Nature is ze enemy

Rachel Ossip, Room, Mitchell. 2018. Courtesy of the artist.

There was still my father. 

After Daniel proposed, we stayed on the bed and made a flurry of calls, starting with our closest friends. In a few hours, everyone knew. Everyone, that is, except my father. My father was different. Most of my life we hadn’t had a working telephone number for him. My mother would dial and a recording would click on saying that the line had been disconnected and that there was no new number. Eventually we’d hear from him again, often from overseas. He and his wife Lucille traveled to Macau, to Rio, to Singapore.

“You have school,” my mother tried to placate me, when I asked why I couldn’t go along on these exotic adventures. “They have the money and we have the education.” When my mother said “they” she meant Lucille. “In some places those things would be synonymous. But not in Nevada.” Lucille was from Nevada.

During the years when we couldn’t reach him, I had fantasies about my dad. A classmate’s mother was rumored to be a spy for China. My Syrian father had studied political philosophy in Beirut and London. I thought maybe he had become a pan-Arab revolutionary and that was why we didn’t know where he was.

When I moved away to college, I started sending letters to a return address in Nevada I’d found on the envelope of a birthday card Lucille had sent me. I wrote drafts of these letters, which my father sometimes answered with a call. Once, he and Lucille came through New York on their way to Monte Carlo and stayed at a hotel in Times Square. I met them for dinner after they saw Les Mis. I tried to follow my father’s eyes as they roved around the large noisy restaurant, paying just enough attention to Lucille to answer her questions, which seemed prompted by a desire to talk about her grandchildren. Whatever I saidyes, I exercised, I jogged in the parkreminded her of one of her grandchildren and she would segue into a long story to which neither my father nor I listened. She wore a short fur car coat.

I could still remember every time I’d seen him.

Once, in the ’80s, coming back uptown in the early hours of morning, a cabdriver talked to me from the front seat. He lived in New Jersey, but his wife and son were still in Yemen.

My father is Syrian, I said.

You speak Arabic?

I answered back the few phrases I’d learned in Elementary Standard Arabic.

When he stopped in front of my building, he said, “You will know who I am.”

I looked reflexively at the name and picture on the dashboard from the New York Taxi and Limousine Commission.

“Forget the name.” He turned around. “Remember my face,” he said.

When the US embassy was bombed in Beirut I thought of the bearded taxi driver. Then I called my father, who was dark skinned but clean-shaven, American looking, and felt relieved when he answered.

By the time Daniel and I sat cross-legged on the bed with our address books, my father had a stable phone number and we talked every six or eight weeks. The talks weren’t much, but he called me sweetie and told me bits about his life. At 60 he had the first real job that I’d heard of since he’d married Lucille decades ago. He lived in Jackpot, a town on the Idaho-Nevada border, and worked as general concessions manager of what he described as a Las Vegas–style casino. He was finally getting “rayalistic,” he said, his immigrant’s rolled R giving the word an elegance. He couldn’t get down to Reno much, where a Filipino caregiver cooked meals for Lucille and took her on walks. We didn’t talk often, but I thought it would be weird for me to all of a sudden have a husband. I had the Daniel-thought-insane idea of flying out to tell my father in person. I couldn’t have him at the wedding, but a visit might still be something.

I don’t know what you’re hoping for, Daniel said, when I bought the ticket.

I hadn’t grown up with my father, but I was trying to salvage what we could have now.

Next to me on the plane two young women sprawled in old Levi’s and pristine white waffle T-shirts. They invited me to ski with them in Sun Valley.

“Oh, I’m not a good skier,” I said. “I live in New York City.”

“We don’t care,” one said. “We don’t ski competitively anymore. It’s just a way to see friends, like having coffee.”

That sounded to me like a clean, wonderful life.

The pilot landed the plane with gentle bounces and passengers clapped.

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