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I was 16 years old and tough.
While I sat alone, I thought about how I didn’t need my father in my life—I had been managing just fine.
A couple of weeks before I got my first phone call from him, I was doing lines of cocaine off the back of a Jane’s Addiction CD case in a mall parking lot with two friends from work.
“Hello?” I answered.
“Hi Raven, this is your father.”
I got really quiet, and tears slowly started running down my face. He said that he was happy that we were in touch and wanted to meet when he was back in town. I said something like, “That would be great.”
(Might as well save the whole, “Where the hell have you been?!” until we are in person.)
I waited for him in the smoking section at Applebee’s, wearing a pink Abercrombie sweatshirt and flared, low-rise jeans. He was wearing a beret. It was 2003.
He told me, years later, how much it caught him off guard to find me smoking. In that moment, though, he just said, “Oh, hi, I was sitting on the other side of the restaurant. I didn’t think to check here.”
My life had gone through so many changes by this point. I had had a difficult childhood, but I was tough now. “I really can take care of myself,” I thought.
I remember having so many thoughts in my head. For one, what could a dad do for me now, after all these years? The damage is already done, I thought. I mean, I already have a family.
When I was in third grade, my mother informed me that the man I was about to take off with for the weekend (with my younger brother) was not my father. “He’s Josh’s dad.” She said it so matter-of-factly—as if it wasn’t new information. She carried on about it too. “You don’t have to go for the weekend, you know, since he’s not actually your dad. Might make more sense for you to stay home.”
But there was never any talk about me seeing my father—or her or anyone being in touch with him. I asked my grandfather one day if he had ever met my father, and he said, “Hell no, that coward, son-of-a-b*tch knows better than to show his ass around here!”
I found this quite off-putting, especially since I was constantly reminded of what a burden I was, how expensive my needs were, and how he was a saint for taking care of my brother and me.
When my father sat down across from me in that Applebee’s booth, we just stared at each other for a long time. It was such a wonder to see his face for the first time. The only picture I had seen of him was one my mom had from college with a group of people. All I could really tell was that he wore glasses and was smoking a cigarette—something he clearly doesn’t do anymore. I expected him to be a party-type person like my mom and the rest of that group, but I guess he had changed after all these years.
With every minute that passed, my preconceived ideas of him were dissolved (just as fast as more questions popped up). It turns out that my father is a musician and an actor! What? How could that be? That is my dream! His father and grandfather are/were both parts of an anti-war movement. He lives in Los Angeles, where I have always known I was meant to live. I was really happy and excited to hear about all of this, but then it became too much; it was overwhelming.
How could this sweet-natured man—with whom I already have more in common than the family I have known my whole life—be the monster who deserted me until now? Suddenly I remembered the pictures of his mother and me when I was two years old. Where had she gone? Where was the rest of the family? He was only 17 when I was born.
It was time to go, and his time was up.
I was over it; I didn’t want to hear anything else about how great or interesting he was. He was better than I expected, and I was pissed. That just made my pain worse, knowing what I was missing out on this whole time.
I went to leave in my sh*tty two-tone car—my second one after I had totaled my first car about a year before. I couldn’t wait to leave.
And then my car didn’t start. But, luckily, I had a cell phone and common sense. I knew I would need a jump for sure. While I put the hood up and thought about who to call, he walked up to my car and asked if I needed a jump.
Years later, he recalled all the pill bottles he saw in the back of my car. I don’t remember being that irresponsible, but I guess I believe it. Since I was currently going to high school, taking college courses, working at Chili’s, and helping my mother take care of two young babies, whenever I got the chance to party, I would. My life was definitely going out of control because of the unconscious pain I was dealing with. Believe it or not, this story ends well. It hasn’t been perfect, but my life changed—for the better.
It took a few years and a lot of forgiveness and patience, but I moved across the country. He had his daughter move in with him. There were a lot of crying nights; sometimes, there still is.
I guess I’m that rare success story.
He isn’t a monster.
I knew in my heart that I would live in Los Angeles, and here I am living with my absent father who now wants to work on our relationship.
Yes, people can change.
Life is so crazy.