I remember it like it was yesterday. I was five years, eight months, and if you asked me- I would have lied and said I was already six. I had an obsession with the Barbie Diaries, strawberry-everything, and the way sand felt underneath bare feet.
To this very day, my dad owns a ‘99 GMC truck, bright red and too ostentatious for the man’s reserved nature. The airbag to the passenger seat was manual- it could be switched off to allow a tiny passenger, like me on that hazy day of 2006. The heat was unbearable. The Californian sun streamed through the windows on a long drive from nowhere, and the car’s absolute lack of an air conditioning system was more than apparent.
Handing me a Jamba Juice, my dad laughed and smiled at me. Suddenly, the strawberry-goodness spilled everywhere as the styrofoam cup slipped through my five year old hands, and I burst out into crying. My dad laughed and smiled again at me, cleaning up the mess I made in his beloved truck. As much as I apologized through the wails, he continued to laugh- no punishments, no need for a verbal confirmation of forgiveness, just laughing. I never questioned why he did that all the time. Today he tells me that he was simply happy I exist. And that was the day I knew, “Somebody really does love me in this world.”
It may seem silly that I felt love for the first time in my life over a couple of tears, some laughs, and a spilled Jamba Juice, but I did. My body felt a warmth radiating from the center of my core, and a rush of fresh ecstasy flowed through my veins.
As the years passed, our drives to nowhere faded into a schedule of school and endless extracurriculars. Still, each time I ride in the truck’s passenger seat, I can turn to that ever-present stain and look up and smile.
My father and I have a peculiar relationship. We don’t speak much, at all. Other than the occasional hug and “How was your day?”, there is barely any time in our busy lives for an “I love you.” Perhaps it’s a family thing, but we’re as silent as ghosts.
It’s an unspoken acknowledgement. To the quietness of the road, we nod off each other’s undeclared affection. Maybe too many years have passed. Maybe it’s because loving each other is something so obvious to each other, the words are not necessary.
Still, it’s a bizarre arrangement. And still, each time I sit in that passenger seat, I am filled with love. A feeling like warm champagne rushes down my spine and up my legs, and the same warmth I felt on that August day radiates from my core.
Smiling, I turn to face my dad, focused on the road, unkempt brows furrowed, and sparkling eyes- the same I see in my mirrors. As the years passed, I would turn to face the same profile, each time a little bit more aged. Some spots in the corner of his eye, crinkles from smiling that wouldn’t go away, creases and canyons I did not expect to see: I love my dad, but like us all, he’s subject to time, and age.
From his passenger seat, I watched time take its toll on someone I love, and it’s heartbreaking, even when I know the same person is smiling behind the mask of wrinkles. The same bright eyes that refuse to stop shining stare back at me, and I am filled with love.
It’s hard, watching the years he’s spent in the sun take their toll on my dad. His laugh remains the same, but I know my father is not a young man. I will never have the pleasure of knowing him, of loving him, for as long as I would like to. My father is not the Superman my five year old self thought him to be, and as much as I’d like, his smile won’t cure all the troubles in the world.
My father is not infallible, and I love him for this. He is utterly human, and I love him for this. The cracks in his lips, the breaks in his laugh, I love it all. I know our time is limited on this earth. And yet, as I watch the world go by from the passenger seat, I can still smile and forget all my cares in the world and share a laugh with my dad.