Sunday, January 07, 2007

on gulfs, of the chasm variety

The year my peers started university I spent working and upgrading in night school. I took a job with my father during the day, biding time until I decided what I wanted to do next and had the marks to get into school. It was the first time my father had done something fatherly for me since I was a small child. It wasn't smooth or natural as I imagined it was supposed to be, but he saw that I was struggling and stepped up to the plate. He offered me a job in a place he was working. It was a small consulting firm and he was the president and CEO. For a period of time I was bordering on feeling a little proud of my father.

Some days he would pick me up and drive me into work on his way. I remember one day someone cut my father off. I gave them the finger and my father freaked out.

“Don’t you EVER do that again. Ever. You don’t know that person, but you might sometime soon. You could be giving the finger to the person who’s going to be interviewing you for your next job. How would like that?”

My father had never yelled at me properly and had certainly not offered up any parental advice before, at least not since I could remember. I'm sure I came up with some smart-ass response, but things almost seemed normal. Almost.

Working just outside my father’s office as the receptionist/office help, I still managed to sneak down the hall to this little coffee shop and smoke cigarettes with one of my father’s employees, Alan, a tall fair haired guy. I had a crush on him and I'm sure he knew it. He’d flirt with me at times, and then at others he’d seem to forget I was even around. I can’t imagine how old he really was, except he seemed so much older to me at the time. Come to think of it he was probably my age now, early thirties, which seemed ancient to me at 17 years old.

Spending time with him and some of the others at work, I started to pick up on holes in the ozone of the respect I’d initially thought employees had for my father. Sometimes I could tell that Alan was being careful with what he said around me, which said more to me than anything that was discussed outright. I tried not to look too closely because I desperately wanted things with my father to be as they should. I knew this would be the last chance.

One afternoon in December, Alan was leaving our office Christmas party to go to another party. A friend of mine had come to meet me at the office. He invited us to tag along with him. My Father overheard the discussion.

“Rachel, you should go. Have fun. Go to the party.”

I turned to glare at my father, hoping he would sense my discomfort. My heart was pounding. I couldn’t believe he was asking me. Part of me knew there was no good reason a guy his age would want to hang out with us, but I was more concerned about how I would keep up with him in longer than cigarette-sized conversations, which were hard enough. How would I possibly go a whole evening with him and a party full of other people his age.

Ignoring my father's comment I tried to stall him with questions, like ‘so where’s the party’, while I thought of how to get out of it. As much as I liked being asked, there was no way I wanted to follow through.

“Go on, you’ll have fun", my father said.

I imagined people within earshot were thinking he was such a laid back dad. I wanted to scold him. Tell him he should know better.

“Well, it’s settled then. We should get going”, Alan said, grabbing his coat.

And so I went to the party. I got very drunk, very quickly, and discovered there were in fact some obvious reasons that someone his age would want a 17 year old girl tagging along. Thankfully, when I realized I was too drunk I had enough sense to tell him I was leaving. He tried to convince me to stay. He even told my friend, in an authoritative, adult tone, to go on home and that he would look after me; make sure I got home safely. It’s a good thing she wasn’t that na├»ve.

Alan didn’t pay much attention to me at work after that and I was thankful for it. I was embarrassed by my lack of maturity, my inability to handle my liquor, or the pressure; couldn’t play with the big kids. It never occurred to me that he was the one that should have been embarrassed.

Soon after that, my father called me one morning as I was getting ready for work. He told me not to come in, that they’d let him go, and changed the locks. I wasn’t surprised, but it hurt my heart. It was the sound of my father's voice telling me they’d changed the locks that sort of bounced around inside my ribcage for a while after.

He tried to pull through for me one more time after that, and I played a long, half-heartedly. I mean, he really tries. He always has. He moved to Cape Breton soon after he lost his job. He called one night and invited me to move there for the year to work at his new company. He told me it would be a real opportunity for me and for some reason I went along with it. He even offered to buy me a car so that I would be able to get back and forth from the mainland. I’d never asked for the job or the car, but there it was on the table. I think deep down I knew it wasn’t going to happen from the start. Still I played along. He even told me it was going to be a red volkswagon golf. We had long conversation about options like, should I go diesel? He explained the advantages and disadvantages. I listened closely, trying to understand. A transcript of our conversations would have revealed nothing abnormal, but like I said, I knew it wasn’t going to happen, even when he told me the car had been purchased and was waiting in a lot; waiting for the job to start and for me to make final arrangements to get there.

I can’t remember any of the details now of how the plans fell through. I just know they must've because I never moved there and there was never any red golf.

Lately I’ve been thinking about getting myself a car. I’ve never had one. I keep thinking about a four-door golf and only today did I remember I almost had one once before. Maybe it’s because I went out for dinner last night with Anna, one of my three closest friend, each of whom are about to have their first baby. Her husband bought her a Mercedes SUV yesterday. It was a surprise for her – something to make lugging around a baby and a stroller easier. Funny – I think I’d be happy to lug around a baby any old way, but I was excited for her.

1 comment:

Lx said...

where i grew up, giving someone the finger on the road didn't warrant freaking out for the reasons your father did; it meant freaking out because most of them would respond by firing bullets. usually out of a .9mm.

aaaaah, those crazy, crack-infested early 80s in Washington D.C. can you say: Marion Barry?