We stopped at McDonalds along the way. I got my own fries. (Daddy wasn’t there to say, “Share.” )
I got a milkshake too. (Daddy wasn’t there to say, “Absolutely not.”)
I’d been living like this for a month. No parents. No little sisters. Just me and Linda and Larry who lived in the officer’s quarters attached to ours. (They even gave me my own room.)
Daddy finished up his commitment to the army in early June and packed up the house to join my grandfather’s practice at the shore. Mommy and my sisters went too. Everyone was finished school, but me.
I stayed behind to face my first set of Regents exams. Three years earlier, we were transferred from Denver, and it took me awhile to find my academic stride. Just as I did, it was time to leave the small base school at West Point in order to enter the large public high school in Highland Falls. The hallways haunted my dreams. The throngs of beards. The cleavage. The smoking room. The changing room. The parking lot. Tori’s perfect everything.
Linda helped prepare me for Math. She was a professor at the Academy, and she got her colleague next door to help me with my French. I aced EVERY ONE of those Regent exams.
On the last day of school, I moved from Larry and Linda’s to my best friend Janet’s house at the bottom of the hill where the enlisted men were housed. Janet and I made the base ours that summer. Traipsing around town on the buses, shopping at the PX, baring our new bikinis at Delfield Pond.
I still remember the moment. Big Boys Don’t Cry was playing on the tiny transistor radios. I was heading toward the high dive. A line of cadets lifted their heads from their towels as I passed by.
“Why are we going to the airport?” I say.
Linda and Larry called Janet’s house that morning and told her mother that they were coming to get me.
“Because your father’s flying in for the day, and he wants you to meet him.”
“Why is flying in?” I say, as I lick the salt from my fingers.
“There was some kind of accident. A higher-up. He asked for your dad.”
Linda and Larry are lying, but I don’t notice.
I sip on my shake. They ask if I’m excited about next week–my first time as a Counselor in Training at West Point Youth Camp where I’ve been a camper the past two summers.
They tell me about their time in the Peace Corps. How they traveled the world. I decide that I want to be just like Linda and Larry when I grow up.
The conversation stills as we approach the airfield and park the car. I grab my shake as we head inside the small terminal. Floor to ceiling windows look out over the runway and I watch as a small plane lands and taxis in.
I open the glass doors and step outside, shielding my eyes from the sun.
I feel the saliva stretch between my mouth and the straw as I toss the cup into the trash bin beside me.
When I see my father jump out of the small plane and head toward me, I bound down the wide set of cement steps.
And then it’s over…