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Wish You Were Here
Antwaun Garcia
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I have seen my father go to jail so many times it's not even funny.

When I was living in Harlem, my father was doing his thang, selling on the streets. I didn't have a problem with it, because I saw it as my father did: the only way to survive.

My father wasn't born with a silver spoon in his mouth, so any way that would make him money, my father was about it. Maybe he could have gone and got a job and worked the typical nine-to-five. Some reason, that didn't work for him, and if it did, he probably wouldn't have been able to find work because of his police record.

Once I saw my father actually get arrested. I was about 6 or 7 and we were in front of my building on Amsterdam Ave. in New York. My parents would fight over something stupid. Then the argument would get more tense. That scared me-when two stubborn people like my parents were in the same room fighting, it might get ugly. Somehow this argument got physical and led to the streets, both of my parents yelling at one another. One thing led to another. Someone called 5-0 and the next thing I knew the police were trying to calm my father down.

But talking and trying to reason with my father just didn't work, so the police trying to calm him down was pointless. After my moms told the police the whole story of what went down, I stood there scared, frustrated and nervous. I didn't know what to do. Who was I to go to? I didn't want to play favorites between my parents, that isn't right. So I stood alone, watching the anger between two people I loved fly back and forth.

As police clipped those silver bracelets on my father, tears ran down my face. I didn't want to see my father leave, but what was I to do? I wanted to jump in and help free my father, but all I could do was stand there, not moving an inch.

Dreaming of the Good Old Days

They put my father head-first in the car and then he sat there in back, mad as hell. My Uncle Mike came after me to make sure I didn't do anything stupid like chase after my father. My uncle knew I would do anything for my father.

Before the police car pulled off, my father and I stared at each other with the same mad intense face. Then he winked at me, like it was a sign of something. Of what I have no idea. After he gave me that little wink, I felt strange, weird even.

image by Stefan Vaubel

A little later, I moved out to Queens with my sister to my aunt's crib. Then it became hard. It was bad enough that I couldn't see my father, because he was in prison, but also hard to be in a new area and home. You never know how much you'll miss someone 'til they aren't there anymore. I guess that's how I felt about my father.

I used to sit there in my new room and reminisce about what my father and I used to do. When we were in Harlem, we used to sit in my older brother Chic's room, and eat some of Grandma's Spanish food while watching the Bulls game. My pops and I would always compete to see who would win. Then there were those times when he would teach me how to do a fade away shot like Jordan. Those were times you can never forget. No matter what bad things or situations you've been in were, the good ones last forever.

A Drawer Full of Letters

All the cards and letters my father ever wrote me from prison, I kept. I put them all in my drawer full of letters and old birthday cards. Whenever I missed him or thought about him, I went back to the drawer and reread the letters in remembrance and would picture him saying them to me.

On my 11th birthday I was in the car going to Rye Playland, an amusement park, with my family and my aunt gave me a card that came from my father. I opened it. There was a rose on the outside. Inside it said, "I'm sorry, Son, I couldn't be there for your 11th birthday. I wish I could be there to see your face behind those candles, with your face smiling as you blow out those candles."

After I finished reading the card, I pulled my head back and felt the tears fall to my ears. I groaned in silence so no one would hear me. But I think my aunt did hear me, cause she looked back through the rearview mirror and frowned.

Even though my father was going in and out of jail, I was never scared to tell people what he did. I wasn't ashamed to say, "Yeah he got locked up for beating someone up, or selling, or whatever."

I Didn't Write Back

Even though I knew my father was ashamed of his past, I wasn't. To me, his past was just a sign of pain and bad thoughts and sometimes you need to remember those things to remind you where you came from.

image by Stefan Vaubel

Later on I felt that his being in jail and absent from my life wasn't fair. It hurt our relationship. He would write letters to me, and he would write at the bottom to respond. But I never did. I didn't know what to say to him. I didn't want to say I was fine, when I wasn't.

Soon the letters stopped, and soon the thoughts of me and him stopped too. As I got older, it was like I didn't care for him anymore. Sometimes I felt I didn't need him. I thought, "Screw him, he isn't here for me now, so I don't need him in the future." My father wasn't there to teach me about sex. He wasn't there to teach me how to talk to females, or how to play ball. So I felt like I was my own man and I would do whatever I had to do.

Then reality struck. As much I denied being anything like my father, I saw myself becoming more like him. My mother told me that too. I started to walk like him with that little pimp, "I'm the man" walk. The way I talked reminded people of him. I love to rock jewelry just like him. That's when I realized that even though I hated him for not being in my life as much I wanted him to be, I needed him, too.

I Wanted to Run to Him Like a Child

When he finally came out of jail, he came to Queens to see my baby sister Shante and myself. It had been four years since we'd communicated. I was 17 and Shante was 8.

When I first saw him get off the bus, I wanted to run and hug him like I used to as a child, but then my anger came over me and it told me to just chill and lay back and see if he actually recognized me. As he was looking for me, I called his name, and he turned around and saw me. He was happy. I could see it in his face. As he gave me a hug, my arms paused a moment before hugging back. At first I felt a little happy to see him, then it was like, "Let's just see how the day goes."

As we got to the crib and my sister saw him, she ran to him and jumped on him, like he was the monkey bars or something. I was happy for my sister, because she doesn't know too much about her father, but I still felt distant.

As the day went on, my feelings changed. I was having fun with him. We chilled in the crib and just talked and laughed as we used to. The feeling at the end of the day wasn't bad. When I had to say my good-byes, it was more like, "later," meaning, "I will see you again."

Trying to Forgive

Since then I've started to realize that everyone messes up. While I can never forget the past or the crap I went through with my father locked up, I am also trying to forgive him, so that I can have him in my life without being angry.

The pain ain't healed-the pain of growing up without parents around, or the pain of always hearing something negative about them like, "Your father is going back to his old ways." Just so much pain. But it also makes me stronger. Pain and guilt seem to be my only tool these days to stay alive, to strive for greatness, to write, and to be the person I am.

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(FCYU-2002-09-22)

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