The last time I saw my father, he was home from Ukraine in June 1994. I was between my sophomore and junior years of high school. The only thing I remember about that visit was that we fought at the very end, but we were probably fighting the whole time.
The reason we got into a fight was because I wanted to take my boyfriend to brunch and my father wanted me to do homework. (Full disclosure: I was taking him to the gospel brunch at The House of Blues!) My boyfriend was going to Ecuador that summer and I wanted to send him off in style, or something.
I didn’t have any particularly pressing homework to do, but my father said I couldn’t go, and that if I didn’t have any homework I should study. I’d planned the brunch in advance, purchased tickets, etc., and I went crazy when he said I couldn’t go. The situation was one I’d referred to before—he swept into town and tried to impose rules on my life just because he could. At the time, I felt he did it just because he wanted to be a dick, but maybe he was imposing rules on me as a way of imposing himself, as a way to remind me that he was there. It must have been strange for him to come back home and see life continuing without him.
I only remember a few details from the argument. I remember shouting, “I hate you!” in the living room, in front of my mother. I also remember arguing with him while I was in the shower. It’s hard to make sense of such an inappropriate situation (he was good at those). I’m guessing I said he couldn’t stop me from going and got in the shower and he yelled something from outside the bathroom and I yelled something from the shower. When he burst into the bathroom I was shocked. How could he think that was acceptable? It was steamy, I had water in my eyes and obviously, I was naked. The shower door was one of those rickety plastic types that blurs without disguising. He couldn’t exactly see me, but there was plenty of proof of my vulnerability. I screamed, “You’re not my father, you don’t even live here!” So cliché! I’m certain I said it because I heard it somewhere else. The statement didn’t stand up to logic, but I was furious and scared and I went for high drama.
My mom found me in my room a little bit later and said my father agreed to let me go as long as I did work that night. She also said I should apologize for saying I hated him. I wanted him to apologize too. I don’t remember what she said to that. I would have been surprised if she’d convinced him to let me go and apologize. The former was a respectable enough accomplishment.
I did apologize. I said, “I’m sorry I said that I hated you,” exactly like a teenager would. I went to brunch with my boyfriend. It was okay, and I stole a plate that said, “Help ever, hurt never.” Or at least that’s what I remember it saying, but I can’t find it online, so perhaps it said, “Unity in Diversity,” which is what all the plates I can find say.
My father went back to Ukraine shortly after our fight; maybe the next day. We were all standing outside when the cab pulled up, ready for a quick goodbye. I hugged my father and said, “I love you,” into the collar of his scratchy suit jacket. I hadn’t planned on saying it and have no idea what compelled me to. It was a surprising and surreal moment and I watched it happen, confused.
The moment eventually became even more surreal because “I love you” turned out to be the last thing I said to him.
He didn’t respond when I told him I loved him. I don’t know if he was still pissed or he just didn’t hear me. But it doesn’t really matter. It was a good ending anyway.