I am five years old. I live in the big yellow house on Locust Street in Warren, Pennsylvania, and I sleep in the room with my sister. Mommy and Daddy sleep in the room after the bathroom, and my brothers sleep one room beyond that. I am snuggled up in my bed, sucking my thumb while rubbing the silky bit at the top of my blanket between my fingers. I know I’m not supposed to suck my thumb, but I can’t sleep unless I do. The window is across the room, and there is light shining through it onto my sleeping sister. Shadows dance across the walls, but I’m not afraid. My brother, Joshy, told me that the shadows are really angels coming to look after me, and I know he is right.
In the dim light, I see a glint of metal, and the doorknob slowly turns. I smile to myself because this is what I’ve been waiting for. A head peeps around the door, and I hear a whispered, “Hey, Bubby. You awake?” My daddy is home from work. He creeps inside and asks if I want to come downstairs or if I’m too tired. I am never too tired to be with daddy. We sneak downstairs while everyone’s asleep. It must be nearly 2 AM, but this is our special time, daddy’s and mine. The TV turns on with a big pop, and the little circle of light suddenly turns into pictures moving over the screen. Daddy changes the channel with the little dial on the side of the television. I hear the familiar theme tune start to play quietly: “They call him Flipper, Flipper, faster than lightning.” Daddy and I join in, “No one you seeeee… is smarter than heeeee.” We giggle together, and I become fixated on Sandy and Flipper and whatever trouble they find this week.
When the episode is over, I look at Daddy and smile. Our time isn’t over yet. The new theme song is about a man on a motorcycle going down a Long Lonesome Highway. The man’s name is Bronson, and I always think it is Charles Bronson, but Daddy says no. It is Jim Bronson, and that is his character. His real name is Michael Parks.
We watch the show, but before the end, I have fallen asleep on Daddy’s lap, and he kisses my forehead and tells me he loves me, and then he puts me back to bed. I look at the moon in the window and hope that tomorrow will be the same.
I am six years old, and we live in California now. We sold the big yellow house because Daddy has started a new career. He is in the Border Patrol, and he’s been in Georgia finishing his training. He sent us all T-shirts and letters to tell us he missed us, and he said we should be proud of him because he was almost graduated. Mama says that Daddy has gone off to be a cowboy and that he was born a century too late. I’m not sure what she means, but I like the idea of Daddy being a cowboy. It suits him, I think.
Even though I started kindergarten in Pennsylvania, I am finishing it here. I go to Ben Hulse Elementary School in Imperial, California, and this is where my Mommy grew up. We live with my Mama’s sister and her husband and their two kids, who are both older than me. It is fun there, I guess, but I miss my Daddy. The sky is clear in the desert, and in the evenings, I look up in the sky and wonder if Daddy is seeing the moon with me. I make a wish on a star that he’ll come home to us soon.
One summer night, I wake up and hear talking and laughing. Daddy is here! He’s come to take us away, and the moon and me are happy again. Daddy’s going to find us a new house to live in, and we’ll all be together. But we can’t stay in California. We’re going to live in Texas, in a town called Laredo. But Mommy and Daddy are silly and call it “Larry Doo.” I always giggle at that. All four kids and two adults are going to drive from California to Texas in our pickup truck.
I’ve missed my Daddy, and I think Mommy did too.
I am nine years old, and I know we are leaving, but I don’t know why. Mom says we will leave right after my school recital, where I get to sing “We Are the World” and get some awards. Our little house is on Calle Del Norte Avenue at 109 North Point Drive. I like our house, even though it doesn’t have any stairs to slide down. Mom and Daddy aren’t getting along any more, and Daddy says we have to go back to Pennsylvania. I don’t understand, and I keep asking, but Mommy and Daddy don’t explain anything.
Mommy got a new car recently, and we are going to drive it up to our new home. There’s three seats in the back and two in the front, but there’s six of us, and I wonder if they’re going to leave one of us behind. Mommy gets us packed into the car. It’s me and Pat and Mandy in the back and Joshy in the front with Mom. I wonder if Daddy will follow in the truck, but finally I understand that he’s not coming with us. It is after dark, and the moon is high above Daddy as I look out of the car window. I begin to cry and wonder how he can just let us go. I don’t want to leave him.
Daddy is crying, too, but he tells me it’ll be okay, and I’ll always be his Bubby. He says, “How can you miss me if you don’t go away?” and he smiles through his tears. I tell him I don’t WANT to miss him. But I am just a little girl, and these decisions have been made, and I can not change anything by crying. Our car pulls away, and Daddy is there waving to us, and the moon looks as sad as I feel.
I am eleven years old. I am asleep on the floor of Grandma’s living room, next to Pat. There is plastic underneath us because Grandma thinks all children wet the bed, and she doesn’t want to ruin her carpet. Josh and Amanda are at home, and mom has gone to the airport. I feel a tickle on my nose, and I scrunch it so it will go away. It happens again, and I rub my hand around my face in case it’s a spider. Once more I feel a tickle, and I open my eyes and peer into the smiling face of my Daddy. The moon shows through the living room window, and I am so happy I could dance. I leap up and hug him, and he picks me right up off my feet. I only see him once a year, and I want to hold him for every second I can. Pat wakes up, too, so I have to share, but I don’t mind. We gather our things and go back to our apartment in Warren.
We spend our nights telling ghost stories in the dark, and we play poker for real money, and the last game is always a winner takes all. Sometimes I win up to $5! I buy Kool Aid with it.
Then one day, Daddy has packed his things, and we take him back to the airport, and he goes back to Laredo to protect our borders. As we drive home, I look at the moon and wish on a star.
I am fourteen. It’s the first time in almost ten years that we own our own house again. It’s big and green and in a tiny town with no sidewalks or street lights. Daddy is home again, barbecuing spare ribs and singing songs with us. We have a really big back yard, and in the middle is a fire pit. In the summer, we have big bonfires and roast weenies and marshmallows for s’mores. We watch lightning bugs, and Pat and I try to catch some of them. The moon shines brightly overhead, and in its light, and the light of the fire, my Daddy looks dangerous and mean, and I don’t like it. I tell him so, and he amuses himself by making scary faces at me.
We buy a tent, and sometimes we try to sleep outside, under the stars, but we never make the whole night.
Daddy brought his dog home to us. His name is Hector, and he’s a Belgian Malinois, and he’s been Dad’s partner for years. He is retired now, so Daddy leaves him with us as a pet, and when Daddy leaves again, Hector howls at the moon, and I know what he means.
I am sixteen, and Daddy got transferred to New York State! He lives way up north in Massena, and we go up with him to help him settle in. We have to live in an EconoLodge for a few weeks, and Pat and I sleep on the floor, but it’s cozy, and it’s like we all live together again.
We visit him a lot in Massena for the first year, but then we dont go again. When I’m seventeen, Dad lets me come and stay with him for a few weeks. I have my own room with a bed. Daddy’s new dog, Quint stays outside in a fenced area, but I help feed him when he gets home from work. Because Daddy works really early, he insists that I get up with him and start my day early, too. It’s still dark out when the alarm goes off, and the moon shines in my window as I get up to start the coffee pot. We spend all our free time together, and we buy things like Sarsaparilla candy, and Dad gives me a small allowance so I can go to the movies or to the mall. I have my driver’s license, but I’m not allowed to touch Dad’s truck, so I walk everywhere.
While it is lots of fun hanging out with Dad, I start to miss my friends and my life back home. I tell Mom, and she organises it so I can come home. The first night back, I cry to myself feeling like a traitor, as the moon shines down.
I’m twenty-one, and I am engaged to be married. Daddy has never met my fiance, and he likely won’t until the wedding. I’m leaving in August, and Daddy comes home for his and Mom’s anniversary at the end of July. He says he wants to talk with me before he has to go back. Days and nights pass, and we spend most of our evenings out by the campfire, singing, telling stories, roasting weenies and sharing memories. Dad will start reciting The Cremation of Sam McGee, and I will watch his face in the moonlight and firelight and know that he is a good man. We’ll attempt to sing The Strawberry Roan together, and we joke that we’re the only ones in the family who know all the words.
Dad will start to quote television shows or tell silly jokes. One of his favourites is to quote the introduction of Then Came Bronson:
Dad: Taking a trip? Me: What’s that? Dad: Taking a trip? Me: Yeah. Dad: Where to? Me: Oh, I don’t know. Wherever I end up, I guess. Dad: Pal, I wish I was you. Me: Really? Dad: Yeah. Me: Well, hang in there.
The warm familiarity of the words reminds me of all the nights that I’ve spent in the presence of my father. There haven’t been enough of them, I think, and soon, I’ll be married and living on another continent, and the only thing to hold us together is that moon in the sky.
I am twenty-five, and I’ve left my husband to go home for a while. I am lucky enough to be there at a time when Dad has lots of leave scheduled so he can be there, too. We have more bonfires, and we listen to Van Morrison singing Moon Dance. We talk about things – boring things, random things, emotional things. I break down to him a time or two, and he helps to lift my spirits.
One night in late May, there is a Blue Moon, the second full moon of the month. I am sitting in the living room, watching TV, and Daddy comes running into the house and grabs my hand like a five year old child might do. “Bubby, come here! Hurry! HURRY!” I run with him, forgetting my shoes, and he leads me quickly across the back yard and between two trees. He points up at the sky and says, “Isn’t the moon beautiful?”
It is majestic. For once, Daddy and I are looking at the same moon at the same time, together. I get a camera and take a photo of it so that I won’t forget it.
One night, I find myself struggling with sleep again. I decide to go downstairs and see if I could see the eclipse. I spend an hour watching it, until after 2 AM. It is very cloudy, but it doesn’t dampen my enjoyment. As the clouds move and skirt their way across the sky, I can see how bright and beautiful it is. I run to the telephone without thinking, and I call my Dad. I tell him that I am watching, and that it makes me think of him. He seems happy at that, and he promises that he is going to watch it, too, though he is getting ready for work. We make a date to watch it together, though so far apart from one another.
And I smile as I stare at the moon and know that it is always there to depend on, like a surrogate father.
I’ve had a vision. My grandfather came to me as I washed dishes and he’s told me my father is ill. He points to his stomach, and I know he means cancer. But I’ve heard nothing from home. I tell my husband that I need to go back to America. Now. When my father tells me he has bladder cancer a few weeks later, I am not surprised. I know he will beat it. That night, we sit on the porch and watch a gorgeous October moon make its way across the sky. We are quiet, but comfortable. I know the moon is watching us.
When my father is given the all-clear a few months later, I give thanks to the sky and smile in the knowledge that we will have many more nights together.
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