Friday, December 27, 2013

Foreign Service

I would have stuck out my tongue, as I always did when concentrating. And used my best Caran D'Ache colored pencils, the ones that taught me about the subtlest shades of color. Each time I returned those pencils to their narrow plastic beds, I felt the satisfaction of recreating my very own rainbow. 

I suppose that I would have circled, not dotted, my i's, and written heartfelt words that couldn't help but turn into heartfelt sentences. As befitted my generation, I probably wrote "S. W. A. K." on the envelope and scrawled another heart or two beside it, for good measure.

I was not writing to my boyfriend. Or maybe I was. I'll leave it for you to decide. To my missing father I sent letters that one day, with a hint of derisive amusement in his voice, he would characterize as "extravagantly feminine" and "sweet."

I was six, seven, eight, and it wasn't a boyfriend I wanted. I was wooing my father. My aim, clear only now in hindsight, was to right whatever wrong I had perpetrated to cast him an ocean away from us. He was in the foreign service, my mother said (with a touch of bitterness and spit), and yet the address to which I mailed my love letters was an A.P.O. Box in New York City, just where I was.

It was confusing on so many levels. To whom was he in service? Why not us? If he was in Italy, why did I not need to use excess postage when I mailed my missives?

Foreign was the only word that sounded familiar. Yes, he was foreign, and so I could imagine him to be anybody at all. I would envision my friends' fathers, choose the best of the lot (although do not imagine for a second that I was picky), and embellish the man until he became impossibly beautiful, a doll I could manipulate as carelessly and authoritatively as I did my Barbies, with their idealized figures and articulated limbs. 


Even now, forty years later, I ache to retrieve those florid letters, letters that exposed both my naïveté and my humiliating, outsized need. Once I'd met and gotten to know my real father, I cursed that child who'd lavished her favorite purple and pink colored pencils on a fantasy, who'd romanticized the place where her father lived (sensibly enough), the work that he did (sensibly enough), and the man himself, fatherhood exactly as foreign to him as the countries to which he was assigned during the term of his foreign service, a term lasting the length of one girl's childhood.


Emily said...

I think I'm always writing him letters in colored pencil in my mind.

Magpie said...

Mine was distant at home, always working, until he left my mother and we only saw him a few times a year. Even today, he's more like a fond uncle.

Rainbow Motel said...

I'm glad to have found you again! Blogging anonymously now so that I can continue teaching and yet writing about it without fear. Write on!