A Vanity Affair
“Let’s go Jayla we need to hurry to grandma’s house for your big surprise.”
“But can I just take one more picture daddy.”
“No, we’re running late, let’s go!” I raise my voice in frustration. Tears begin their descent down her innocent brown eyes.
“Sorry daddy, please don’t be mad at me” she says with a whimper.
“It’s ok baby, we‘re in a rush and I don’t want to keep G-ma waiting.”
Was I justified in my yelling? Could there have been a better way to have handled that? I never second guessed myself this much until I brought this tiny human into the world. It’s not the fear of raising a child that scares me, it’s the fear of raising her the wrong way.
“Alright let’s get in the car. Let me help you buckle up”
“No, don’t touch me! Lemme do it.” she replies with a scowl and a tinge of rage in her voice.
Just like that her mood has shifted from tender and loving to combative and aggressive. My heart stings by the way she enunciates every sour syllable. It is only her and her mother that are able to change moods so quickly. It’s hard to believe that six years have passed, god how I miss her mother.
A typical day in the cafeteria ensues and I pick the vacant table near the back right corner. I need some solitude before I indulge myself in my favorite pastime, playing with my camera. These past few years of high school have flown by and this one small chunk of plastic and metal has served me wonders. From landing an internship at our local community newspaper to traveling across the U.S. for wedding photography. My heart lies behind the lens. With this…
“Yo, Aaron you’re welcome to join us. You don’t have to sit alone here with your camera.” Jay interrupts my solace to make me feel included. To be honest I’d rather sit here and mess with my camera than talk about the parties that are coming up after graduation.
“I appreciate it Jay but I need to adjust my light settings for later today and review my photos from last weekend” I try to sound as polite as possible in my response.
Maybe my response wasn’t as genuine as it could have been, he seems a bit offended. Nonetheless, I have work to do before this weekend. My mom’s cousin needs to have interior shots of his new condo and I have to get the right lens and find some nice interior lighting. Maybe, I also need to find an interior designer for the building. This is probably more than a one man job.
As I’m planning I’m interrupted again. Except this interruption would last the rest of my life.
“Hey what’s your name?”
With a bold and steadfast demeanor this authentically beautiful woman approaches me out of nowhere. I was so lost in my own thoughts that I didn’t even see her walk over.
“Ye-yeah umm I mean yes my name’s Aaron, and you are?”
Her innocuous brown eyes lightly contrast with her amber brown complexion. The dimensions of her smile have me hypnotized. The front two teeth slightly more pronounced than the rest, and her playful dimples more obvious on the left every time she smirks. I’m absorbing every detail of her’s until she replies…
“I’m Angelica, I heard your good with a camera.”
“Perfect, you can help me with my headshots!” She says so earnestly. I‘d never normally just work for anyone but I can’t help but say yes. Little did I know that these free photos would cost me so much.
“Here Jayla, play with this for a little bit.”
“Thank you Daddy! Can I take pictures!?”
“Of course baby, of course.” As quickly as that she’s beaming with excitement. It’s no surprise that she loves the camera. I love being behind the lens and her mother loved to be in front of it. I haven’t yet figured out where Jayla will end up. In the rearview mirror I see her fiddling with the buttons and patting down her baby hairs as if she’s preparing for a portrait. Where did she learn this from?
A red blur starts to appear on my left side as I’m distracted. Oh shit..
“Angel can you please eat something before you go out again. You are nearing the end of your first trimester and you heard what the doctor said. Your weight is near the lowest percentile…”
“Aaron don’t give me that doctor shit again. I know what he said. It’s my body not yours or his. He doesn’t understand how to keep a figure and I do. Let me live.” Angelica responds with her usual hostility. I want her to be able to think for more than just herself but it seems impossible at this point.
“I’m sorry Angel, I just want you to think of the baby. Please understand.”
“If you want me to think of the baby then start thinking of me. Why is there never any food to eat in this kitchen anyways? We have the same old frozen dinners and vitamins. When are you gonna be a man and put some real food in this house.”
“Babe, please just give me some time. I’m working as hard as I can. My business will just take some time.”
“I ain’t tryna hear it Aaron.”
“Jayla! Are you ok?”
“Yes daddy, but I’m scared. What happened?”
“Just a little accident baby. It’s alright the car missed us but we are both ok.”
Fuck, how can I be so stupid. Spending so much time reminiscing that I lose sight of the road. That fuckin’ guy didn’t even have the nerve to stop and get out. Worst of all on my baby’s most important day I’ve managed to traumatize her.
“Hey Jayla, let’s get ready we’re almost at your grandma’s house.”
“Angel the baby’s crying again. Can you get her? Angel can you hear me?”
Her warm bedside presence is absent. Where did she go? Either way I have to get Jayla. I walk to her room with the moonlight as my beacon. Every cry and gasp for air tears at my heart a bit more. I can’t stand hearing her in pain. But I can’t stop thinking, where is Angelica?
“Now now baby here you go. Please don’t cry no more.” I feed her and rock her small body in my arms. She’s all I need.
After my prolonged moment with Jayla I head back to my room and turn on the lights. Right next to my bed lies a small crumpled up note with an ashtray weighing it down. She was never one to write her feelings down, reading it has me a little uneasy.
I was never prepared for this life. As you know I’ve always felt destined for the runway and I can’t imagine doing this for the rest of my life. You are a good man and much better parent than me. I know you’ll be an excellent father but I doubt I’d be a half decent mom. Please don’t come looking for me. I don’t want to be found.
“Jayla! Come and give me a kiss.”
“G-Ma!” Jayla runs up into Mary’s wide arms for the sweetest embrace you’d ever see between a baby and her grandma. I’m forever grateful to Mary for her support. I could never raise Jayla alone and without her I’d be lost. She’s been an Angel.
“Hey Aaron, how you doing?”
“We’re doing alright Mary.”
“Daddy almost crashed!”
“What the hell! Are you both ok? What happened. Are you ok Jayla baby?” Mary’s usual calm facade slips away in favor of a mask of worry.
“It’s alright Mary, we almost got in a small fender bender but neither of us have any scratches.” I try to down play the situation. No use in worrying the poor lady.
“Well c’mon upstairs and let’s have something to eat, you two must have been terribly hungry from all the adventure.”
We take the narrow and creaky staircase up to Mary’s apartment. I can’t wait to see the expression on Jayla’s face when she sees what’s to come.
“Jayla baby, can you open the door for your G-Ma?”
“Alright G-Ma, I can do it.”
Jayla struggles to reach the knob at first but manages to shove it open to a surprise she clearly wasn’t expecting.
“Surprise Jayla! Happy birthday!” nearly two dozen cousins, nieces and nephews, and friends of family are crowded in this tiny apartment to greet the birthday girl.
In the flurry of it all Jayla screams with excitement. Pure joy washes over her tiny face as she stares at the balloons and streamers falling from the ceiling. Her tiny body is shaking and running around. I love seeing her like this.
“Hey Aaron, can you come over here a moment.” Mary calls to me in between all the celebration
“Yes Mary, I’m coming.”
“I got this letter in the mail. You know who it’s from. I haven’t opened it because I figured you should be the first to read it.”
On a small velvet envelope with a big apple stamp I see my name and address along with Angel’s. Every time I try to let her go she always has a way of reminding me that she still exists.
“What should I do Mary? Should I open it.” I beg for some direction.
“It’s not up to me, Aaron. If I know my daughter at all then I’ll tell you that she has never written anything worth reading. But I’ll leave that decision up to you.”
The deep purple envelope lay in my hands as I stare at it for a lifetime.
“Come here daddy I’m opening my presents!”
“Alright Jayla, just give me a moment. There’s something I have to take care of.”
I stare at the royal parchment and try to decipher it’s contents from the outside. What if she wants to come back into our life? Would I let her? Maybe she only wants to wish Jayla happy birthday. I have nothing to gain and everything to lose by opening this, but damm do I miss her.