he once had a goatee

Chapter 55: Father Figure

Chris:

I leaned against the wooden panel outside of Walgreens health store, as the breeze grazed my face and I smoked a paper rollup of tobacco. I hated that shit! But I inhaled in a haze of smoke that caused my throat to burn and then let my head rest against the wall as I waited patiently for Jen to come back out. Sporadic thoughts clouded my mind throughout the drive over here. And I was positive that I’d really done messed up this time around. I fucked up and I knew I had and honestly I didn’t know what I was going to do to try and fix this mess I’d created and insisted on building upon. Guilt was with me from the moment I woke up this morning in a bed that wasn’t my own. I still hadn’t even allowed myself to think of Jhene or how she’d feel about it. I just couldn’t accept the fact that I knew I’d hurt her, before she was even aware of it and if I told her what happened last night after I swore nothing was going on with me and Jen, she would never trust again. Shit, I wouldn’t even trust me after this.

The jingling sound from the chime bell on the door signalled that somebody had opened up the shop door again. I looked over to see it was Jen finally walking back out with her arms folded over each other and an upset look on her face. I leaned up off the wall and took one last puff of the tobacco before I flicked the end away.

“…Did you get it?” I asked her through a cloud of smoke, she rolled her eyes and then held up the small chemist bag walking past me. “Well…did you take it?” I questioned following closely behind her.

“Yes Chris, do you want a fucking x-ray to make sure I swallowed too?” she said sarcastically as she opened up the car door and then slammed it shut getting in. I sighed and then dug in my pocket for my phone to check for the time, that’s when I realised my battery was completely dead, must’ve drained out from last night. I kissed my teeth and walked around to the other side and then too, slid inside. I looked over at Jen and she turned her face away from me and leaned her head against the window. I sighed again feeling a little bad. I guess I could’ve gone about this whole trip to the chemist thing a little better than I did. This morning when I woke up and the realisation of what I’d done settled in, I made sure I took her straight to the pharmacy to get the morning after pill. It weren’t outta malice or nothing it’s just, I’d already fucked up enough by even sleeping with her yesterday, the last thing I needed was her to turn around and tell me she was pregnant a few months down the line. I was sure not to go down that road for a 3rd time. I asked her if she was on the pill or anything like that and she told me no and I was positive I didn’t use any protection last night, so I took her to take the morning after pill, just to be safe. Of course that didn’t go down to well with her, I guess she thought it was some kind of diss but honestly it weren’t, I just didn’t need another kid in my life right now and neither did she. I was thinking about the both of us.

“Are you alright?” I asked gently placing my hand on her thigh

“I’m fine” she mumbled subtly as she chewed on her bottom lip. She pushed my hand of her lap and then crossed both her legs and arms over each other in a closed off manner suggesting she didn’t want any form of conversation with me.

“Are you sure? You seem a little mad” I said to her.

“I’m not mad, I don’t care. I don’t want another baby with you anyway” she replied coldly. “Can you just drive please?”

I sighed and pushed the key into the ignition pulling out of the car lot. “Uh, you don’t mind if I make a quick run to my Mama’s house do you? I gotta pick up my daughter. I’ll just drop you home straight after” I said after a few minutes of silence. She rolled her eyes involuntary and shook her head no

“Just drop me to Danielle’s now; I can call a cab from there to take me home" she responded. I scrunched my face up at her being so difficult. That made no damn sense. My mama lived not even 5 minutes away from this Walgreens, all she needed to do was chill in the car for a few minutes until I got Asia and then I’d drop her straight home after, Instead she wanted me to drive an extra 10 minutes until I got to Danielle’s just for her to call a cab and pay money to drop her back home.

“What sense does that make Jen? You’re gonna spend money just to be taken back home when I can drop you?” I argued.

“Can you just drop me to Danielle’s please Chris? Or should I just get out and call a cab right now?” She snapped. I kissed my teeth at her and turned up the radio on full blast. Sounds of YG - My nigga, bumped savagely through my speakers. I wasn’t about to argue about it, if she wanted to be difficult that was on her. I pressed down hard on the gas and sped down the street, catching up to the cars in front of me.

Fuck her being pressed ass this morning.

With the way I was driving we reached Danielle’s condo in absolutely no time. I parked outside of complex and Jen unclipped her seat belt and then got out the car without a single word to me. She slammed the car door shut, leaving the Walgreens bag on the floor. I let out a long deep breath rubbing my forehead and then just sat back in my seat for a minute and laid my head on the headrest. Why the fuck did things have to be so damn stressful all the time. There weren’t a moment I didn’t wake up feeling stressed out about something, I know I brought it on myself at times, but I was just so tired of this shit. I was tired of it all man. I knew she was mad at me for this morning, that whole silent treatment and when I talk to you imma give you short answers and attitude shit was just that typical girl in their feelings type shit. She was in her feelings because I was preventing something before it happened. It’s not like I weren’t thinking about her when I said it, it was best she nipped it in the bud before it could grow into something else.

Or was I just wrong?

***

The rest of the whole afternoon I spent cruising around LA not particularly driving anywhere, I was just cruising tryna clear my state of mind from something’s before I had to go pick up Asia, and possibly face talking to Jhene again. I had to have my mind completely clear before I done that, because if I was finna keep my word to her and not hurt her again like I promised, I had to be straight up honest with her; it was only best, it was either that or I allowed her to find out about last night on her own, and then when shit hit the fan I’d really be totally screwed. I knew shit wasn’t gonna go down lightly with her once I told her, but all I could do was be honest, however she took it after that was on her.

Still driving around town without an idea of where I was heading, I found myself parked outside in front of a barbershop about 45 minutes away from the crib. 

I turned down the volume to my radio and then sat in my car for about twenty further minutes contemplating wither I should even go in or not. It was crazy because the last time I’d been here, I had to have been like 8 years old, 12 years had gone by since the last time I’d seen him and so much shit had changed. I weren’t same little boy I once was and I’m sure he wasn’t the same man I remembered.

The neighbourhood where the barbershop was located in hadn’t changed much since I was a kid, across the street was the same Jamaican’s food spot ‘Nice Spices, every Saturday they’d have the grill on and be out playing dominos with their sound systems blasting the loudest mixes. The laundrettes was still there and the local liquor store owned by an OG named H’, weren’t nothing legal about the shit they sold behind the beads in the back but then again the whole street had a vibe to it, Dudes selling shit outta the back of their trunks tryna make a quick buck for themselves. Just a street full of hustlers’ trying to make a hustle

After going back and forth with myself about why this was a bad idea coming here, I decided to go in anyway. I got out the car and walked inside the barbershop preparing myself for the unknown, when it came down to him everything was unpredictable. I stepped through the doors of a regular, neighbourhood barber shop with regular folk standing round talking and cutting hair.  “Aye man, you need a cut?” one of the barber who’s station was located by the window asked me. I could tell by the way the shop was full of waiting customers, and his chair was still free he was either a terrible cutter, or the newbie. Nobody wanted to go to him either way. 

“Nah man, uh I’m looking for somebody, uh Winston…he here?” I asked my eyes scanning the room to see if I could spot him. 

“Winston?” Another Guy repeated. I looked over at him, he was a real big dude, about 6'2, dark skinned with short dreads “You mean Brown?“ he corrected 

"Oh? Yeah Brown, my bad”  

“Yeah Brown here, why who wanna know” he questioned dusting the dude he was giving a fresh baldy head off. 

“Just an old acquaintance" I shrugged. The guy looked at me wearily and then nodded whatever,

"Ayo Brown! Some little nigga out here looking for you!” he yelled vulgarly towards the back.

“Fatz what the hell you gotta yell in my ear like that for?” the girl standing behind the station next to him screwed up her face.

“Man shut up Alex. Uh, you might wanna take a seat, he probably won’t be out for a while" he suggested pointing towards the row of seats with waiting customers. I took a seat and just looked around waiting for 'Brown’ to come out. 

About fifteen minutes later, I was ready to just leave, when he appeared from out the back. Exactly the same as I remembered him only he’d gotten a little older over the past few years, more greys in his hair than before, and his once full goatee had been clipped back completely, he even seemed a little shorter than I remembered, or maybe it was just that I’d gotten taller. “Who’s looking for me?” that deep, gruff of a tone boomed as he looked over at the dude who had called him. 

“Dude over there” he pointed to me, “said y'all some old acquaintances”

Brown looked over at me as I stood up, he squinted his eyes at me as if he was trying to figure out who I was. I pulled my fitted up a little more so he could properly see my face. I guess I must’ve changed so dramatically since I was a 14 year old teenager, he didn’t even recognize who I was straight away. Once he figured out who was standing in front of him, that small tedious grin I remember he always used to wear appeared on his face. He slowly stepped towards me.

“My boy” he embraced with his arms held out, I stepped back from him signalling I weren’t tryna hug dude and then nodded. 

“Yeah, what’s up? Dad…

6 February 2011

“Ugh, you see this ugly ass Rudolph growing on my nose! Chris why didn’t you tell me it was this big, why you ain’t tell me I look so ugly!” she exaggerated as looked at herself in disgust standing front of my closet mirror

We’d just got in from a long day from after school programs, Jhene had dance practise until 5:15 and I had Basketball until 5:30. By the time she’d finished packing away I was done so we just rode together. When we got to her place, her dad weren’t at home so she asked to come over to my place and chill instead until he got there. Of course I said yeah, I mean why wouldn’t I? Any chance I had to get her alone I was taking it. These past few weeks we’d been spending a hell of a lot of time together, every day in fact and I was really starting to fall for shawty man. We had fun together; she was just a cool ass chick, down to earth, fun to be around and ready to ride whenever. That’s what I liked about her. 

"You don’t look ugly that’s why, you look beautiful. It’s not even that big, I can barely notice it” I shrugged flicking the channel on my cable. Jhene looked at me like yeah right through the mirror and then rolled her eyes. 

“Whatever you always saying I look beautiful. Even when I be looking beat down you be saying that” she walked out and closed the closet door behind her. 

“Not true. When you look beat down, I just don’t say anything about you. I just act like I ain’t seeing it” I joked. Jhene’s mouth dropped and she scoffed in shock as I began laughing at her. 

“That’s not funny!” she shouted picking up a cushion from the couch and tossing it me. I blocked it with my arm and continued to laugh at her. “That’s so not funny. You be thinking I look beat down sometimes Chris?” she asked seriously, crossing her arms. 

“No, I’m just joking with you!” I laughed.

“Sheesh, I was about to say. Because I be tryna look all extra cute when I’m around you, you just wait until I’m really comfortable with you to see beat down”  

“I’m sure it ain’t gonna be much difference" 

"Yeah, okay…” She muttered sarcastically 

I smiled at her “Come here, come lay next to me” I patted the side of my bed; chuckling she looked at me like yeah right.

“Why, so you can try and touch me again? No thank you sir” she laughed me off going to sit on the couch, she was always tryna sit on the couch. 

“Why you always think I’m tryna touch you? If I wanted to touch you again, I got better ways of suggesting it baby… you know that. I just wanna lay next to you” I smiled with playful arrogance at her. Jhene rolled her eyes knowing what I was saying was true. Trust me If I wanted to make any move on her whilst we were alone down here, I’d do it, straight up, I was never one to beat around the bush. If I wanted something, I was gonna go out and get it. I pulled on the loop of the front of her jeans hurrying her up when she finally gave in and walked over towards me.

“Damn Chris, be careful next time!” she huffed irritably, looking down at her jeans to see if I’d caused any unnecessary garment damages whilst tugging at them. 

“Yeah well you was taking too long” I chuckled as I lay back against my pillow;

“You’re so impatient” Jhene rolled her eyes and climbed up on my bed. She lay down and then moved up closer so that she was resting right up beside me.

“Oh look at you now, wanna be right up under me, nah gone girl” I said as I jokingly pushed her away

“Stop Chris, you be playing too much!” she smacked my hand away and then moved back closer again. She turned so that her body was facing towards me and then flung her right leg lazily over mines. I looked down at the leg she had cocked up on me and then looked back at her waiting for an explanation. “What I’m comfortable” she rolled her neck

“I can tell…” we both laughed. I pulled her closer and then rested my hand on the back of her thigh and began tracing imaginary lines with my finger.

Complete silence and I was still so comfortable with her. 

She lay there aimlessly playing with this gold necklace that was permanently around her neck. I noticed she would always fiddle with it; especially when she was nervous “What’s that you always playing with on your neck?” I asked breaking the momentary silence. I moved her hand away from the necklace locket resting on her chest; 

"Oh it’s nothing” she shrugged it off. 

“Nah show me, you always playing with it” I said moving her hand again. She hesitated for a moment before she finally gave in and opened it up revealing a small old black and white picture of a girl, and in her arms she was holding a new born baby. The girl looked no older than maybe 17-18, thick black hair curly hair that stopped just past her shoulders and a striking resemblance to Jhene. "Who’s that?“ I asked obliviously

"Me and my mom” she smiled faintly 

‘Oh…How’d your mom’s die, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“Nah I don’t mind. It was a car crash; but she died during surgery “she replied sadly. 

"Oh…You wanna talk about it?” I asked her, I didn’t wanna push her to talk about a topic so detrimental if she wasn’t ready. She shrugged carelessly. “If you don’t wanna talk about it we don’t gotta, we can talk about something else” I reassured. She laughed and shook her head at my response. 

“You know, that’s funny, when I was younger my dad put me in therapy, and my therapist was always like to me, 'Jhene you must talk about it, it’s not good to hold things in, you’ll feel better when you get things off your chest’ But at that time I didn’t wanna talk about shit with her. My mom had just died and my dad thought I’d gone crazy because I wouldn’t speak to him” she scoffed.I stayed silent just allowing her to talk because for the first time since I’d met her, I felt she was really about to open up to me.

"I don’t know the full details or nothing because I never wanted to know, but what I do know is she was on her way to one my school dance performances when she died, I remember that morning because I made her promise me that she would turn up this time, growing up her and my dad were usually too busy working to have time for me like that, they both had demanding jobs so I was kind of always left with the sitter Ms Faye. Or my best friends momma would look after me whilst they spent most their time at work. So when I did get time with them, It was like Golden time to me” she admitted "Anyway, that morning I made her promise that Ms Faye wouldn’t turn up, and when I looked out behind the curtain she would be sitting there instead. And as expected, that day I looked out from behind the curtain and it was an empty space. All the other little girls’ parents were there, front row and proud but mines. So I was angry at her and before I went on stage I made a list in my head of all the reasons I hated her and wish I had another Mom. I told myself when I got home I was never going to speak to her and I hoped I never saw her again. Some real childish shit…" 

She paused for a second as she let a small abbreviated laugh escape her lips. I noticed a tear fall from her left eye, but as quickly as it fell, she wiped it away. I pulled her in closer to me and kissed her forehead, letting her know it was okay. I know weren’t shit I could do or say to bring her mom back, but the least I could do was listen and just be there for her. 

"I danced my little life away on that stage man” she continued as her voice broke slightly “I was doing all the counts in my head with twice as much passion and built up anger, adrenaline. I thought her breaking her promise to me was the worst thing of my life that was like the worst thing she could do to me. So I was dancing as if my life depended on it, not knowing that the moment I got off stage, I was really about to receive the worst news of my life. My mom had died and I really got my wish quicker than expected because I was never gonna see her, or speak to her again” she shrugged

“Damn…I’m sorry mama”

“Nah it’s cool. I mean, in the beginning it was hard to accept, I felt like it was my fault though, you know? Like maybe if she weren’t tryna come to my show, then she wouldn’t have died. 

"You shouldn’t think like that Jhene; you know that ain’t your fault man. There weren’t anything you could’ve done to cause what happened to her to be your fault. 

"I know, but try telling a 9 year old that, as far as I was concerned my mama was on her way to come see ME dance at school when she died. If I didn’t ask her to come she wouldn’t have died" she said.

"Is that’s why you stopped dancing?”

“Yeah, for the longest I just didn’t have the passion for it anymore. I felt like fuck dancing, just fuck the world” she chuckled.But anyway, enough about me, What about you, how comes you don’t ever talk about your father or nothing?” she asked me flipping the subject. I shrugged, I guess now it was my turn to open up to her about my life growing up. Not that I wanted to though, I rarely told anyone my life growing up simply because I’d erased certain memories pertaining to my father and who he was. All that shit was just a distant memory for me I had no problem forgetting. As far as I was concerned growing up, I had no dad, I had no male role model to look up to other than Cass. It was just me Aaron & Jaz and my mama. The only thing that connected me with that man was blood and a last name and that was it.  

“Ain’t got anything to say about that nigga man, Fuck him” I mumbled looking across at my TV screen. 

“You wanna talk about it?” she asked repeating what I’d asked her earlier, I looked down at her and she was peering at me with comforting eyes. She smiled warmly and gently squeezed my wrist. “You know should talk about it Christopher, it’s not good to hold things in. You’ll feel better once you get it off your chest” she mocked her therapist lighting the mood a bit. We both laughed.

“Nah it’s nothing man, I just don’t care about any man who walks out on his 3 kids that’s” I admitted. 

“He walked out on y’all?”

“Yeah, apparently he battled with an heavy drug addiction, it weren’t until later I found that out but because of it he walked out on us, took the house we lived in and chose drugs over his own family" I shook my head at the thought

“Whatchu mean he took y’all house?” Jhene asked curiously. I shrugged again.

“I guess he needed some way to fund his addiction and we were broke so, he sold the house we used to live in without even informing my Mama or nothing, left us homeless. One day we just had to up and leave, because basically there were some people stating that they owned the house now, it was their property. I remember that whole night hearing my Mama cry whilst she packed. She was by herself, had no money, no house and no job with 3 young kids, absolutely nothing was in her name, everything she thought she owned back then was in his name, the car the house, everything. By then he’d fucked of somewhere to another part of town leaving no contact details so my mama had to move all of us outta the house and start from scratch. Find a job secure enough so that she could provide for me, my brother and sister. That’s when I started working for Cass, first he used to just give me little bags of weed to juggle on my school grounds, and to the little nigga’s on the block n’shit” I laughed “Then that shit turned into these little ecstasy and LCD pills. Me and Mijo used to go out to the suburbs and sell to them little rich white kids at parties & raves and stuff, because they had all the money, and would buy you outta a bottle within minutes tryna catch a buzz. I would make a quick $500 just selling pills; eventually that got old for me, and that’s when Cass put me onto the real money, stealing cars and whatever. The money I made from that would help my mom’s out, pay the rent, put food in the fridge etc. Because at that time she was still struggling to get on her feet because of him”I explained.

"Wow, that’s so messed up” Jhene said shaking her head in disapproval. I sighed and shrugged. 

“Yeah, I guess. It’s good now though. We’re good, my mama living how she is supposed to. That’s all that matters” I smiled.

"Yeah I guess, I just think it’s crazy how people think they can just up and walk outta your lives with no warning and then expect everything to be fine when they return. Like they didn’t just turn your world upside down or something" 

"Man I learned to deal with it. People walk outta your life for no reason all the time. That’s why I’m so guarded, I don’t trust anyone anymore. Gives them too much ammunition to fuck you over when they want…you feel me?” I looked over at her. She nodded her head yeah and then looked up at me. 

“I feel you. You know you can trust me though right?” she spoke quietly. I shrugged as I stared right back into her eyes. 

“….How can I be sure of that?" I challenged. The sincerity in her eyes told me that I could and I did trust her. I don’t know what it was but it was something about this girl that made everything I believed in void when it came to her. I’d only known her for a few months and already I’d exposed so much of my life to her, all I could do was trust her. She was like that person everybody searched for in life, you know that person who you could tell anything to without judgement. She listened and more importantly she understood me. 

"You can’t” she said “You just gotta take my word for it, and know I ain’t going anywhere anytime soon. Not if you don’t want me to. Besides…I think my little crush on you is starting to grow into something else, something much deeper. So now that I like you…a lot. You kinda stuck with me forever baby boy" she smirked

"You like me a lot huh?” I teased. 

“Mhm” she nodded pressing her lips together. I smiled and pulled her chin up and then kissed her, gently on the lips…just because I liked her a lot too.

***

Present day 

Twenty minutes later, we were sat in Sylvia’s a small Soul Food Diner about 10 minutes away from the barber shop. Mad thoughts were firing through my mind like bullets from a loaded gun, and I had mad questions I wanted to ask him. Like why did he do what he did? Why did he leave us without warning? Why didn’t he take me with him? Where did he go? My mind had become a zone of inquisitiveness as questions I needed answering, were finally about to put my angst to rest.

The lady came over with the menus and asked if we wanted to order anything to drink, I declined whilst he ordered an iced tea. "Can’t beat Sylvia’s you know, she’s the best soul food restaurant around here" he smiled proudly. I nodded whatever and then looked back out the window at the driving cars going past. “So…How you been? How’s your mother?” He asked hesitantly after a moment of silence, I looked over at him, peered into the eyes of a man I was supposed to call a father, someone who was supposed to be a role model to me and Aaron and hero to Jazmine. I looked into his eyes, but felt nothing but resentment towards him. Honestly I didn’t even know why I’d come looking for him, I knew how I felt about him, he was a sucker. Any man who’d up and leave their woman and 3 kids was a without even so much as a phone call to see If they was okay, see if they had clothes on their backs, a place to stay or even food in their stomachs was a sucker to me.

“She’s fine, great actually, she getting married this year” I subtly boasted on her. I saw his smile drop for a millisecond with regret, and during that split moment I smiled myself inside. The look of regret on his face made me beam. I was glad he felt regret for letting my Mama go and having another man do what he should’ve done when he had the chance; marry her and treat her right. Despite her flaws, my mama was a real good woman. She held it down no matter what, and she honestly deserved the world and more. With the amount of shit she’d been through in life, she still never cracked or let that stuff discourage what she set out to do. She was strong, and a remarkable woman.

“Wow marriage huh? She deserves it…she a good woman” he mumbled down to himself, almost as if the regret that was weighing heavily on his mind was eating at him. I scoffed and began to rub both of my palms onto the knees of my sweats. Brown looked up at me with nothing but guilt in his dull brown eyes. I could tell by the way he couldn’t keep consistent eye contact with me that his conscience was playing on him. But I was only getting started; I hadn’t even touched upon the reasoning behind the visit, why I came to see him.

“Why?” My voice was low and tired as I mumbled that one simple word.

Browns dark Auburn eyes flashed to my face for a split second before his gaze fell abrasively to the red and white checker table. I knew that he knew what I was asking of him, fuck the small talk, I was here for answers. For so long, why had he abandoned us? Why hadn’t even attempted to contact us, find out if we was even alive still. Why didn’t he want us? He let out a strained sigh as he took the fitted bowler hat from his head and placed it beside him. All a while I sat there watching him, waiting for him to conjure up an bullshit explanation as to why he’d been non-existent in my life for 12 years, I couldn’t fathom how anyone could abandon their kids the way that he did us. I couldn’t even picture leaving my daughters side, just one day up and leaving them without an explanation, or a glance back, they were my life, the reason why I grinded the way that I did so that they could have the best life possible.  

He placed his hands in a closed fist onto the table and then cleared his throat “Because I wanted the best for y’all” he said. My ears perked up at that as slowly I began shaking my head in disbelief. ‘Because he wanted the best for us’ that answer wasn’t fucking good enough. It wasn’t a good enough reason he left his woman, and 3 kids with no home, no money and nowhere to go! It wasn’t enough to placate for the longing feel of abandonment and un-want that I’d suffered for all of those years he’d been gone.

“You can’t be serious” I queried through clenched teeth,

“I don’t expect you to understand son but-”

“I ain’t your fucking son man” I cut him off laughing without humour. “Don’t ever call me that shit” Brown appeared taken back by my words, the venom in my voice was hard to disguise because right now all I wanted to do was jump over this table and lay it to him. I couldn’t believe his answer to my question was he wanted the best for us, what best was it to leave? TWO sons who needed him more than anyone, needed a father figure to look up to, needed a dad to teach them how to tie a tie, how to shave, teach them how to become a man, and he walked outta our lives, a daughter who he was supposed to be of an hero to her, he left. A woman who loved him beyond measures, gave up everything she had in order to be with him, and he left, and his only excuse was he wanted the best for us?

Brown sighed sorrowfully, it was almost painful to look the man in the face I was supposed to call dad and feel nothing but sadness and anger in my heart for him. I clenched my teeth together as my legs bounced underneath the table at an unhealthy speed. I didn’t even know why I bothered coming here. I wanted to get out of here, but my body wouldn’t allow me to run from all of the things that I’d been dying to know from him.

“I don’t expect you to understand Chris” His voice lowered an octave, “but there were just some things, some things that…I couldn’t allow you to grow up and witness in a household. A house hold is supposed to be a place of love and sanctuary, not animosity and danger. Me being there brought nothing but pain to y'all lives because I was doing something’s, living a life that I was ashamed to bring around y'all" 

“Like what?” I questioned

“You really want to know?” he challenged. 

“I think I deserve to know, don’t you?”

He glanced at me prior to nodding his head. “Drugs, alcohol. I was dependent Chris. I don’t expect you to ever understand waking up every morning and the first thing that’s on your mind is how to get your next high or to go out and get a bottle of liquor at 6 in the morning. Not if your kids okay, or if your lady has money in her pockets to provide a decent meal for y'all but how long it would take for me to numb the feeling of inadequacy that I felt day in, day out.”

He paused for a second as he tried to gather his words together,

“When I was in active addiction, NOTHING came close to the importance and need for a high Chris. Food, family, jobs, relationships, that shit no longer mattered in my mind because from the moment I’d wake up, my entire day was centred around getting money, copping dope, finding rides so I could feed my addiction. The obsession was unhealthy and unfortunately it was the only thing that was on my mind”

“I was a drug addict man” he admitted. “Heroine, coke, weed, whatever it was I was addicted to it and the stronger it was, the better. It got so bad that, I couldn’t function without at least half a gram in my system; if I was barely functioning at all. I’d wake up not knowing if I was coming or going. The addiction was all consuming; it took over every aspect of my life and was literally the only thing I could think about Chris. Because of that, of course it began to fuck with me as a father and my relationship with your mother. She couldn’t accept the fact that the man she fell in love with, had turned into a dependent junkie. She couldn’t deal with the stress I was laying on her, not with 3 kids to look after and needing to shield them from the shit I’d become. So soon what started off as little quarrels between us turned into full blown fist fights" He scowled; the sadness in his voice was apparent, as it seemed he began reliving the memories. 

“Every day we were fighting about the chunks of money that was going missing from our account. Or the electronics that managed to slip out of our house. The last straw was when the money we’d put into a saving account for the three of y’all’s college tuition went missing. She blamed me for it, she thought I’d taken it so she gave me an ultimatum. It was either her and the kids or the drugs…” he sighed heavily “I couldn’t kick the habit…so I left.

I hastily diverted my gaze from him in disappointment. "So basically…you chose drugs over your own kids?" 

“I don’t expect you to understan-“

“WILL YOU STOP SAYING THAT!” I yelled finally not being able to hold back my emotions, people in the diner began to look our way, I was drawing attention to us but I didn’t even care in the moment. I was just tired of him telling me I didn’t understand!  "Stop fucking saying that shit cuh, nah I don’t understand, I don’t understand how a man chooses drugs over his own flesh and blood! You’d rather smoke a fucking crack pipe than take care of the kids YOU brought into this world my nigga? but you expect me to understand and accept all that?!”

“I don’t expect you to accept it, but I’m telling you how it was!” He snapped back, 

“Sir, I’m gon’ have to ask y'all’s  to keep y'all voices down please or I’m gonna have to ask y'all to leave” a strong southern accent came from behind me, Brown looked up at the waitress that had approached us early and nodded his head, giving his sincerest apologies. She looked sceptically between us before she trotted back off where she came from. 

“You came searching for the truth right? Wanted to know why I left like I did? Well there you have it. Is it a good enough reason? Maybe not, but it’s the truth. Drugs, money, alcohol. Yes I will admit, I put that shit on a higher pedestal than my family it was fucked up, but don’t think for one second I didn’t love y’all or think about y’all every single day I was gone. It weren’t easy for me to walk away man, but I had to. For the best, so I could go out and become a better man not only for myself, but for y’all. I couldn’t have y’all around me when I was out here strung off my head, high outta my mind!”

“So that’s why you sold the house? Took away everything Mama had? For the best for us, huh?” I challenged

“I needed the money Chris. The house was the only thing I had left that held value to it.” he said shamefully

“You needed the money? WE needed a place to sleep my nigga, you took that shit from us!”

“I was selfish-”

“YOU LEFT US WITH NOTHING DAWG!” I yelled standing up, my chair pushed back with a loud screech that caused people in the diner’s attention immediately turned to us, ‘the show’ The table surface began to shake as it caught wind of my sudden outbreak of emotion and Browns eyes widened from my sudden outburst.

“Sit down son” Brown mumbled, quietly trying to calm me down but I was already heated. The clanking sounds of utensils hitting plates became more distinct as every eye in the diner seemed to be on the two of us again, and then came the rushed pitter patter of heeled feet towards us, the waitress.

"Sir, I’m gonna have to ask you to please leave?” The waitress voice spoke with authority from behind me

“You know growing up, I imagined you to be so much more, I hoped when I found you, everything mama told me about you would be a lie. I’m disappointed man…” I murmured faintly. Browns eyes fell with hurt from my honesty. I was disappointed in him. I was disappointed that everything I’d heard about him being was nothing but the truth.

“Sir, please may you leave!” the waitresses strained voice repeated

 “Could you just give us a second Lady? PLEASE!” Brown snapped at her, she appeared taking back for a moment, before she smacked her teeth and threw her hands up in the air

“You know what, I’m gonna have to call the manager, because this is just ridiculous!” she stressed as she hurried back off to get her manager. Brown watched as she ran off to tadle-tale before his Auburn eyes connected with my own again.

“When I wake up every morning with nobody beside me, you don’t think I regret doing all that I did to y’all. You don’t think it hurts me to know that somewhere out there I have kids who don’t want anything to do with me? Kids that are disappointed in me, Kids who don’t even know me? It hurts Chris, it hurts bad, but that’s something I gotta live with and accept. I can’t change the past son, believe me if I could I would, but I can’t. And I understand your hurt, and your angry with me for being absent all these years, but all I ask is for you to judge me from the man that I’ve become today. Not the man that I was yesterday”

He got up from his seat, he picked up his hat from the table and then sat it on his head before taking out a small card from his inside pocket and placing it in front of me. I turned my head looking away at the cars that were pulling into the diner parking lot, “…I ain’t running away from you son, I’ve done enough of that. But I also ain’t gonna force you into something you don’t want yet. So when you’re ready. I’m here” I tensed up as he placed his hand on my shoulder and then gave it an encouraging squeeze.

And with that he was gone out of the swing doors.

I waited a moment before I could look down at what he’d left in front of me. There laid a small rectangular wallet sized image. In small read a scribbled address with a phone number on it and the name ‘Dad’ beside it. I picked it up and turned the image over and my heart plummeted to my stomach at that moment, as my eyes laid upon an old memory of the three of us as little kids at the beach, Me, Jazmine and Aaron and beside us, there he was standing as a father should’ve been. My heart pounded against the confinement of my chest relentlessly as I remained still staring down at this image. My jaw absentmindedly clenched and just as fast as a tear fell; I brushed it away.

I looked up out of the window to see if I could spot him, but as I expected he would be.

He was already gone.

***

Trudging up the stairs at quarter to 8, I was finally on my way home. I’d picked Asia up from my Mama’s house and we both were equally exhausted, she’d come down with a little fever during the night so she wasn’t feeling to good and me, I was just exhausted with the events of today.

Meeting up with my dad after years of abandonment just put a drain on me. I figured it was best I ain’t let my Mama know I’d seen him until I was certain he was really a changed man, weren’t no point in having her stressed and worrying about it, because I knew how my Mom was, she’d start over-thinking about shit, and then drive herself and me crazy. I was still angry with him, I still had resentment towards him, but I figured in order for me to move forward with my life, I had to forgive him too. Mama always said forgiveness was the key, So for that reason I was gonna let him in, give him a chance to redeem himself after all these years, I knew it wasn’t gonna be easy forgiving and accepting him into my life after 13 years, but it was worth the try. My guard was up and the moment he fucked up again, that was it.

I pushed the glass door open to my floor and then allowing it to slam shut; I locked the door behind me. My breath got caught in my throat when I turned back around to walk to my front door and I completely froze in mid stride as I noticed Jhene sitting on the floor outside of my condo door.

Her hood was all the way up and she had a dark pair of shades covering her face with a bag sitting next to her. But even with her disguise, I still knew it was her.

Hearing me walk in she suddenly pulled her head up from leaning on the door and then looked my way; Suddenly my conscience kicked in, and remembrance from what I’d done last night with Jennifer rushed to me like a bullet from a loaded gun, my heart rate paced out of uncertainty, guilt and fear because I knew I had no choice, I had to tell her.

They say things are always easier said than done right?

And just knowing by the end of the night, I was gonna break her heart again and she had no idea, had me all fucked up inside.