If movies and books have taught me anything, it’s that Los Angeles is the greatest city with the greatest people and the greatest beaches. And so, like every girl to ever walk this earth, I dreamed of visiting this Golden State. I wanted to run along the sand of Venice Beach, to press my hands on my favorite celebrities’ stars on the Walk of Fame, to one day stand behind the Hollywood Sign and look out over the beautiful city.
That and all the other lame tourist must-dos.
With one earphone in, my attention half on the music humming into my ear and half on the conveyor belt rotating in front of me, I try my hardest to find a spot clear enough for me to grab my luggage. While the people around me shove and chat loudly with their partners, yelling that their luggage just went past and the other yelling back that it wasn’t actually their luggage, I roll my eyes and focus on the khaki suitcase nearing me. I can tell it’s mine by the lyrics scrawled along its side, so I grab the handle and yank it off as quickly as I can.
“Over here!” a familiar voice calls. My father’s astoundingly deep voice is half drowned out by my music, but no matter how loud the volume, I would probably still hear him from a mile away. His voice is too irritatingly painful to ignore.
When Mom first broke the news to me that Dad had asked me to spend the summer with him, we both found ourselves in a fit of laughter at the sheer insanity of it all. “You don’t have to go anywhere near him,” Mom reminded me daily. Three years of hearing nothing and suddenly he wanted me to spend the entire summer with him? All he had to do was maybe start calling me once in a while, ask me how I was doing, gradually ease himself back into my life, but no, he decided to bite the bullet and ask to spend eight weeks with me instead. Mom was completely against the idea. Mom didn’t think he deserved eight weeks with me. She said it would never be enough to make up for the time he’d already lost with me. But Dad only got more persistent, more desperate to convince me that I’d love it in southern California. I don’t know why he finally decided to get in touch out of the blue. Was he hoping he could mend the relationship with me that he broke the day he got up and left? I doubted that was even possible, but one day I caved and called up my father to tell him that I wanted to come. My decision didn’t revolve around him though. It revolved around the idea of hot summer days and glorious beaches and the possibility of falling in love with an Abercrombie & Fitch model with tanned skin and an eight-pack. Besides, I had my own reasons for wanting to get nine hundred miles away from Portland.
So, I am not particularly thrilled to see the person approaching me.
A lot can change in three years. Three years ago, I was three inches shorter. Three years ago, my dad didn’t have noticeable graying strands throughout his hair. Three years ago, this wouldn’t have been awkward.
I try my hardest to smile, to grin so that I won’t have to explain why there’s a permanent frown sketched upon my lips. It’s always so much easier just to smile.
“Look at my little girl!” Dad says, widening his eyes and shaking his head in disbelief that I no longer look the same as I did at thirteen. Oh, how shocking that, in fact, sixteen-year-olds do not look the same as they did when they were in eighth grade.
“Yep,” I say, reaching up and pulling out my earphone. The wires dangle in my hands, the faint lull of the music vibrating through the buds.
“I’ve missed you a lot, Eden,” he tells me, as though I’ll be overjoyed to know that my dad who walked out on us misses me, and perhaps I’ll throw myself into his arms and forgive him right there and then. But things don’t work like that. Forgiveness shouldn’t be expected: it has to be earned.
However, if I’m going to be living with him for eight weeks, I should probably try to put my hostility aside. “I’ve missed you too.”
Dad beams at me, his dimples boring into his cheeks the way a mole burrows into dirt. “Let me take your bag,” he says, reaching for my suitcase and propping it onto its wheels.
I follow him out of LAX. I keep my eyes peeled for any film stars or fashion models that might happen to brush past me, but I don’t spot anyone on my way out.
Warmth hits my face as I walk across the sprawling parking lot, the sun tingling my skin and the soft breeze swaying around my hair. The sky is mostly clear apart from several unsatisfying clouds.
“I thought it was going to be hotter here,” I comment, peeved that California is not actually as completely free from wind and clouds and rain as stereotypes have led me to believe. Never did it occur to me that the boring city of Portland would be hotter in the summer than Los Angeles. It is such a tragic disappointment, and now I’d much rather go home, despite how lame Oregon is.
“It’s still pretty hot,” says Dad, shrugging almost apologetically on behalf of the weather. When I glance sideways at him, I can see his growing exasperation as he racks his brain for something to say. There is nothing to talk about besides the uncomfortable reality of the situation.
He draws my suitcase to a halt by a black Lexus, and I stare dubiously at the polished paintwork. Before the divorce, he and my mom shared a crappy Volvo that broke down every four weeks. And that’s if we were lucky. Either his new job pays extremely well or he just chose not to splurge on us before. Perhaps we weren’t worth spending money on.
“It’s open,” he tells me, nodding at the vehicle as he pops the trunk and throws my suitcase inside.
I move around to the right side of the car and slide my backpack off my shoulder, opening the door and getting in. The leather is scorching hot against my bare thighs. I wait in silence for a few moments before Dad edges in behind the wheel.
“So, did you have a nice flight?” he asks, engaging me in a generic conversation as he starts up the engine and backs out of the spot.
“Yeah, it was okay.” I tug my seat belt over my body and click it into place, staring blankly out the windshield while holding my backpack on my lap. The sun is blinding, so I open up the front compartment of my bag and pull out my shades, slipping them over my eyes. I heave a sigh.
I almost hear my dad gulp as he takes a deep breath and asks, “How’s your mom?”
“She’s great,” I say, almost too enthusiastically as I try my hardest to emphasize just how well she’s getting on without him. This is not entirely the truth though. She’s doing okay. Not great, but not bad. She’s spent the past few years trying to convince herself that the divorce is an experience that she can learn from. She wants to think that it’s given her a life-affirming message or filled her with wisdom, but honestly, the only thing it’s done is make her despise men. “Never been better.”