Monday, March 07, 2011

The Sun, Moon, and Stars (Chapter 1)

For my eighth birthday, my father gave me a cat's skull. Said I might not appreciate it now but would as I got older. I had asked him for a Disney Princess Barbie, and when I reminded him that that was what I really wanted, he shrugged and said, "This'll make you think better," tapping the skull's bleached forehead twice then stroking it with the back of his index in a loving gesture.

For my ninth birthday, I did indeed receive a Disney Princess Barbie, Snow White-Barbie, just as I had asked for fourteen months prior. But by then I didn't much care for it, had moved on to less girly -- yet still childish -- desires. Nevertheless, I thanked him for it, said it was exactly what I wanted, my voice rising an octave too high in an effort to sound thrilled. He knew it, too. Children are the worst liars.

By the end of the week, Snow White-Barbie was somewhere in the house, neither I nor Dad knew where, and no APBs concerning her missing status were posted to the fridge or the cork board in the hallway, so we forgot about her. Loved ones only search for their own kind, and by then we cared about Snow White-Barbie as much as we cared about a crumpled paper cup in the brush beside a turnpike.

I still had the cat skull, though. Had kept it, hoping that one day my father's prophesy would be fulfilled.

You might think my father was a bit of a weirdo, but apart from the occasionally baffling birthday or Christmas gift (he gave me a broken clock radio as a graduation present), he was as straight-laced as they came, as they still do come. He never drank, never smoked. He kept the same job, running his own travel agency, from before my birth up until his death, and he never, ever, swore. This included never taking the lord's name in vain, even though he was an atheist.

He did have more particular quirks than most people, more than anyone I've ever known, in fact, but they were all innocuous. He said he was allergic to orange road pylons, said being in eyesight of one would elicit a violent reaction akin to someone with a peanut or bee-sting allergy, that his throat would close up and that he'd suffocate; he told me he couldn't watch The Silence of the Lambs because Anthony Hopkin's voice as Hannibal Lecter gave him a seizure when he saw it in the theater; he claimed that our next-door neighbors, the Scrantons, had a doberman as big as our garage but that it had to be put down because -- this was when I was four -- it outgrew its doghouse overnight and had a lung punctured by a splintered wood panel.

These were bizarre beliefs that, growing up, I regarded as my father's testing of my wits, his attempt to develop in me a sense of humor, perhaps to ice my young gullibility. Thing is, though, as normal as he was day to day, year to year, he never once relented to admit that he was fooling me the entire time. And I'm still not sure, to be honest.

In any case, it doesn't matter. Either way, it's kept me thinking over the years, and isn't that a gift that keeps on giving?

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