“Here’s the window,” he said with a brightness in his voice. “This is where it happened.”
His daughter trailed behind a bit. She was losing her patience with his trip down memory lane. It was her middle school now not his. But Kennedy Middle school was where he went too. She was living in his childhood home and not much had changed in Albuquerque’s catchments for school attendance.
“I stood here, and then I’d jump up,” he said pointing to the clear part of a classroom window. The lower pane was frosted. She was hoping he wouldn’t demonstrate.
“See, it was exactly the same,” he said looking at the window and pointing. “I’d jump up, the kids would see me and laugh. Since Mrs. Lee was facing them, she couldn’t see what they were laughing at. She’d turn around when she saw them looking. When she looked back, she didn’t see anything. That just made the kids laugh harder.”
“Hilarious, dad,” she said flatly. “Fucking hilarious. Can we go now?”
As they walked away toward a bench nearby, she asked, “Did you get caught.”
“Of course,” he said. “All the kids standing there with me and in the class ratted me out.”
“What did they do?” she asked as they sat down.
“I had to write 500 times, ‘I will not disturb Mrs. Lee’s 5th period class,’” he said. “I guess I learned my lesson. I never did it again. I did get a callous on my middle finger.”
“That’s a shitty punishment,” she said. “They can’t do stuff like that anymore.”
“Yeah, well,” he said. “It didn’t make Foucault’s book.”
She didn’t take the bait, that would just prolong the conversation and keep him at school. She wanted him to leave.
“What’s upsetting you honey?” he asked. “You don’t seem very happy. Is it me?”
“Yeah, it’s you,” she answered. “You and mom. I’m the one that has to defend you out here.”
“Defend us? We can defend ourselves.”
“You don’t get it. The things they say about you to me, here. And the things they say about me because of you. It’s fucked up.”
He put his arm around her.
“I’m sorry sweetie, I am.”
“No, you’re not,” she said. “I’m always having to answer for you, the things you do, in the news. When you show up, I hear about it. Comments from the kids even from the teachers.”
“Well, Jesus, honey,” he said, “What are we supposed to do?”
“You guys could lay off. Stop fighting in public. Stop saying things about each other. Just, stay out of the news for a minute. Don’t drag me into the middle of it like you did in Seattle.”
“We’re just doing our thing honey. We’re living our lives.”
“You’re always in trouble,” she said. “You’re always stirring up trouble. And I’m the one that has to take the shit. And you love it, and I take the heat with these stupid fucking kids.”
“It’s part of what you’ve been born into. The trouble, it’s part of who you are. Look, people can be stupid and cruel.”
“They can, especially other kids.”
“Is there anything you want me to do? Who’s bothering you?”
“Oh God, dad, please,” she said rolling her eyes. “You coming in here and fucking with anything will just make it worse. You want me to get my ass kicked? Jesus, I can’t believe you don’t understand that.”
“Fine, yes. I get it,” he said. “Listen, every day people in this world get fucked by the system. Good people just trying to get along in life. Your mother and I feel like it’s worth the trouble to do something about that. We have different ideas about how we should solve that problem.”
“If you agree then what the fuck is all the fighting about?”
“We have different ideas about how to get there,” he said looking into her eyes. “Hers are wrong, of course. But I love her. I’ve learned more from her than just about anyone. But she drives me crazy.”
“Dad, I just can’t understand that,” she said. “And why do I have to be in the middle of it?”
“Your mom and I love you, and we love each other in our own crazy, fucked up way,” he said. “We get into trouble with each other and the world. We make people mad. It’s like me jumping up in down in front of that window.”
“Wasn’t that a joke, dad. What was that for? What was the big cause?”
“You’re right. I think I just had a crush on Mrs. Lee. But seriously, if you make a difference in this world you’re bound to get in trouble. You just have to be sure it’s for the right reason. Make the right people mad.”
He paused and looked at her like he had so many times before when he had to explain stupid things he’d done or he’d done together with her mother that hurt her in some way.
“Trouble, Oh trouble can’t you see, you have made me a wreck, now won’t you leave me in my misery.”
“I don’t need any more quotes, dad,” she said, resisting his technique of distracting her into a lesson about some book or song. Inexplicably, she kept pushing their talk, “What’s your trouble, dad?”
“Your mother for one,” he said. There was a pause as the wind kicked up and moved papers and sand around in little eddies at their feet. “You’re going to find your trouble soon enough. You’re going to know what it’s like, to love someone and to love trouble. Trouble will find you. And you’ll find trouble. And you’ll wrestle with it. Sometimes you’ll kick its ass, and sometimes it will sneak up on you and kick yours.”
“Jesus, dad, another pep, talk.”
“Yeah. Another one. Go team,” he said. He knew his efforts to avoid what he sometimes called ‘Dadlish,’ a hybrid of dad-talk and English, delivered with the dual intention of being authoritative and friend like, were failing. Sometimes he could hear the words, “When I was your age,” coming out of his mouth.
“You’re definitely your parent’s daughter. Just remember, trouble is what we do. And don’t forget, you’re one of us.”
At this she softened.
“I know. Thanks Dad.”
“Are remember, you’re Mistress of the Death Blow,” he said.
“I destroy all my enemies,” she said.
“One at a time, or all at once,” he said. “You’re my Lady Whirlwind, always outnumbered but never outfought.”
They embraced for a long moment.
“Ok, dad. I love you. Now I’ll beat it. Please.”