He pulled out my chair. And despite the circumstances, that made me smile. By the time the drinks came out and he ripped open the sugar packets for his iced tea in such a familiar way (ripping the corners off, not across one end or the other. always the right corner, tapping the bottom of the packet to get the last of it and carefully slipping the torn scrap into the opening and tucking it under the edge of the plate) and stirred it (shaking the last drops off the spoon and wiping it on the napkin before laying it back down) and he finally looked into my eyes I was already on the verge of tears.
Sitting there in his discomfort (wearing jeans and overly white, brand new sneakers and a very new looking polo shirt in a nice dark blue that showed off his eyes and his slightly greying blonde hair.. looking like he must have shopped just for the occasion so that he could look casual), trying to look at me and trying not to look at me and trying to act natural while knowing nothing about this was natural, he looked so much like Tom. He broke my heart. He killed me just by being so much like the person I know I will never know again.
Of course he would. Of COURSE he would. He was Tom's father. Did I think there would be no similarities? Did I think that he would look like someone else?
I just wasn't prepared somehow.
The same face. The same eyes and hair. The same long fingered, strong hands. That exact same smile, hardwon and halting as it was.
And he just talked to me. He opened his mouth and he talked and I didn't hear him. Because I was staring at the distinguished middle aged man Tom would have been. His hand moved as he warmed up to the sound of his own voice and I saw Tom, sitting in the cafe, pontificating on the virtues of a slow f-stop and the necessity of sleeping with your models. He effortlessly chatted with the waitress and was courteous without being dismissive, kind and interested without being false and I saw Tom, making it a point to make the cashiers smile and blush just because he loved making people happy.
When he finally asked if something was wrong, I realized that I'd been staring and he was blushing and embarassed.
I pulled myself together.
And asked him to repeat himself. heh.
And he smiled that beautiful warm smile and he did. He went on. Some interestingly strange things about Tom's death. Apparently he had lots of interesting drugs in his system when he died. I didn't know that they had done an autopsy. But they had. Cheryl just hadn't told me. Cheryl didn't tell me a lot. I still wonder why. "Did Tom have a drug problem?," I had to laugh at him.
"Tom had a life problem."
"What does that mean?"
"Tom would never do any drug that would impair him to the point where he couldn't enjoy life. He hated passing out. He hated feeling like he'd lost time. He was jealous of every single moment he had and damn the thing that would take it away from him. I saw him smoke weed once. He was very very upset and was trying to sleep. He never drank to the point of passing out or getting out of control. He stopped taking ritalin because he didn't like the fact that it was a buffer between him and the world."
I don't understand why they found what they found. I don't really think it's important.
He also told me that he didn't understand why Tom left Virginia Beach. Why he ran off to California. I explained Tom and his romanticism, despite his sluttiness. I explained that Cheryl had snagged him somehow and he decided that she was worth leaving all of us behind. He stayed in contact... well... very sporadically. But that I think that had to do more with Cheryl than anything else. What I knew of her before he went out there I didn't like and never had any problem expressing. She knew that. She knew that Scott and Mike never liked her either.
He wanted to know how I felt about Tom. I just started at him. "What do you mean?"
"How did you feel about him?"
"I ... I felt... I feel.." and I started crying. I hated that I did, but I did. I couldn't stop it, there it was.
He looked awkward in the face of this display. He looked like he didn't know wether to offer me a napkin or pat my hand or give me a hug or what. The awkwardness of a man in front of a crying stranger. But a stranger that he *wants* to know. I knew this. I knew he wanted to know me.
I still don't know why.
Maybe for a piece of his son.
There were many more words and many more awkward pauses, but most of them were mine. Where I stopped myself from saying a lot of things that were just aching to be said.
I wanted to know why he never bothered to know his son. I wanted to know why he was here, asking a stranger questions about a dead person in an attempt to know who the hell that dead person was and what that dead person meant to them.
But I also wanted to know why me.
And that answer he volunteered. Tom wrote him letters. I knew that much.What I didn't know was that Tom wrote him letters about me. What was going on in *my* life. Tom couldn't talk to his dad about himself so he wrote about me. So, when Tom was having problems getting the local papers to sign him on for steady contracts, he wrote to his dad about my psycho ex and all the phone calls. When Tom was conflicted about his career as a photographer, he wrote to his dad about having to share a bed with me because we had no heat and it was the only way either of us got any sleep.
For two years Robert never got a letter from Tom that didn't have massive mentions of me. Tom would only talk about himself in the context of me.
Robert says he felt like he had a son and a daughter.
He's going to be staying here for awhile. He doesn't know how long. He wants to talk to me more. He wants to talk to me as much as possible. He wants to know Tom through me the way that he got to know me through Tom.
He also said I was such a beautiful person through Tom's eyes.