I was 12 when my dad announced that he was retiring. He had made a bunch of money on a big real estate deal and decided he was taking the money and moving 1400 miles away to St. Petersburg, Florida.
“You can call me whenever you want” he said as he handed me his business card.
“Get a pen” and he had me write down all his numbers on the back.
I don’t remember the exact day he left. There was no big deal made. I just remember putting my favorite picture of him in my backpack and getting to school early one morning so I could tape it up in my locker.
I got bullied a lot that year. Kids can smell weakness from a mile away. Debbie Noble was usually the ring leader. Some days she would act like my best friend (a best friend that comes over and steals jewelry from your bedroom, mind you) and the next day she would whisper around, “Don’t be friends with Riva”. Some days she would even coax one of the girls that was vying to be her sidekick, and make them promise to beat me up after school.
One day between classes, I saw a group of five or six of my classmates in the hallway surrounding my locker. They were laughing. Why were they laughing? What had they done? I thought. My face went a bit flush and my hands got sweaty.
When they saw me coming, they huddled together, giddy, they were hiding something.
As I got nearer I caught a glimpse of something on the cold dull tile floor beneath my metal grey locker door. The picture of my father. I walked quickly over and pushed their group apart. My dad. He was ripped in half and laying on the floor. I looked down at the picture while my father’s broken face stared up at me. Tears burst out of me as though someone had just shot my purring cat. The chorus of tweens surrounding me looked somewhat shocked at my reaction. Their laughter turned awkward. “Come On!” One of the girls shouted to the others and motioned ‘let’s go’. They followed her like a bunch of confused geese flying north, trying to figure out who’s leading the formation.
One of the boys, Randy, stopped halfway down the hall and looked back at me and asked in a somewhat accusatory but hushed tone, ‘Why are you so upset? It’s not like he’s dead. Right?”.
(On a side note, I think Randy was only mean to me because he had a crush on me. He used to tease me like mad. He was tall with dark chocolate skin and made jokes all the time. He never asked me out, but one day I flirted with him and he turned to mush.)
I opened the locker and tried to put the two halves back together. There were scratch marks all over both sides from whatever they had used to poke through the vent. I think it was a paper clip pulled straight and attached to the end of a pencil. Half of it was at the bottom of my locker. The picture was ruined. It was before the days of digital copies. I would never get another copy of that picture. I would never have my father back. And I would never get my family back. It felt like it had all be torn away from me. In that very moment.
Looking back, I think I learned a lot from that day. I learned the value of hiding your weaknesses. That was the last year I got bullied. The year after, I got kicked out for repeatedly smoking on school property. I guess I learned how to channel my sadness into anger.