by Liz Gregg
I follow my son into the kitchen that, although small, is neatly arranged. Brass pots hang on the walls, and a matched set of canisters stand mute sentry to assorted modern appliances sharing the limited space on spotless Formica counter top. There is much to notice, many clues to Peter's mysteries, but I cannot move my eyes away from him long enough to discern those valuable from those frivolous.
We walk softly, carefully maintaining the elusive calm that soothes his blistering ire. Peter flounders in deep swells of emotional upheaval and does not possess the awareness, much less the understanding, of what it means to me to find him alive. I feel again. I look at him, often speechless, and experience joy, pure and true like the smile of a young child. I touch him, confirm his substance, and savor the warmth of his skin. Sometimes I believe I feel the rush of blood flowing through his veins, and I know he is real, not phantom.
At times, I must admit I suffer great rage at the events that have scarred Peter's young life. I gain simple comfort knowing Peter found a loving family to give him counsel. But I fear their shelter did not protect my son from the erosion of his self-worth. I fear that nothing will convince Peter of my love. I mourn the loss of fifteen long years. With great sorrow, I regret my absence during Peter's desperate time of need.
I welcome all these sensations, good and bad. I embrace this fullness of my heart, until these passions become one with me, and one with the Tao.
My eyes are still on Peter when he makes a nervous comment on the condition of his kitchen. Today, I have learned my silence causes him irritation, so I attempt, for tonight, to make small talk. I reply, "This does not look like a scary place."
My response pleases him, and he grins. "There's all kinds of scary, Dad. Wait until we look in the fridge." He swings open the door, relaxed and confident as he peers into his refrigerator.
My eyes roam while Peter inspects the meager contents of his shelves. I notice a medium-sized box, without a lid, resting on the tabletop.
"Peter," I stand by the table and gesture at the crate. "What is this?"
I pick up one of the shiny red apples. Turning it over in my hands, I enjoy its weight and the cool smoothness of the skin. Lifting it to my face, I breathe deeply the sweet fragrance.
"You know, Dad," joining me, he taps on one long slat, "It's a long story."
I feel his embarrassment. Shrugging, I say, "I am...all ears." I meet Peter's questioning gaze and smile. The apple invites me to take a bite, and I do, inviting my son to offer me a bite from his life.
Peter laughs. "All right, all right!"
Lightly gripping the sides of the crate, Peter continues. "I did a favor for the mayor. The apples are a thank you present." Uncomfortable, Peter lifts the box and plops it down. "End of story. How about we order a pizza? I know a place that delivers and--"
"Peter!" I chide him gently. "What kind of favor?"
"You're not going to let this slide, are you. Okay, it was nothing, really. An accident."
Peter grasps an apple and starts pulling at the stem. "There...was a boy in the hospital. I heard about him at the precinct. He and his parents had been badly injured in a freak car accident. Innocent victims of a high-speed car chase gone wrong. The boy had been badly burned. Rumor had it he was so depressed he didn't want to live. So while his parents were getting their strength back, I would visit him. I spent time with him whenever I could."
Peter sends me a quick, almost embarrassed glance. "Anyway, it turns out the boy's parents are friends of the mayor. So the mayor, in an attempt to show gratitude, told his secretary to send me something. A token of his appreciation."
Having pulled the stem from the apple and cleaned the bits of dirt that collected in the dimple, Peter tosses it to me without warning. I deftly snatch the apple from the air.
Peter enjoys my performance and gives me a lopsided grin. "Fruit of the month."
"Fruit of the month?" I set the piece of fruit on the kitchen counter.
"Yeah." Peter laughs. "Fruit of the month, Dad. Every month I get this nicely packed crate of fruit delivered to my apartment. Last month it was kiwi."
"Kiwi!" Once an exotic treat, now a fruit of the month selection. I swallow another bite of apple.
"Yes, kiwi. You missed it! You stumbled into town a month too late."
We share a bittersweet smile as we relive the memory of our reunion. For my son, no aspect of our reunion will be simple. Equal depths of sorrow match the soaring happiness he feels. Even as a boy, his aversion of heights was a physical representation of his fear of the letdown that follows emotional peaks. He does not accept that life is both great awe and great pain, and that indulgence of either extreme blocks the flow of inner peace. It is a lesson that he is not yet ready to receive.
Peter selects another apple from the crate. "The funny thing is, I don't really like apples." Pausing a moment, he amends, "Well, that's not exactly right. I do like apples--I just don't like eating them. I know that doesn't make any sense."
His confusion is strong. There is a memory...one not remembered. Peter chose to conquer his embarrassment and present me with a glimpse of his gentle nature. I will do likewise. I can help this make sense and return to him a memory lost. I finish eating the apple and carefully store the seeds in my pouch.
Peter notices and asks, "What do you plan to do with those, Dad? Turn into Johnny Appleseed?"
Ignoring his mild taunt, I ask, "Peter, do you have a paring knife?"
"I don't know. Let me look."
He opens a drawer and pokes around. Laughing, he turns and says, "Here's my Ginsu Knife! Cuts through ten inches of steel! Will that work?"
"It will not. Let me look." I stand next to him. Our eyes meet. I read his eagerness to please, feel his pleasure from my nearness.
"Be my guest," Peter motions, stepping aside. His cluttered drawer is full of knives and assorted utensils.
"Ah. This will do." I hold up the knife that, although small, has a blade that is strong and sharp.
"Let me see that," he says and covers my hand with his, twisting it for a clearer view of the knife. The press and warmth of his skin against mine suffuses me with his keen energy. I pause, as does he, and our gazes lock. We exchange furtive understanding, and for the moment, we are at peace with each other. His gentle smile mirrors mine. He is my son; all mine. I imprint this realization for further examination--my selfish unwillingness to release his devotion, even as its intensity threatens my serenity.
Peter squeezes my hand and releases it. I resist the urge to pull it back and never let it go. His voice once again anchors me to the moment.
"I didn't even know I had that knife, Dad. Figures you would find it."
His current need is to lighten the moment, so I wink and say, "Now, a small plate."
"How about a paper plate?" Peter asks.
"That will suffice."
"What are you going to do, Pop? Make a pie?"
"Peter!" I admonish him with stern voice, asserting insistence to be addressed as I wish, the right of blood and of a father. Peter cringes and sheepishly raises a hand in the air. He looks so much like Laura that my brief annoyance fades completely.
I acknowledge Peter's unspoken apology with a nod of my head. Sitting at the table, I begin to slice the apple and offer him a missing wedge of his life.
"When you were a small child, you used to love apples. Your mother believed them to be healthful, and fed them to you," I look at him and see my curly-haired toddler, "long before all your teeth came in. This was something she usually did in the afternoon, while I was not there." I let the memory fill me and feel her near me. I pause a moment to steady my voice.
"When your mother died, I tried my best to resume your normal routines. Knowing she fed you apples, I offered them to you for a snack one afternoon." I finished slicing the apple and placed the crescent-shaped pieces on the dish.
"When I gave you the apple, you cried, and threw them all on the floor. You kept saying a word I could not quite understand, it sounded like flower. You were a toddler. I thought you were having...temper tantrums? I did not understand what you meant. Eventually, I stopped offering you apples."
"I don't remember any of this," Peter says quietly.
"You were very young," I remind him. "Time passed, perhaps a year. A friend of Laura's, who would visit and bring her little girl, stayed for lunch. She prepared the apples and arranged the pieces on the plates like this."
Peter looks at the plate. I have arranged eight slices spirally, like spokes on a wheel, the tips fanning out in a starburst fashion. Placed this way, the pieces look like petals, and together they form a flower.
"That afternoon, I learned that your mother had always given you the slices shaped in the form of a flower. It was what you had been trying to tell me." I watch his face as the memory begins to surface. "When you came inside from playing and saw the apple arranged like this, you insisted your mother had come home. You wanted to know where she was."
"That apple could have been shaped like a rocket ship. I just wanted mom back. Sometimes you get what you think you want and find out it's not what you really want at all."
"Yes." I am quiet, waiting.
Peter looks down, then our eyes meet. "Father, sometimes I don't know what I want. Sometimes I don't know what's the right thing to do."
I breathe deeply. "Yes. Like knowing a young boy, fighting for his life and struggling with despair, needs your help."
Despite his reluctance to share his achievement, I feel his contentment and his pride. "Yeah. You're right." He touches my hand. "Dad, about the apple. It's okay, I know you did the best you could."
I regard my son with affection. My love for him is so strong I wonder that all Chinatown does not feel it. Perhaps my Persian Flaw is the strength of this emotion; its intensity clouds my judgment and influences my actions, preventing my son from feeling it, too.
Peter grabs one of the apple pieces that I had arranged in the flower shape. He pops it in his mouth.
"You know, it really does taste better like this." He swallows and picks up another section. I tilt my head and peer at him.
"What, you don't believe me?" Peter smiles at winks. "Would I joke about a thing like this?"
"What now, Dad? A kiwi story? Sorry, I told you, they're all gone." He is once again a vibrant current of energy.
"C'mon, Pop." Peter grins."Let's talk about that pizza."
He is. "My son." I smile and allow myself a brief caress of his face. I have much to learn.
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