an unexpected reception

Posted: April 27, 2013 in Uncategorized

It was a long walk, days and days, from the city.  Without money in my pocket, I had to get creative in order to eat.  Sometimes I encountered a sympathetic stranger who shared a meal over friendly conversation.  Sometimes I begged.  Sometimes I stole.  No way to get home if I starved too much for the walk.  Most nights I slept outside, though sometimes I found a barn where I could duck in out of the weather. 

I felt like I was dying sometimes.  My hands shaking in need of a drink.  My mind craving the escape of a high.  I felt old, tired.  My lips were thick and cracked.  And with every step, I rehearsed for that first meeting with my father.  What would I say?  He’d be brusque.  Distant.  I would need to explain about the money – only, there was no good story to tell about that.  What were the right words to rebuild that bridge I had burnt?  I mean, I knew it was too late to come back into what it always had been. Still, my father had surprised me when he had willingly, if sadly, given me my half of the inheritance.  He hadn’t sent me off with nothing.  This had been no small cost or inconvenience to him.  But he had done so. 

This gave me hope. I needed just the right speech to help him see that it would be okay to hire me as a hand.  That I didn’t expect more – wouldn’t ask for more.  If he’d give me a place to sleep and daily meals, he could keep the rest of my pay as a sort of repayment for what I had taken.  Maybe that would be enough.  I rehearsed in my head, first one speech and then another.  Nothing I could think of sounded good enough.  I tinkered with the words, with the proposition, with the opening, with the tone.  I was usually so good at talking with people.  But this one was slippery.  I couldn’t get a plan together that seemed like a sure thing. 

Watching the ground at my feet, I trudged along.  I had stopped hearing or seeing any of my surroundings except that little spot of road that was my next step.  So tired.  I was just so tired.  Thirsty.  Hungry.  Aching for rest.  Pain was the sound in my ears and the words kept slipping away as I tried to form them. 

He was almost upon me before I noticed him.  Heavy footsteps – running!  Coming directly toward me.  I lifted my eyes and the glare of sunshine left him only a silhouette at first.  But I knew his shape, his step.  The sound of his breathing.  My father.  He was running toward me, running as I had only ever seen him do when one of the herd was hurt or in serious danger.

His eyes were wild.  Fear shot through me.  Of the many things I had anticipated, walking along, I hadn’t thought that he might attack me.  I barely recognized his face, so full of naked emotion.  Some of my friends’ fathers beat them regularly, but my father had never laid a hand on me in anger.  Was this to be the first time?  I had survived a few assaults, while living on my so-called adventure.  My hands went up instinctively to protect my face and I shrank back at his approach. 

As I cowered, his steps halted.  He was breathing so hard – must have been running long before I realized he was there.  He stood before me, sweating and gulping great breaths of air.

“Father, I…”  My words stuck in my throat.  I coughed and tried again.

“Father, I am so sorry for what I did.”  His eyes were bright.  Were those tears?

“I…I was just wondering.  Could you use a farm hand?  I…” But before I could finish my sentence, he was upon me.  I was swept up in a hug so big, so boisterous that my feet came off the ground.  His laughter rang out in my ear.  He put me down, only to grab my head in both of his hands and rain fatherly kisses down on my brow. 

I was dizzy.  Slightly confused.  I had imagined making lavish apologies, groveling at my father’s feet for mercy.  Had imagined negotiations.  Had imagined  many scenarios for my home coming, but not one of those had included my father giddy with joy. 

Before I could sort it out, he was shouting to the nearby farmhands.  Instructions for a party.  I couldn’t catch the details.  I just stood there, my jaw slack, watching the animation in his face, the joy in the way his arms waved as he talked to them.  Seeing the farm all around us – was it this beautiful when I left?  It had seemed so dreary.  But in this moment it felt like a sanctuary, a refuge.  He kept breaking off in the middle of talking just to turn and rub my shoulder again, squeeze me one more time, gently slap a palm against my cheek.  Tears rolled unrecognized down his cheeks. 

And – oh! – down mine as well. 


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