It’s a Friday night in mid-September. I’m sitting alone in my Brooklyn apartment, my hair still dripping wet from the rain outside. My work clothes, which currently look as though they were recently rescued from the wreckage of the titanic, have been replaced by my gloriously dry college sweatshirt and striped pajama shorts. Apparently I should have paid more attention to weather.com this morning and less attention to that deceptively blue sky. I spent the afternoon lugging a suitcase full of books from Manhattan to a book signing in Brooklyn and back again; but despite the torrential downpour, my Happiness Level has remained absurdly high. Like, if there were some sort of control tower in which lots of government employees monitored the Happiness and Contentment levels of everyone in the world (It’s for our own security and well-being! Really!) , the poor soul monitoring mine has probably been fired for messing with the computer system or something since there’s no plausible way someone with my history of low Happiness Levels could have sky-rocketed to holding the world record for Happiness Levels of persons between the ages of 3 and 25. Alright, you get it. I’m pretty damn happy.
My Happiness Levels however, have been temporarily shoved aside by the growing pit of anxiety in my stomach. My cell phone lies on the table in front of me. To me, it is a grenade and all I have to do is pull the pin, cover my ears and throw it.
Just do it, I think to myself. Get it over with.
“Ok,” I say outloud. “It won’t be that bad.”
I pick up the phone and select “Dad” from my contact list. Before I have the chance to throw the phone back down and run away to hide under the covers, I press the “call” button. I wait for the first ring.
Maybe he won’t answer, I think. God, I hope he answers, I want to get this over with. . . one ring. . . I hope he doesn’t answer . . . two rings. . .please let it be the answering machine . . . three rings . . oh please answer, I don’t want to have to do this all over again. . .four ri-
“Hi, Sarah!” I hear my dad’s unusually upbeat voice.
“Hi, Dad.” Act natural, ease into it. “Uh, how’s the weather down there?” Good move, Sarah. Weather.
“Perfectly clear and sunny, actually. Looks like most of the hurricane passed us by.”
“That’s good. The newspapers are making it seem like the entire state of Texas will be underwater by this time tomorrow.”
We continue like this for some time. Weather, jobs, school. The conversation feels normal. Dad seems happy- happy with himself, happy with me. His Happiness Levels are high. I don’t know if I have the heart to disrupt his blissful ignorance. My dad’s not stupid or anything, but I mean, I’m his youngest daughter. Let’s just say that according to my dad, I have never so much as looked at a human being with a penis, let alone been kissed or even considered having a boyfriend. I’m too practical for that and I’m surely spending all of my time studying until such time as I am over the age of 30 and marry a wealthy corporate executive.
But I have to. He’s my father and unfortunately, I kind of exist to make his life difficult and more expensive.
“Dad, has mom called you yet?” I ask. I told my mom the day before and well-acquainted as I am with her inability to keep her mouth shut, wouldn’t be surprised if she’s already told dad. Even though my parents have been divorced for several months, they’re finding it difficult to shake the habit of calling each other every so often and going out to lunch. I guess, after almost 30 years of marriage, you just get used to stuff like that. Even if you’re not in love anymore, you’re just sort of so used to not being in love together that it’s almost more difficult to break free of the struggles of Not-Being-In-Love-But-Still-Being-Married than it was to let go of the love in the first place. I’m not really helping myself right now, am I?
“Yeah, mom called me, but she just asked if you’d called me yet. Something about a boy? What’s going on?”
Deep breath. Be calm, cool and logical. No emotions. Just reason .
“So, I don’t know how much I’ve told you about this guy, Graham? My boyfriend?” I say both sentences as though they are questions. I have never used the word “boyfriend” while speaking to my dad before. The word feels foreign to my mouth and ears.
“I remember you mentioning him over the summer. Is this the guy from Ohio?”
“Right, Ohio. Well . . . he’s, um, moving up here early next year. . . . ”
“Ok.” There is a pause while I try to read the subtext of this “ok.”
So far, I’m pretty sure it’s “Come on, get to the point. Just please don’t say you’re pregnant or getting married. Please.” It doesn’t make me feel any better.
My stomach begins crawling up into my throat. I tell it to get back where it belongs and stop being so difficult.
“OK, well we’re waiting until we’re both financially stable and until he gets settled in here but after that we’re planning on getting married.”
. . .
. . .
. . .
. . .
. . .
Shit, he’s disowning me.
. . .
Shit, he’s had a heart attack or something!
. . .
Or maybe a stroke!
. . .
Did I just kill Dad?!?
. . .
BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!
Did he hang up on me? Do I call him back? Do I call 911?
I feel the all the blood drain from my face and all of my limbs grow numb. The phone rings. It’s Dad.
Wait, he’s laughing. People don’t usually laugh while disowning their children, do they? Or while they’re having heart attacks? Unless maybe he’s just gone completely nuts. I drove my father clinically insane. I wonder vaguely if Dad and I will become the sickening subject of a new indie documentary, “Fathers Gone Wild” and whether I will have to give long tearful interviews on camera while remain hidden in the shadows to protect my identity.
“Sorry, the phone cut out. That was just like one of those commercials!”
You know those commercials where the phone cuts out right when one person says something of utmost importance and everyone is confused and ends up offended and not speaking ever again? Yeah, they’re funnier to watch than to experience.
“Haha. I was worried that I’d killed you or. . . .something.”
“No . . . I just lost reception . . . .” There’s a long uncomfortable pause while we both search for words.
“Well . . .thanks for telling me, honey.” His voice feigns calmness, but I can hear him screaming in horror on the inside. “You’re going to wait until you finish school, right?”
“Well, I don’t know. We’re not going to be officially, really ‘engaged’ until we know we’re financially ready to get married. We’re not putting a time table on it.”
“I just want to make sure you’re not rushing into anything or ruining your education.”
“Dad, I’m finishing school, don’t worry. We’re not eloping tomorrow, we’re not being unreasonable. He’s really old-fashioned and stuff, so there’s no way we’re getting married before we’re sure we can handle it. You know me. I don’t do stuff like this on a whim.”
“I know, Sarah, that’s why I’m really surprised. I expected something like this from your sister, but not . . . you. Just, you know, make sure you wait awhile.”
I try to bring myself to tell my dad all of the reasons I know for sure I want to marry Graham. All of the things that I know mean that we’re supposed to be together, but I don’t think he’s ready to hear that yet. It’s weird enough that our conversation hasn’t yet turned into a cynical criticism of world political affairs or a discussion about Irish history. I don’t think he’s ready to hear his emotionally stoic daughter gush about a man who is neither (1) a fictional character (2) a Greek philosopher or (3) a dead writer.
“Dad, we know we’re really young, but we are also completely sure that we’re meant to spend the rest of our lives together. This only happens once in a lifetime. This is it.”
“How long have you known this guy?”
“Graham,” I correct.
“Graham,” he repeats. “How long have you known Graham?”
Crap. Forgot about this question.This is where everyone tries to drive me into a corner and beat me over the head with metaphorical steel baseball bats of doom.
I want to say “Longevity is no proof that a relationship will work. Look at you and mom,” but somehow, I don’t think that this is the time or place to bring up a broken marriage. Broken, not failed. They didn’t fail.
I rack my brain trying to think of the best way to answer.
How long have we known each other exactly?
Forever, right? It feels like forever? Yeah, forever!
We just didn’t know we knew each other until . . .what? 3 months ago? 4 months? Who even knows? How long have we really been together? When did this start? I’m so confused. DAD, STOP GIVING ME TOUGH QUESTIONS!
I stall for time.
“What do you mean by . . . ‘known eachother’?”
“On the internet. When did you meet on the . . . internet.” The word “internet” has a bite to it. He’s trying to sting me with the world wide web! That’s not fair. Invalid method of attack! I want a re-match.
“Uh, well, I guess we officially met on the internet, through, uh, mutual friends.”
“We had more of a phone-based relationship though, before we actually met. Like, we talked on the phone. Not on the internet.”
“And you met him in real life for the first time at that Harry Potter thing?”
Yes. After over a month of conversing religiously on the phone for hours every night we finally met “IRL” at Terminus, aka that “Harry Potter” thing. (I decide to avoid using the term “IRL.”)
“Yes and things went really well and I went back to Ohio with him for a few days and met his family.”
“Okay, and there was no awkwardness meeting in real life for the first time?”
“No. I’m more comfortable with him than I am with any other human being alive. He is amazing.”
“Well that’s a good sign. You met his family?”
“Yes, and I love them. I think they like me too.”
“What does he want to do with his life?”
This sort of questionnaire continues for a while. I tell him the complete and utter truth. I tell him that I am in love. I tell him that Graham is the person God wants me to be with. He listens.
“Sarah, thank you for telling me. This guy seems like a-”
“-Graham,” I correct again.
“Right. Graham seems like a respectable guy and I’m happy for you. Just wait until you see the big picture of the relationship. Don’t make any decisions you’ll regret.”
“Ok, I understand your concern, but I know what I’m doing so don’t worry. Oh, and he votes Republican.”
“Oh good! Like I said, I think he sounds like a great guy. I trust you.”
“Just wanted to let you know what was going on. Like I said, we’re not engaged, just . . heading in that direction at a very high speed.”
“Okay, have a good weekend.”
“Alright, Sarah, thanks for calling. I love you.”
“I love you too. Bye.”
It unfolded almost entirely as I expected. Almost word for word. I put the phone back down on the table and walk to my bedroom, kicking aside the pile of still-damp clothes before flopping down on the bed. I pull the covers around myself and thank God it’s over with. Out of nowhere, I start to cry. Usually, when I cry it’s because I’m frustrated or because I feel like a failure- like I’ve disappointed someone. This is not that kind of cry. It’s just a few tears that shake me to my core.
Then I realize:
I’m not crying because I didn’t earn my father’s complete approval; I’m crying because, for the first time in my life, I don’t really need it anymore.