We spent a quiet day. In the afternoon, we walked to the town where Peter insisted on buying gloves for me. I selected a pair that was sturdy and well made, and a good match to my jacket. Peter bought a heavy sweater for me, too, and demanded that I put it on in the store, beneath my jacket.
I am amused, but touched by his concern. I am pleased that the man he has become is good and generous to others, though confused about his own path.
This afternoon, for himself, Peter bought several bags of 'snack foods', crispy things that make much noise when chewed. Some, I know, are called 'chips' and fashioned from potatoes, but they bear little resemblance to that noble vegetable. I have never eaten one, and I decline when he offers me a taste. He lies on his bed, pillows propped behind his shoulders, his mouth in constant motion either talking or chewing. He has turned on the television, but he does not observe it in silence; he comments about the hockey game that is being broadcast. At times he becomes very enthusiastic.
I wish he felt such enthusiasm for other things.
Suddenly he picks up the small black box and points it at the television. The picture and sound vanish.
"You're starin' at me," he accuses.
That is obvious, so I do not respond.
As frequently happens, my silence aggravates him. I consider that at other times my words annoy him. I see no third path that is open to me, so I am resigned to his reactions.
"What? What is it?" Peter demands. "What is so fuckin' wrong with me?"
His words sadden me on different levels. First, that he speaks so disrespectfully to his elder. Second, that he believes I am constantly critical of him. Most importantly, that he does not believe in himself.
I fold my hands. I would draw out my flute and play soft notes, but I know Bea sleeps, exhausted by the excitement of visitors. Her resting mind plans a full breakfast menu, which I realize I must eat to assure her of her capability as a hostess.
It is easy to know what she needs. What Peter needs is complex and thus far remains beyond my grasp.
Peter noisily folds the bag of snack food and tosses it on the bedside stand. He lies down and turns his back to me. "Will you turn off the lamp so I can get some sleep?"
His voice is tight with anger. I rise and extinguish the light that stands between us. I pull the blanket over his shoulder, but he does not acknowledge my act. I decide to meditate, so I sit on the floor and pull one ankle onto the opposite thigh. I can no longer assume full lotus; my joints are not stiff, but they are aging, as am I.
Though I am quiet, my movements annoy Peter. He says nothing, but I feel waves of rage radiate from him. I do not know what to do. He was happy for most of the day. I review what transpired between us, but can find nothing I have done to warrant such resentment. Regretfully, I acknowledge that this is my son's self-inflicted pain; he is saturated with anger and allows it to build until it randomly explodes. It wounds whoever is in its path, without regard to identity, yet it seems especially to center on me. I wish to help him, but Peter reaches for me no longer. He resents my clumsy attempts to teach him, he sees my desire to give him peace as withdrawal.
He believes I do not understand his rage, but I do, for there is a small, solid core of anger inside my heart that I have not been able to disperse. In that way, Peter and I are the same. I too feel the old bruises caused by the loss of my mother and the desertion of my father. Deeper still is my fury over the loss of my child, though he is returned to me.
If it were within my power to divert further grief from Peter's path, I would, for he has received more injuries than most suffer in a lifetime. He has not yet learned all he can from those losses, but surely more pain will not serve his spiritual and emotional development.
I study his head and the rigidity of his back. I used to sit thus, watching him, in our temple. Some evenings there would be shadows in his eyes, and I would know that the coming night would be difficult for him. So I would sit and wait and chase away the Demon of Fear that haunted him.
Now there are always shadows in his eyes, but his demons will not face me so I cannot know and banish them. Perhaps I should not even if I recognized them. He is grown, no longer my small son. He has his special demons, bred during the years when I was not here to teach and comfort him; I cannot share them.
I can only remain quiet and attempt to dispel the fury that swirls around the room.
"Jesus fuckin' Christ," Peter suddenly says between clenched teeth, "will you quit with the goddamn meditating and just go to sleep?"
I am Shaolin, at peace; still, his words pierce my heart like a sword. I rise and lie on my bed. After several moments, he rolls onto his back and exhales, his breaths trembling.
"I'm sorry, Dad. I don't know what's the matter with me."
I feel his remorse and nod, though he does not look at me and cannot see the motion. I turn onto my side so I face the wall. I say nothing, for there is nothing to say.
He needed me once. I failed him, and so I lost him.
Now I have found him again, and that finding is my punishment,
his anger is my penance.
In the morning, I am not refreshed. My sleep was restless. When I wake, Peter is not in our room. I carry my clothes to the large bathroom down the hall. I shower in water that is much hotter than that which flows in my apartment above the kwoon. I enjoy this luxury. I dress in the steam and return to the room.
Peter is there. He stares at himself in the mirror above the wooden dresser. He is wearing my satchel. It is strapped across his chest in the manner I wear it.
The towel I am using to dry my hair slips from my grasp. I catch it and clutch it to my heart. For a moment, I envision a future, and I wonder if it will come to pass. He turns and sees me.
"Sorry!" he mumbles, tugging the pouch over his head. He lays it gently on my bed. "I was just...uh, looking. I didn't mean to...." His words trail off, and his face colors.
"Everything I have belongs to you," I answer carefully, hoping I do not offend him. Were he less sensitive, I would say that someday the pouch may belong to him. But that merely is a wish and may come to nothing.
"Yeah, I know -- 'course, you don't have much!" He tries to laugh, but quickly sobers. "Father, I'm very sorry for my behavior last night," Peter says formally. "I have no excuse."
I ache to comfort him, but I do not know how. "Your heart has many scars," I murmur.
He looks down at the floor, then up at me. For an instant, I think that he will come to me and embrace me. But the moment passes, and he does not.
I put aside the towel and comb my hair. He waits. When I finish, I go to the door and open it. "Breakfast is waiting," I say.
He gives me a look that I do not understand. It seems almost to be one of disappointment, but I have done nothing to disappoint him. Then he smiles and nudges my shoulder, directing me to go first.
"Yeah, I smell the bacon! You eat bacon, Dad? Pancakes? Scrambled eggs? French toast? I'll bet Bea didn't make you a 'sandwich with cooked cheese'." He laughs and adds, "Or rice."
I scowl at him, but he only laughs again because he senses I am amused. When I do not move, he darts around me. "Race you," he challenges and runs down the stairs.
I walk through the doorway, and his essence clings to me. I consider how volatile and fragile this man is and how much he disturbs me...his behavior, the destructiveness that is focused within...and, mostly, the emptiness I often see in his eyes.
I wish I could fill it. Then I would move on, leaving him to live his life and me to live mine.
Once we had a life together, but it is over.
As it should be, for my son is a man now.
I scuff my boots along the sidewalk, kicking up bits of snow. The day is relatively mild, without wind or blowing flurries. There are dark clouds to the north that threaten to bring more snow, maybe later in the day. I sneak a look at my pop who is walking beside me.
His head is held high. He gazes forward with confidence and walks with a long stride. He doesn't seem angry or disappointed, so I feel relieved...but still guilty. I don't know where last night's anger came from. I was suddenly just so mad at my dad. I wanted something from him and didn't get it. And whatever I want, I can't put into words, either to him or to myself. My dad is supposed to know. He knows everything.
It's early, but the carnival is already underway. There's a carousel, a small ferris wheel, and a few other rides that look equally uninteresting. There's a shabby fortune teller's booth and a cotton candy stand that also sells corndogs and popcorn.
"A gastronomical heaven," I declare, trying to be cheerful.
My father smiles widely, and I'm relieved to see that his mood has improved. We got off to a shaky start this morning. I know I shouldn't have snooped through my dad's pouch, but I was curious to know what was in it. I'm none the wiser now, because there were only books, dried grasses, and vials of other stuff that I didn't recognize. And then I got caught trying on the pouch -- just out of curiosity, wondering how it felt to be Kwai Chang Caine, roaming the country with only what I could wear and carry.
Pop's hand grabs my forearm. I like it when we touch. It gives me a sense of security -- a false sense, probably, but it's better than nothing at all. Besides, when I feel his touch, I know he's real. "What?"
My dad points to the right. I peer around him and see ice sculptors at work. "Yeah, they're having a contest. Judging is later today. Wanna go look?"
With a nod, my father takes off and I follow. Pop studies each sculpture for a very long time. I'm drawn to one work, a half-nude mermaid.
"I've dated a few of those."
My dad gazes at me quizzically.
"Ice maidens," I joke.
He rolls his eyes, gives the bare breasts an incredulous look, and moves on. We pass an arched bridge, a dolphin, what is apparently a fruit basket, and then my dad pauses at a very elaborate rendering of a walled village. The carver picks up a saw and whacks off a chunk from an exterior wall.
"May I?" Dad asks, picking up the rejected piece.
The man glances at us through goggles that are sprayed with shaved ice. "Help yourself."
My pop holds the ice in front of my face. "This," he says, "is a heart."
I say nothing. Dad removes his gloves, opens his pouch, reaches inside and pulls out a small knife. I wonder how he finds anything in that mess. It's worse than a woman's purse.
"Inside one's heart is one's path."
He starts slicing away at the ice. I'm certain this is going to be a lesson. I don't want a lesson, I specifically told him, no lessons! but there's no stopping Kwai Chang Caine once he gets started.
"What you are making?" I ask hopefully. Maybe it'll be a good luck elephant or something without a great meaning.
"I am making nothing." My father gives me a Significant Look, and I stifle a resigned sigh. "I am merely peeling away the layers to discover what is inside."
"Wow, I can't wait to find out," I respond flippantly.
The knife slips. A small chunk of ice goes flying. A narrow line of blood wells up along my dad's thumb. My breath catches. "Be careful!"
"The warning arrived after the accident," my father says. He ignores the cut. "Sometimes a blade that wounds deeply will also reveal the truth."
Despite my misgivings, I watch intently as a figure begins to emerge. After several more minutes, a shape is revealed -- a tiny, imperfect Buddha. It brings back memories that I'm not ready to face.
"Well, that's a great lesson, Dad, but I don't think there's a Buddha in my heart."
"There is Buddha in everyone's heart."
I heave a big sigh.
My father adds earnestly, "Within your heart is your path. You will not find it until you begin to look, to...peel away the layers. All that we are, all that we wish to be, all the responsibilities we truly have -- they exist only in our hearts."
I snort, biting back the anger that starts to rise inside me again. "That's kind of a heavy-handed message. What are you really saying?"
"I have said it." He looks into the sky. "It is a lesson for both of us. Sometimes our paths are revealed or become clearer...or change. A path is not static. One reaches a point of attainment, then discovers new vistas to be explored."
I shiver and shove my hands into my pockets. "What are you trying to say, Dad? Lay it out. You've got more vistas to explore?"
My father shrugs. "We all do. Change is part of life. Expect the unexpected."
You're leaving, I think, but refuse to give voice to the thought and make the threat real.
And it's not so fuckin' unexpected. I've expected it all along. Ever since my dad showed up, I've been waiting for him to disappear.
"We can't take your Buddha back to our room. He'll melt into nothing."
"Into water," my father corrects, "which sustains all life."
"Thank you, Mr. Science."
My dad kneels and builds a small mound of snow. He puts Buddha atop it. I quickly move away, my emotions in turmoil. I stop at a reproduction of a giant insect.
"Do you hear the grasshopper at your feet?" a voice says behind me.
I whirl, wondering how the hell my dad caught up with me so fast. He's smiling, but his eyes are serious. I stare into them and fall someplace, back in time where my father is telling a story about Master Po. By force of will, I pull myself free and shake my head. "This grasshopper is frozen solid, he isn't saying anything, Dad."
The brown hat tilts to one side as my father studies my face. "Nothing that you allow yourself to hear."
"Enough." I raise my hand. "We're spending time together, that's all. This isn't a classroom and you're not my teacher anymore."
My father gazes somewhere beyond me, and his expression becomes vague. "Perhaps," he says maddeningly, and walks off.
I stare after him. His stride isn't as firm as it was earlier, and there's no purpose in his direction. I bite my lip. My father expects too much. He demands perfection. Well, Peter Caine isn't perfect, so my dad can damn well take me the way I am -- or not at all.
"Wait up!" I call and run through the snow after him.
Of course, my dad doesn't stop and wait. He marches directly to the concessions booth, and I watch in disbelief as he orders cotton candy. The thready pink sugar is spun around a paper cone. My dad hands the guy a dollar and looks very surprised when he is required to produce another dollar.
"Inflation," I explain. "Dad, cotton candy before lunch? What am I gonna do with you -- you're getting wild."
"You have had this before."
"Sure." I think of all the times Kelly and Carolyn dragged me to carnivals to as their escort.
"No." My father plucks off a wisp of the candy, then hands the cone to me. "Before. Do you not remember?"
Yeah, I remember, though I've tried to forget. One Fourth of July in Braniff, a circus came to town, and the boys begged to be allowed to go. What I remember most is that even dressed in plain clothes, our bald heads gave us away as freaks from the temple. I remember the taunts and the fight. I don't remember any cotton candy.
"Yeah, I remember." I catch a swirl of cotton with my teeth and tug, unraveling a long strip that I stuff into my mouth. Pink sticks to the fingertips of my gloves. "This is disgusting. But good," I add, when I glimpse his expression. "Thanks, Dad."
My father's hands reach up and tug the collar of my jacket closed. He used to do this at the temple. I'd try to sneak out without my jacket -- when caught and forced to wear it, I'd try leaving it unbuttoned or unzipped or unwrapped. But he always knew, and eventually I started fastening the jacket on my own, just to avoid my dad's chastising look.
Now I'm grown up, and you don't know what to do with me...except be a father in the only way you know.
I blink and pull free of his hands. "Let's look around."
We manage to kill a couple more hours at the carnival. Carollers show up and belt out a few tunes. I worry that all this rampant Christianity will bother my pop, but he listens intently to the singers. We spend more time looking at the ice carvings, but I notice my dad avoids the walled city. Maybe it reminds him of China. We wander back into town for lunch in a restaurant that is crowded with giggling children and frazzled adults.
"Christmas," I say absently. "It's always chaotic."
My father glances around the restaurant, then focuses his gaze back on me. "You celebrated this holiday in your foster home?"
"It was hard to avoid," I answer, feeling that I have to apologize. "I didn't celebrate it...but they exchanged gifts, so I had to, you know, give gifts, too. I didn't go to church with them or anything like that."
My father is still staring at me. I squirm. I gulp my cola, then tap the unused straw on the formica tabletop. I tap a little too hard and it goes flying, landing on my dad's shoulder.
I reach over and snatch it back. "Sorry."
My father's head tilts, and the dark eyes remain fixed on me.
The waitress saves my sanity by arriving with my burger and fries. My dad gets a small salad and a fruit cup. I tear off a chunk of burger with my teeth, feeling like a killer carnivore. Well, damnit, I'm not going to let my dad make me feel guilty about what I eat! "This is great," I declare while I chew. "How's yours?"
For a second, I think my father's not going to answer, but then he says: "It is nutritious."
"Oh, and mine's not?" I retort.
My dad puts aside his fork. I grab the catsup bottle and hold it above my plate. I pat it hard a few times, and catsup gushes out. I swirl fries in the red puddle, deliberately messy.
"You had better table manners when you were six," my father murmurs.
I flush and wipe my mouth with a napkin.
"What did you wish for this trip?" he asks.
"Wish?" With my knife, I spread some of the catsup on my burger. "I just wanted us to spend time together."
My dad's brow wrinkles. "Yet...you are angry with me."
"Look, I apologized for last night. Can we just forget it? Eat your salad." I grab more napkins from the table dispenser and wipe the grease from my fingers.
"You do not wish to be with me."
"Yes, I do." Christ, I'm trapped here. I can't walk out on lunch without proving my dad is right. I can't curse because there are all these excited kids, the waitress is wearing jingle bells on her uniform, they have a skinny tree by the door -- everybody's happy, and Peter Caine has no reason for acting like such a bastard.
I take a deep breath and look across the table at my father. "I want to be with you, I just.... I don't know how to please you. Everything I do or say comes out wrong."
"Peter." He shakes his head. "You do not need to *try* to please me. Your existence pleases me. You do not need to do more."
"That's not what I see," I reply in a low voice. "You say you don't judge me, but you do. I see it in your eyes. You're disappointed in me. I hear it in the things you say."
He closes his eyes briefly, then refocuses them on me. "You must learn to see with more than your eyes. To hear with more than your ears. That is how you will find the truth."
I shake my head. "Dad--" I lean forward and stare into my father's face. "If that's true, maybe you should follow your own advice. You don't hear me, and you don't see me. I'm...nothing to you. Less than a stranger." I think of my father's student, the one who still can open the barely-healed wound in my heart. "You know Jake better than you know me."
I return my attention to my burger, though it's tasteless now. I feel sick inside. I've got my father back, but it's be-careful-what-you-wish-for time. What I've got is not what I had. This father isn't the one I remember. This father is grim and joyless, full of regrets, overflowing with lofty values that are impossible for a cop to attain -- or maintain. This father tries to love me...but that love has to struggle against my 'flaws'.
I was never the perfect son you remember. I never will be. You'll never be proud of me.
"We have become strangers to each other," my father says, startling me from my thoughts. "We must...relearn each other."
"What's the point? Look, I've had enough of this -- the burger, I mean. Are you finished?"
The salad has barely been touched, but the fruit is gone. Without a word, he slides out of the booth and exits the restaurant. I drop money on the table and nod to our waitress. Outside, the wind has picked up, and I hastily button my jacket. I'm glad I got my dad that sweater, or he'd be frozen solid right about now. After a few minutes of searching, I find him across the street, in the small town square where a fir tree sparkles with white lights.
"Maybe we should just go home," I suggest gruffly. "If we leave now, we can get back to the city before dark."
My father studies the tree. "Mrs. Westmore has planned a special dinner," he states. "Tomorrow we will leave."
"Fine. So what're we going to do with the rest of *this* day? Talk about a dead town! There's nothin' to do here," I complain, stalking away. "Maybe we can find a movie to--"
Something very cold and wet hits the back of my head. I whirl around, brushing at my collar. Snow, my dad threw a snowball? We haven't had a snowball fight since the temple. "Dad?" I look up just in time to duck. "Hey!" I protest, outraged and laughing. I scoop up a handful of snow and mold it into a ball. Hell, I'll never be able to hit my dad -- how do you nail a Shaolin? But I throw it anyway, not waiting to see it miss before I grab more snow. If I keep shooting them fast enough, he won't be able to dodge them all.
Unfortunately, when I'm busy making snowballs, I can't dodge them. I'm covered with white blots by the time I manage to score one on Kwai Chang Caine. "Gotcha!" I crow as I run over to inspect my strike. "Square in the chest -- bull's-eye!"
We laugh together, and for just a minute I think that
maybe my dad likes me. That he doesn't just love me because I'm his
son and he's obligated. Even though I'm a cop and a killer and I'm
not Shaolin anymore...maybe my dad is starting to like me.
For Christmas Eve, or perhaps to celebrate her first guests, Mrs. Westmore serves a very large dinner. To my incredulous gaze, it appears to hold more food than I consume in a month. My son, however, is quite pleased and eats heartily. I enjoy watching his genuine pleasure.
After dinner, I retire to our room, leaving Peter deep in conversation with Mrs. Westmore. I sense she enjoys his youthful observations. I feel that she sees her son in him. I find it ironic that she can easily perceive that which I struggle and fail to discover.
I make an entry in my journal. Since being reunited with Peter, I have neglected writing in it. It seems I have been too busy living life to record it.
But today my son made an observation that I must heed. He says I do not see, I do not hear. I have always struggled to be open, to watch, to understand the flow so that I may be prepared for circumstances the future may bring. For years, it has been my greatest wish that never again will I watch a temple burn while I stand surprised and helpless, held captive by a fate I could have avoided. Never again will I lose a loved one through my arrogance and lack of perception.
Yet now I have my son back, and it seems I may yet lose him through those very virtues I have prided in myself.
I am confused and uncertain. I look, I listen, but he says I do not see or hear. Does he hide his needs so well, or have I lost the ability to touch his heart?
I do not know him. I do not understand him. But he is my son, and I must learn to do both.
I need peace and time for quiet contemplation. I must find a way out of this puzzle-box we are in. I will not lose Peter a second time. I cannot.
Then I wonder: Can I lose what I have not found?
The answer is simple. Peter waits for me to find him. If I do not, at some point he will simply give up. He will remain my son in name only. We will never be together as we once were. The notion fills me with great sadness.
I close my journal. Putting my thoughts into written words has always assisted me in making the correct choices and choosing the correct path. I know that the opportunity to redeem our family honor is rapidly approaching; whether we succeed or fail will irrevocably alter our futures. I do not know how it will change, where I will go, what the repercussions may be.
But I know I must find Peter.
I am weary. I fall asleep.
The next day is Christmas. It is sunny and very cold. Snow that has fallen during the night crunches under our boots as we walk to Peter's vehicle. Before we leave, Peter shovels Mrs. Westmore's sidewalk. She kisses his cheek and gives us a bag of food left from the previous night's feast. She is wearing a red dress and a pin made from holly. She is expecting guests, so it is good that we are leaving.
Peter puts my duffel and flute case in the trunk with his luggage. He puts the bag of food on the floor behind the front seat. We have had a breakfast, but I am certain that Peter will wish to eat again before the morning is over.
We drive away from the small house.
"You know," Peter says, the first words he has directed exclusively to me this morning, "we don't have to go back to the city. We could just drive. North, maybe."
"Yes," I agree without hesitation.
He glances at me. "Great. Let's swing by the festival before we go. I want to see the sculptures again."
"The ice maiden?" I ask lightly, and he grins but does not reply.
Instead he says, "I had a long talk with Bea last night...about some of the problems between her son and husband. They had bad ones. And she said they didn't always understand each other, but...they had a lot of love and it got them through the...difficult times."
I gaze out the side window, surprised. I turn my head and look at Peter. He looks at me. He gives me a bashful smile and shrugs. I smile because he has inherited that shrug from me, even though we were apart. I continue smiling because his words have warmed my heart.
When we reach the ice garden, several people are there. Peter parks his vehicle, and we walk toward the display. I see immediately that many of the sculptures have been destroyed.
I sense Peter's dismay. He exclaims "Oh shit!" and rushes to see the ruins, striding like a police officer about to make an arrest. I watch him as he inspects the damage with a professional eye.
"Why would somebody do this?" he asks when I join him. His arm sweeps in a wide arc. "They must've used shovels or axes -- what a stupid waste!"
He is upset. "Beauty is transient," I gently remind him, aware that my simple teaching may rouse his wrath. "That is why we must fully enjoy it while it exists."
Peter glances at me, then stares at the damage again. He nods.
We join others who are walking the length of the display, paying homage to the passage of grace and creation. I stop at the walled village. It was incomplete yesterday when we admired it; today I see that it is less a village than a moated castle. Its walls are thick and sturdy; vandals succeeded only in snapping off the highest tower...the watchtower from which danger could be observed and braced against.
I freeze in place as though I am a sculpture myself. The ice wavers, trembles in my vision like a heat mirage. It is a symbol and I reach for it -- but again, I fail to grasp its meaning. My path is obscured, my purpose lost, my needs unfathomable.
Warmth thaws through my ice. Slowly I turn my head. Peter's hand is on my back.
"Let's go, Dad," he says. "There's nothing more to see here."
His hand slides up to my neck and squeezes. He releases his hold as we walk back to his vehicle.
He drives. We pass through Manchester. I look at the colored lights in many windows and on many eaves. I am very cold.
Gradually, the interior of the vehicle warms. "That's better," Peter declares. "It's colder than a witch's-- Well...it's really cold." He glances at me. "Do you remember that giant chicken we saw on the way here? There's a great story that goes with it. See, there was this farmer named MacDonald -- that was his real name, he got teased a lot because of it -- you remember, the Old MacDonald song? Anyway, one day he decided--"
I rest my left hand on Peter's shoulder and listen intently as my son shares his story.
We drive north, toward a place I have never been.