You know how there comes a point when you see a person--like really see a person--for the first time? Or when you get a reminder that you don't see them--not all of them--not ever? I guess that's kind of what this was. Parents are such a special part of our lives. I think I always knew my parents had lives that existed outside of me at one point. They told me a lot of stories of those times, and I have looked at a lot of photographs of their memories. I love seeing who they were before I knew them. And at the same time, it's a little sobering because it just reminds me that we can never truly know a person in his or her entirety. Not any one person.
A few years ago, I was in an airport with my dad and brother waiting for a flight home. It was early in the morning, and we were all hungry. I remember picking a little crappy place to eat and how irritated I was with the woman behind the counter because she was being a pain about the fact that Dad kept asking her what she was saying. I mean, after the first time, she should have gotten the idea that he couldn't understand what she was saying, as she spoke faster than was necessary. People tell me I am not good at hiding the way I feel because I wear it on my face--and I know that at this time, I was telling her exactly what I thought of her and her cranky little self with my facial expression.
Anyway, after finally managing to order from this LOVELY WOMAN--only because I repeated everything she said to my dad (and NICELY, I might add, which apparently was too much to ask from her that morning), we sat down at a table in the little cafe place and ate some omelets and other egg things. The light streamed bright through the enormous glass windows on the ceiling and wall and my brother, dad, and I squinted against the blinding rays and ate silently and quickly. When we finished and moved away from the table, I remember Dad and my brother smiling and joking around. As we walked back out to the main part of the airport, I trailed my brother and dad down the airport hall to head to our gate of departure that would lead us home.
My brother decided he was hungry again after we walked about ten yards, so he and I stopped at a kiosk and discussed which wrapped sandwich was his best option for taste. My dad continued ahead of us. Once deciding on a sandwich that looked less shrink-wrapped and less-processed than the others, Matthew and I continued in the direction my dad had disappeared. We hadn't stopped too long, so when we didn't see him anywhere in front of us, we started looking side to side to see if he, too, had been drawn to an airport cart promising to fill any empty areas of our lives. As we walked, a familiar movement caught my eye off to the right of me, and when we turned, Dad was at a bar.
This moment is really special to me--I can still see it clear as day in my head, and I wish I had a picture of it, but I guess I don't really need one because it's seared into my memory. I saw my dad from a really different angle this day. He was standing at this dark airport bar lit with neon lights, and he was talking to a guy. No, a few guys. No, a lot of guys. Guys in military uniforms. Camouflaged with boots. Matthew and I moved closer, but we couldn't hear the conversation very clearly. Dad was smiling. He shook one guy's hand. He passed money to the bartender. The bartender brought out an entire round of drinks for the military men, and the guys thanked Dad. He replied, "I was in Vietnam." My dad then walked away from the military men, meeting us where we stood watching from the outside.
When he reached us, no words were uttered, and we continued to our gate to eat some crappy sandwiches and wait for our plane home.