I was so excited I could hardly stay still as I road the trolley down to the park. Jeremy, my non-dad dad, had called me and I asked him if we could go to the park. He said yes! I’ve never been able to spend time with him as just the two of us, and since mom was wrapped up at an art thing it seemed like a great idea.
Catching sight of Jeremy I quickly ran towards his direction.
Or I had planned to. The second he got to the sidewalk after locking up his car he was swarmed by all sorts of people I’d never seen before. I waved my arms and jumped around a bit but he didn’t seem to notice me at all.
Adjusting my hair tie I figured if I played on something high he’d notice me eventually.
So I played….
And I played. He didn’t even notice me! As I made another round across the monkey bars, I noticed a kid crying and he was being doted on by his mommy. Dad would have to pay attention to me if he thought I was hurt right?
With a few reckless swings I missed the next rung by a long shot and fell to the ground with a rather loud thump. A small mushroom cloud of sand rose up around me and I could hear some of the adults around the playground gasp.
I guess I fell harder than anticipated because I came to on a bench with Dad and some weird lady looking to me. I didn’t remember passing out… But I guess that’s fine, my plan worked, I got Dad’s attention!
“Catori, are you okay?” Jeremy asked, he carefully dusted me off and helped me sit up.
“Of course! I’m made of tough stuff!” I quickly replied. I must have had a bit if sand in my eye because I teared up a bit and Jeremy quickly gave me a hug.
“You really should be careful, little girl. Where is your mother? She’s just letting you run the streets wild without supervision?” The strange woman’s tone made my tummy turn and I quickly looked over at Jeremy. He gave a weak smile, but didn’t make eye-contact with me.
I felt a inner inferno within me roar to life, how could this lady judge my mommy? If Jeremy wasn’t going to protect her honor I had to.
“Listen, lady!” I shouted, both adults jumped and looked at me in surprise. “My mommy loves me, but I came here to visit him.” I pointed at Jeremy and he kind of flinched. “My mom doesn’t know I’m here, but if you EVER talk badly about my mother again, I’ll… I’ll… Beat you up!” My face with completely red with anger and every time the lady tried to talk I would mock her. We were both furious at this point.
I could see, Jeremy clench his jaw before he stepped in. “Catori, please apologize to Miss Stacy. You’re being rude.” That cow placed her hand on his arm and gave him a coy smile. I felt sick to my stomach.
“Oh, it’s okay Jeremy, you’re not responsible for this little brat. So don’t worry your little head over it.” She gushed, fluttering her eyelashes at him.
He shifted uncomfortably but not away from the woman before he spoke, “She’s… The daughter of a fr.. An acquaintance.” His smile didn’t exactly reach his eyes.
“I hate you.” It took me a moment to realize those words were my own. But I quickly ran, ran far away from those adults with their ugly insides.
The sun seemed to pulse with my heartbeat as the only sound I could hear was my feet drumming against the sidewalk as I ran home.
Why didn’t he love us?
When I came through the door of the pueblo I was sweaty and dusty, but I felt a lot better, or I had until I saw Jeremy talking with my mother in the bathroom. I couldn’t make out his hushed tones so I shut the door louder than necessary behind me.
“Catori?! Thank goodness you’re alright!” My mom enveloped me in a tight hug, as she inspected me to make sure I was all in one piece. “Baby, don’t scare me like that…” I felt so loved, she didn’t care if I was dirty, sweaty, broke one of her rules. She was just so happy to see me. We both sniffled a bit as we clung to one another. I’d worried a bit in the back of my head if mommy having a baby would change how much she loved me.. What a baby thought… My mom would always love me, no matter what.
“I love you, mommy, I’m sorry!” I whispered to her, my voice catching a little causing me to croak.
I managed to ignore Jeremy for the most part, despite his efforts to make small talk with me, but it all came to a rather loud encounter the monday before my first day of school. He had dropped by to check up on mom and her belly and tried giving me a hug…
“Get away from me!” I yelled, my mom seemed concerned, but she left the two of us to work it out. She knows I’ll let her know if I need her to intervene. So she went off to make some dinner since she was so tired lately. I felt a bit bad about making a scene when she was feeling so icky, but he made me so angry…
“Woah, woah, woah… Catori… where is this coming from?” Jeremy asks, he raised his hands and tried to settle me down with a soothing voice. I wasn’t going to just let him suddenly play daddy whenever he wanted.
“You’re not my dad, don’t touch me.” I glared at him, he looked a little sad.
“Cat… hun, you always liked calling me Dad, what’s going on, sweetheart?” He looked so confused and hurt, I almost felt bad.
“I’m not calling a man who is just an ‘acquaintance’ with my mom, Dad. You don’t deserve my mommy!” my voice shook a little bit, but I was determined not to cry. My mom didn’t need him, she had me. I’d love and take care of my mother forever, even when she joined the Great Mother to be with her mommy.
He took a deep breath and rubbed his face before motioning to the table and saying, “Sit.” I almost said no, but the look he gave me was a little scary.
We spent all afternoon talking.
About that lady, about my mom, about him and my mom, and about me…
Apparently I wasn’t allowed to call him dad in public because rumors would start and it’d inconvenience him and mom. He talked a lot about a ton of grown up things and problems…
But all I heard from him was…
That his work was more important to him than Mommy or I… or even the new baby.
“Catori… you can’t tell your mother that I know this… but I’m your real father. But the situation is complicated sweety, I love you so much. So I got you a present to make it up to you for the ruined trip to the park…”
He handed me a toy horse, I loved toy horses… but he left just as quickly as he appeared, saying that he had to go on a trip, but that I could call him any time and that he’d call me before I go to bed every night no matter where in the world he was…
Why would my mommy lie to me and tell me that Jeremy wasn’t my dad?
Was it because she knew he didn’t love me?
“Family is supposed to love each other no matter what, Clementine…” I said to the toy horse he got me. “But if people love other things more than family… doesn’t that mean they aren’t my family?” I felt really worried… about mommy, about daddy, and about little Clementine.
How were we ever going to be a family if Dad didn’t want to be with us…
My small phone vibrated so I looked at it to see a text: Love you, Cat. Always. – Dad
I laid in my bed that night reading those words over and over again until the battery died.