I see my father in the street. I think about waving until the tears come and I realize that if I wave, I will break my own heart. He’s shabby and tired-looking and stands with a sign—a cardboard sign—with “God bless” written in lovely script in some abandoned Sharpie he must’ve found in a dumpster outside of Staples. I see he doesn’t see me—doesn’t know me. It’s been, how long?, since I left for college and took his car—my car—with me, a beige Camry. His gift to me. I think about all the nights that I cried in that car wishing he’s have kept it instead of me. Of all the nights he slept in a doorway of a boarded up shop in the Tenderloin under a dingy green and yellow sleeping bag that used to be my brother’s. I think of the way he gave me that car, carelessly, with the generous, blind carelessness of a father who would do anything for his child.
A woman in a red sweater drops a quarter and a dime into the plastic cup my father holds in his hand, his nails invisible under a layer of grime, sadness and desperation. But that smile….oh God! I can see it, though I can see that one of his teeth has rotted and fallen out—the left canine. I see the blue of his eyes twinkle weakly like they always did, like when he would come home from work and hug us—my mother, brother and me. I see that twinkle extinguish as soon as the woman in red walks away. I see him breaking on the inside, his noble, generous heart beating wanly for lack of love. I blink back the hot tears and shove my shaking hands into my pockets, ashamed of what I am about to do. I pick myself up and walk by, too quickly. I don’t look at him. I don’t. I can’t. My heart would break.
“God bless,” I hear him say quietly as I scurry passed. The words hold me like hands. I hear the tenderness in that beautiful manicured voice that had once graced hundreds from the stage. It touches me now with the same suicidal grace that gives itself away because that is what grace does- it gives, it gives, and it never complains. I feel wretched. And I wander for a long time, the tender words of “God bless” ringing in my ears like church bells.