Finding Divine Providence With My Father
By Ashley Rappa
When I was 25, I moved from Boston to Providence. It was a rash decision, one made with haste under duress, but relocating the 45 miles south felt like necessity. One afternoon I packed up all my worldly possessions, which consisted mostly of souvenir shot glasses and picture after picture of my mother. She was my constant companion, my sounding board, my partner in time, my secret keeper, and my truest friend. She had been dead for four years.
A horn honked at 7 a.m the next morning. In the driver’s seat was a relative stranger: my father, a handsome man with a fringe of faded red hair who always smelled faintly of wool sweaters and salt. Growing up, he hadn’t been around much. Our tiny New Hampshire town did not offer a lot in the way of gainful employment, so he had to travel far to find it: the Canadian border, Long Island, Roanoke, Virginia. By the time I was in high school, he was reduced to being home twice a month for only two days at a time.
“Ready to go?” he asked me as I hauled the last box down the steep stairs of my fifth floor Fenway walk up. It had been only weeks since I made the choice to defect from my defacto home since college graduation. I had a routine there, but a thankless job threatened to swallow me with boredom, and bad relationship had gotten worse before finally breaking. I cried every day, partly out of sheer sadness, but mostly out of desperation. I felt irretrievably lost. Though I fancied myself a real live grown up, in order to be found again I knew I needed only one thing: home.
Inconveniently, my father had sold my childhood house after my mother died in the living room on a quiet spring afternoon. She was diagnosed with cancer the previous fall, Stage Four, the doctor said. When we asked what that meant he said softly, “There is no Stage Five.”
With my dad’s two children grown and his wife gone, the open space that bridged each room echoed at a frequency that made living there impossible. Even though it left me untethered, I could see through the clouds of grief clearly enough to realize one very important thing. My mother’s death could mean a new life for my father. Even if I didn’t know him well, after years of sacrificing for our family, I knew he deserved that.
He had been in Providence for three years when I called him to ask if he’d consider having a roommate.
“Who?” he asked.
“Me,” I said. And then there he was, almost no questions asked, my knight in sweaty work clothes coming forth to carry me home.
The first night of our cohabitation, we got take out pizza and shared two bottles of wine. We ate off of plates my mother had made — she was, among other things, a skilled potter. My father and I sat around the Shaker maple table that had been the centerpiece of every meal in our previous life, and it felt at once foreign and chillingly familiar in its new space.
“I want to know what happened,” he said, referring to why I had to leave Boston so abruptly, and I found myself mentally preparing some vague version of the facts for him before answering. I looked at him, his close-set caring eyes that shone from beneath unruly eyebrows, and decided to do something bold.
“I’m going to tell you the truth, Dad,” I said. “I haven’t always been very good at that with you.”
He nodded, bracing himself. We traditionally spoke in half facts.
“I’m heartbroken,” I said, and dove into the dirty truth — how Logan and I had met, what had been said, how I felt and who I believed he was. It was a tale of heartache and loss and excess and lacking. I loved Logan, and as it turned out, I was not alone in that. At the top of that list were many women — his lead hostess, a long since ex-girlfriend, a young blonde who looked just like me — but at the number one spot sat Logan himself, and he did whatever and whomever he wanted. I had been fooled by him, and the realization crumbled whatever ramparts I had built up in the listless wake of my mother’s passing.
At the end of my story, my father looked at me and sighed.
“I understand, kid,” he said, and I thought, of course — he lost his wife of 25 years, and I’m complaining about the faintest fissure of my youthful heart. “I’ve been seeing someone,” he said. “Had been, is more accurate, I suppose. She broke up with me a few weeks ago. No warning, just called one day and that was it.”
“I didn’t know you’ve been dating,” I said, shocked.
He smiled sheepishly. “I haven’t always been very good at telling you the truth, either.”
The man across from me was suddenly not my father, but a fellow casualty on the romantic front.
“What do folks of your age group do on dates in Providence?” I asked.
“Oh you know, walks, dinner, movies, the usual. What do folks of your age group do on dates in Boston?”
“The same, mostly.”
He looked at me sadly.
“Do you miss him?”
I nodded, sipping. “You?” I asked, and he nodded “yes” in return.
We sighed in unison.
“What are you doing tomorrow night? Any plans?” I asked.
“Want to go go out with me?”
“I’d love to, kid,” he said, and reached out his hand to grab mine.
We cleaned up the kitchen, and I noticed so many trappings of my young life: a newspaper clipping with a picture of an old, crumpled woman facing the camera. The caption read “Wrong house bulldozed.” A magnet of Mattapoisett, MA, where we used to sail with family friends every Fourth of July, my father at the helm and my mother waving goodbye from the shore. A crayon drawing I had done of a loon, the mascot of our summer house in the Canadian woods, surrounded by cool waters that now held my mom’s ashes.
I stayed up late that night, trying the place on, and I was struck by a realization: Home is an evolutionary theory, the strings of one iteration entwined with the next. For years home had meant the soft give of head on maternal breast, the smell of lilies and pine. For a short time it meant waking up next to a man who I believed I could call my own. And for the two years I lived with my dad as an adult, it meant asking questions and giving honest answers. It meant sharing wine and learning to cook with four hands. It meant being a confidant, and at times, just being alone, together.
We have new homes now. He lives with his lovely wife, and I with my dear husband, just a ten minute drive from one another. We were married three days apart. I was his best maid and he was my man of honor. We see each other often, for conversation and eating and laughter.
It’s been 12 years since his wife and my mother died, and we mark each year with memory and celebration. We hold hands and share food we’ve cooked off of plates that she made, and we remember to be thankful through the sadness. From her death, we found new lives. From her death, we found each other.