgers and hot dogs in the summer. You say we have a kitchen and a stove, what do we need a grill for. Nevermind that I say. Where is your La-Z-Boy chair in the living room. Why dont you lean back on it and watch football on TV and root for your favorite team. You go tch and say you would love to sit and watch TV all day but no you work so I can eat I say Nevermind that. Nevermind thats not the point. Listen I say. I am reaching for the words. Just listen. Where is your blue cooler on the driveway full of ice and beer bottles. Why dont you drink them on a lawn chair. Where is your floppy sports jersey with big numbers on the back and your tickets to Wrigley field. Where is your baseball mitt smelling old and leathery and why cant you throw a fastball or catch a pop fly. Where is your workshop and your tools for cutting wood and building things. Where is your old classic car in the garage that you fix up in your free time and why cant you change a tire. Where is your Coke cans in the refrigerator. Where is your fat cigars and your silver lighter. Where is your fishing rods and your tackle box. Where is your gun locked in the drawer and your old army uniform and your medals for being brave and fighting for America. Where is your hairy arms and your patchy beard. Where is your big laugh and your friendly smile. Where is your broad shoulders and your tubby belly. Where is my kiss on the forehead when you come home in the evening. Out the window I watch houses go by.
I say Where is the meatloaf and the casseroles for dinner. Why does mom make rice and dumplings instead. Why dont you talk about your day at the table and ask me how mine was. Why do you sip from teacups and not a whiskey glass after we eat. Why are you so quiet. Why dont you say bad words when youre angry. Why dont you tell jokes that make people laugh and stories that make them interested. Why arent you friends with any other dads. You are so different and your face is different your eyes are weird and you talk funny why do you talk so funny my friends always laugh when they hear you talk and the parents do too but they are laughing on the inside its embarrassing dad its so embarrassing and I can see the words are cutting you but I am so mad all the sudden, I am hot flowing angry and it doesnt stop coming and I have to let go, or I think I will explode, or fall apart, I say Why do we go to Shenzhen and not Magic Kingdom for vacation you say To know where you came from I say Why does that even matter Because it does Well anyways I hate it there I hate it you know I hate it when you make me wear a weird dress for new years and its not even the right day I hate it when I open my lunch box and my friends get grossed out I hate it when my teacher thinks youre stupid at parent teacher conferences I hate it when people ask if I eat dogs dad why would people think that I dont understand and why does our house smell like garlic and sesame oil not clean and nice and why do we use soy sauce and vinegar not ketchup and mustard and why do we eat seaweed and squid and pickled vegetables and intestines that stuff is so disgusting cant we just get potato chips. Cant I just get a brown paper bag with a ham and cheese sandwich to bring to school and cant I go to soccer practice I hate piano lessons and why cant I sleep over at my friends houses on the weekend you say We do not know those people What do you mean theyre my friends Do not know if it is safe Theyre nice people You do not know Yes I do dad theyre my friends You are a child you know nothing I hate it when you say that it is yelling now Everday food on the table Why cant I pick out my favorite dress And you complain about the smell And do my hair up The nerve to talk back And go to the dances in the school gym I would have been beaten for less And get asked to dance by a boy Parties and dances All my friends get to go You have no idea But you never let me How lucky you are Lucky how am I lucky You could not imagine Im the only one without a cell phone To sleep on a dirt floor None of my friends go to school on Saturday Scraping marrow from chicken bones Michelle gets everything she asks for You have everything already Even when its not her birthday You do not even realize She has a TV in her room You have never tasted hunger And she watches it whenever she wants The things I have seen And last month she got an iPod I cannot even say Just for getting good grades You are so young And it wasnt even all A’s You would not understand I get that every time The reason you are here You make me work so hard All that it took And then you just look at my report card You could not understand And nod your head and You are a child how could you Dont even say anything Know the meaning of sacrifice Why cant I get an iPod You could not understand Or a TV in my room You could not understand Why cant my shorts be short You could not understand And why cant my jeans be skinny How could you And why cant my shirt hang low and why cant my swimsuit be two-piece and why cant my shoes be Converse and my boots be Uggs and why cant my ears be pierced and why cant my face be made up and why cant my lips be pink and why cant my lashes be curled and why cant my eyes be blue why cant my chest be bigger and why cant my legs be longer why cant my skin be paler and why cant my hair be blond and pretty sometimes I want to just tear it all out and dad why dont you ever say you love me now the hot tears sliding down my cheeks I say Why are you not like them it isnt fair why are you so different cant we just be normal I am crying so hard I say Why cant we just be normal dad. I listen for an answer. Just the hush of tires on the street. But you look up in the rearview, and your face is trying to tell me something. I turn and look away.
There is a world outside the glass—soft, and blurry, and shining with afternoon light; the smudged shapes of houses, drifting by me one by one. I wipe my eyes to see. Fresh-cut lawns mowed in tidy patterns. Driveways paved smooth with cement. Trimmed bushes hedging neatly tucked flowerbeds. Square sidewalk panels, all lined up in a row, tiling up and down the block, then off into the distance. And the cracks in between. My throat closes up.