I check my mailbox twice each day to see if my father has sent me a birthday card yet. I’ve been 20 for ten days.
In my creative writing class, we’re learning about characterization in fiction. My professor says our characters will seem real if we make them ambivalent. Perhaps a female character is torn between waking up to train for a marathon in the mornings and sleeping in instead. She will talk to her friends about how she wants to run the race, and she will buy a high-dollar pair of running shoes. But when the alarm goes off at dawn, she’ll hit the snooze and pull the blanket over her head as the readers point at the page and cry, “Ambivalence!”
I will walk to my mailbox like everyone else. I’ll smile at my friends and say, “Welp, I’d better see if I got any mail.” I might shrug first and peer into the empty box like I’m glad I won’t have to carry anything extra. But I’ll come back later, walking slowly toward the mailbox as I imagine my father sitting down long enough to write my name on an envelope. And when the proof is there that he couldn’t do that, I’ll fight the urge to punch a wall or scream at the top of my lungs.
The best stories have characters who aren’t sure how they feel about the people closest to them. Someone might love her sister dearly, but also resent her because she’s always been Mom’s favorite. She will develop an attitude about her sister in secret first. And if she stops loving her sister all together, she won’t necessarily say so. Her sister might never know the truth.
I called my father an asshole once. Maybe twice. But I said it more for me than for him. If he’s an asshole, there’s no real reason for me to get disappointed when he doesn’t send me a birthday card, when he does not love me. Empty mailbox? Good. I wouldn’t have it any other way.