Four days into the year you were born, I threw out your father’s shit things. After we found out I was carrying you, there was a massive communication breakdown: he refused to consider you and I refused not to. He left, with a ticket I bought him¹. He flew to Vegas for a job; it’d been arranged before we knew you were here.
I was distraught that day. I woke up furious. I hurled a half-eaten can of off-brand cashews at his feet that morning. They kept cropping up; it seemed like they were in every room of my place. He’d bought them in Baltimore, over Thanksgiving break, and just as we left in the car I’d rented, driving eleven hours back to Michigan, he ripped back the foil on the cheap tin can and I had to listen to him chewing those stupid cheap cashew halves for hours, to avoid talking to me. That he’d brought them into my house, carting them around like a protective shield from the threat of honest conversation, was too much to take.
When you’re a little older, if you’re interested, I’ll tell you what else went on, in those days after our return from Maryland, in those strange initial days, after finding you, intangible but present inside.
He did try talking that morning. To his credit, he set forth a few tentative words. But I couldn’t hear them. My ears were too full of the cruel silences and curious ultimatums of previous days: If you have this baby, it’ll be the beginning of the end of us. I care for you, but that’s beside the point.
He was full of points and bluster, your father. There was a time I really loved that about him.
At the airport, I wouldn’t look at him, training my eyes on the stop signs ahead and the pedestrians merrily dragging baggage toward far-off locales. Airports always leave me envious, even when I’m flying. I’m sure you know by now, my desire to be everywhere at once is irreconcilable.
He leaned across the armrest and half-hugged me, whispering, “I’m here for you, whatever you decide.”
This was the only lie he told, during conversations about you. I liked him better callous, abandoning, and honest.
He searched my face for gratitude, but I couldn’t feign any, so he recoiled, opened his door, and left. A valet or customer (I couldn’t tell in my periphery) at the curb had been watching. He smirked and quipped when your father slammed my door. I didn’t hear what was said.
By the time I got home, I was gutted. In a fit of conciliatory pique, he’d suggested changing or canceling his flight and sticking around until we came to a mutual agreement. I couldn’t believe he hadn’t. Before you, I’d been looking forward to having my solitude back: I’d read and take pictures and regain control over the television remote. I’d stop cooking.
But after you, I needed him to stay. I’d already started to hate him.
It was hard, climbing the three flights to my apartment with leaden legs, but I made it. I’d even started to calm down. The tears had cooled in their ducts. You’ll be fine, I told myself.
Then, just inside the door, beneath the hanging coats and unpacked boxes, I spotted a faux leather bag with two massive black shoes crossed atop it. How had neither of us noticed it before he left? Had he left them intentionally?
We talked, by phone or instant message, for three weeks after he was gone. During one of those exchanges, I told him he’d left things.
“I have to look at them every time I cross the threshold.”
“You don’t sound very happy about that.”
“You can throw them away, if you want.”
I told him I wouldn’t throw away his things, but the truth was, it crossed my mind each time I pushed back my front door. Depending on how the rest of my day had gone, the sight of that bag and shoes could reduce me to tremulous rage or a fetal curl of sadness.
I kept them through the month of December, not for sentimentality or considerateness, not because I missed him.
I kept them for leverage. I kept them because, for a while, it felt that as long as I had them, he’d have to return for them. And when he did, I’d have a plan: I’d make him sign away his paternal rights or I’d force him to be my Lamaze partner or I’d keep them until he finally manned up, called his mother, and told her he had a child on the way.
I see you laughing. I know; your mom can be really delusional sometimes. But you should know it doesn’t take me long to snap out of it.
This time, it took about two weeks. We’d talked five days before Christmas, via a series of curt email within which he said, I feel like you want me to be fine with things the way they are, within which he said, I really feel we’re making a mistake with this decision.
I assured him I had no expectation of him being “fine with things the way they are.” I had no expectation of things being fine this way, with him across the country in denial and me bearing the brunt of everyone’s commentary, with him contributing nothing and me preparing to restructure everything.
“I want you to change the way things are.”
I’m trying to change the way things are, he said. I’m willing to be there and go to the clinic with you.
I explained, as I often have to, that demanding an action of me requires nothing of him.
“You change.” Accept parenthood—or don’t, I suggested. But get off this record-skipping abortion track and begin to deal with what lies ahead.
He never responded.
The holidays passed. A new decade dawned and he was as gone as he’d been the day he hopped out of my car, trailing promises to “be here for me, whatever I decided.”
So just before I returned to work, two days before my first prenatal appointment, I scooped up that bag of faded graphic tees, that size-14 pair of Naturalizers, and hurled them into the dumpster behind my building.
I’d thought about keeping them, for you, but there seemed a great futility in that: if your father ever became a parent, you wouldn’t need them; if he didn’t, you wouldn’t want them.