Originally Published in the former St. Petersburg Times (now Tamba Bay Times) Sunday Journal section during my Junior year in college.
By ALICIA PALMA
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 21, 2001
My father shivered in the narrow supermarket aisle as he ruffled through the flowers and cards, asking my opinion on every decision. It was almost as if I were deciding for him. He was like a puppet on a string, dependent upon his master’s thoughts. This was the only moment I could think of when my dad needed me more than I needed him.
“Get Well Soon,” I read aloud as he poked at frozen pink roses and grimaced at each one.
“No, that’s not it,” he replied in a barely audible voice. From then on, he just shook his head as I picked up little cards that had such messages as “I Love You” and “To the one I love . . .” printed in bright red and purple letters on glossy textures. We stopped searching when we found the one with a picture of colorful daisies and orange lettering that spelled out “Best Wishes.”
Such a light, simple phrase bore the weight of his thoughts on a tag the size of a business card. Dad took the tiny card from my hand and stared at it as if he were judging its validity to carry such an important message.
Finally, he decided it was perfect and held it in his free hand. In the other he clutched a small, burgundy pot full of petite roses and daisies that matched the ones on the card. It seemed as if those two items were waiting to be sold together. I could tell that their monochromatic pattern reassured him. He needed all the reinforcement he could get.
“Would you mind running a few errands with me?” he’d asked just an hour ago, standing in front of his new Toyota sports utility vehicle. “I don’t really feel like driving.” This might suggest nothing more than a case of laziness, except that my father has never owned a new car.
It scared me to think that the man who had always been my driving force couldn’t even find the strength to drive his new car. What shook me was he’d decided to come to me for help. What made him think I had the strength to pull this off? I can barely carry my own weight.
We sauntered down the aisles, side by side, silently eyeballing the other items that seemed insignificant compared to the flowers and matching card. Finally we stopped in the dog food section. He handed me the card along with the flowers and busily began loading cans of the brown, gooey mush into his basket.
“Poor little thing doesn’t have to starve just because of her selfish actions,” he muttered to himself as he stashed can after can. His voice harshly lingered over “her,” creating an image of a woman with no heart, skin or soul, the wretched devil responsible for his trembling frame. It’s funny how the most important part of any relationship is the end: how, when and why.
I was 6 years old when my father met Reina, and my jealousy made me hate the other female in my father’s life. If I had known she would be such a chaotic force, I would never have begun to like her. After 14 years of bonding with this woman, I could nearly call her “mom.” Now I just wanted to call her and ask why she’d taken advantage of my naively devoted, trusting father. He never saw it coming.
Now, another man laughed away with Reina the lonely nights my father spent worrying about her. If my blood boiled at this thought, Dad’s blood ran cold, making him capable of hate for a woman he dearly loved.
What she had brought him down to had no name and, in my opinion, no forgiveness. I wondered if she would have been so cruelly unfaithful if she had seen the effects of her actions; she probably would have abandoned the idea if she were standing here instead of me.
His list of necessary items was now resting in a plastic basket, reduced to a card, a pot of flowers and 12 cans of dog food — not your average grocery list. I stared at the image before me, dismayed at my father’s appearance. His unruly hair, unkempt beard and disheveled outfit convinced me that this was not Dad. There just wasn’t any other explanation for his sudden decay.
We shuffled toward the checkout counter, toting our prized possessions, ready to complete the process.
“So this is okay?” my father asked one last time.
“They’re perfect,” I assured him. We inched toward the cashier slowly, finally reaching the front of the line. He paid quickly and limped toward the exit, stopping to weigh himself on the large scale by the sliding glass doors.
“I’ve already lost 10 pounds,” he told me as if he were confirming that he felt like less than . . . well, less. He looked weak.
“Don’t worry; it’s not that noticeable,” I assured him.
We silently walked to the car and remained that way, sitting inside until Dad decided to go through with it. He took a pen from his pocket and carefully placed the tag on his lap. “Best wishes,” he grumbled and wrote out Goodbye forever.
“Should I sign it?” he asked, nearly choking on the thought.
“It would be more meaningful if you did,” I told him, still not believing he was going through with it. His hand gracefully stroked the pen over the glossy texture of the card and in an instant it was over. His desperately mournful eyes met mine and Dad whispered, “Thanks for doing this for me, sweetie.”
I fought back tears. “Dad, how could I not?”
* * *
Alicia Palma is a writing student at Florida International University.
© St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.
Originally published at www.sptimes.com.