The eyes staring at me from the photo mirror my own; aside from a smear of black paint, they are identical to mine. “I didn’t know Dad played football.”
“Toss it,” my sister says, after a cursory glance. She is the less sentimental of us two. “His pension barely covers what Medicare won’t, let alone a storage facility to house all his junk.”
“This isn’t junk,” I say. “These are memories.” I turn back to the box of photos, trying to pretend we aren’t deciding the importance of a man’s entire existence.
But here it is, a life in pictures. Star athlete. Prom king. High school graduate.
This is a man I never knew.
“He won’t even remember any of it, Jace.” Denise softens. “I don’t mean to sound cold, but pictures are meant to remind us of of things. And he’s just too far gone.”
I pick up another photo and slink to the floor.
These were the eyes that I remembered. The ones from after the war, whose stare was cold, unfeeling — a wall between who he’d been and who he’d been forced to become in the depths of a jungle far from home.
This whole time, I’d thought it was me. That I just wasn’t good enough. But suddenly, I understand — he saw in me a future he’d lost long ago.
I pick up the box of photos and carry them out to my car, then sit behind the wheel and stare at the carefree eyes of the star athlete, the eyes that had not yet seen. And he is no longer my drunk, angry father, but a man.
I peel out of the driveway. Denise runs after me, but I don’t hear her shouting, don’t care.
He’d changed a lot in twenty years. Feeble, frail. His hands shake as he reaches up and cradles my face. “My boy,” he says. “My boy.” Tears fill his wrinkled, innocent eyes.
“Look what I found,” I say, showing him the picture of the man I want to know. “You never told me you played football.”
I’ll take the remaining pictures home. Some things are better left forgotten.
“Homecoming” won The Angry Hourglass Flash Frenzy Round 130.
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