Age: 13, Grade: 8
School Name: Anderson School Public School 334, New York, NY
Educator: Karen Kabahar
My father is a pedantic, organized mathematician. Everything has its place in his mind and in his world. I imagine that he has all of us categorized in a complex matrix according to abilities, effectiveness, and kindness. He is very compassionate and loving; you just have to dig in under the crust of formality and logic to glimpse it. He has never forgotten to keep his manner that way. I don’t know why he is like this, but I can always count on him.
On a hot summer Sunday, my dad was packing for a business trip to Chicago, methodically layering his papers and stark white, pressed shirt in his travel bag. His tie was folded perfectly and his shoes were laid straight. I was watching longingly. Why did I have to stay behind? It wasn’t fair.
“Can I come along?” the words suddenly escaped me like a genie, effortlessly and startlingly.
My dad’s sharp eyes left the bag and entered my soul. Sometimes I think he has mini x-ray machines hidden behind the glass balls of his brown eyes. “I could take you along with your mom, but what do you intend to do with your time there?”
I could have said that I was going to run down to the Michigan lake beach and soak my feet in the hot velvety sand. I could have said that I would spend hours diving in the deep blue of Chagall’s stained-glass windows at the Art Institute, but I knew better.
“We could go to the Field Museum of Natural History,” I replied. I waited quietly for a response. I could sense the air shifting as my father was sold on those ten words. Do not get me wrong, I like science and math and logical puzzles, but there is more wonder to be beheld in the art and emotion of life that carries through each stroke of a brush and each movement of a pen. Yet, if I wish to go at all, I must treat life like the series of battles it is. In this one, I choose peace.
The next few minutes were a swirl. Dad adjusting flight reservations, mom hurryingly jamming clothing into a carry-on bag, while texting her boss about taking two days off. Me? I was just quietly celebrating the beginning of an adventure. Every moment would be something perfect, something to cherish.
Our flight to Chicago was non-eventful despite all my fiascos to make it memorable. Even my rock concert on the plane didn’t work, because the flight attendant said the music was too loud. Since when is full volume too loud? We arrived late, carried our bodies into a hotel, dumped them on the soft bed, or, in my case, a large armchair for me since I was an unexpected stowaway. We set the alarm for 7:30 am because of my dad’s important client meeting and let our consciousnesses evaporate into the night.
I ignored the alarm, thinking that my parents would take pity on me and let me sleep, when a sharp, loud crack erupted from my father. “Oh, no! I forgot my pants!”
I jumped up from the chair as if hit by lightning. My father does not scream. He frowns, he scowls, but he never screams. There are only two things this could mean: I got a 99 on a test, or my perfectly organized father forgot something. Both are impossible.
My father never, ever forgets anything. My mother and I do. We lose our metro cards, misplace iPhone chargers, routinely leave our umbrellas on the bus, but my father never forgets anything. Until now. The hundred-degree weather of New York in July called for shorts, which is exactly what my father had flown in. His beautifully pressed shirt, his perfectly ironed tie and professional looking jacket were laid out on the bed. The only thing missing were his pants.
“These clients are very important and formal. I am in real trouble.” For the first time I saw my father devastated, sitting on his bed almost as a lost child, reaching out to my mom for help.
“Maybe you can get there early and just sit at a desk, and never get up. People may not notice.” In my head I see a picture of my father presiding over negotiations, towering over the meeting. My father is a big, tall man. His whole body glares respect, stability, knowledge, and confidence. I imagine the camera slowly moving below the surface of the table showing bare legs and tacky shorts. Involuntarily, I start laughing and my mom hisses at me to stop.
Mom is great at solving problems, maybe because she is used to creating them. First, she told me to scavenge the internet to see how early the department stores in Chicago open. 9:30 to 10 am was the universal answer. We were out of luck. She found a boutique store that opened at 8 am, and even got some poor soul working in the store to answer her frantic plea, but the problem was the trimming and the alteration. The boutique was fancy and they did not carry ready-to-wear pants. Honestly, people these days. Cut the formalities! Did the pants really need to be tailored to perfection?
Time was ticking and my father’s face was getting paler and paler. I quietly went to my mom’s medicine bag to make sure that we had some heart medicine in case my dad needed it.
In the meantime, my mom called the front desk, and started begging. She is a master beggar. It must be because she grew up in the Soviet Union, where she was often at the mercy of the authorities. She tells me that people are compassionate at their core, and if you appeal to their hearts, miracles happen.The front desk manager took minutes to comprehend what had occurred.
“We have a tailoring service in the hotel. I can try calling them to see if they have any spare pants for you,” she kindly offered.
We circled by the phone, like vultures waiting for prey. The doorbell rang, and a very polite woman wearing a hijab handed my mom a pair of pants. Eureka! We were saved. Dad escaped into the bathroom to try them on, but alas… they were too small. Why is the success of your career more dependent on the length of your pants than on the clarity of your mind?
My mother returned the offering to the kind woman at the door with a sigh of resignation. She took them and hesitated for a second.
“We may have a bigger pair. It is very large, so it will have to be taken in, andI do not have anyone in the shop this early in the morning to pin your husband since I can’t do it.”
“I will pin.” My mother has not held a needle in years, but her Soviet training comes to the rescue once again. All girls had to learn needle work in middle school in Ukraine.
One moment, my mother was kneeling by my dad, pinning a humongous garment on him.The next moment, the lady rushed out to finish the stitching.
My father’s face was turning red with hope. He was pacing like a caged animal, his upper body in a conference room and his bottom still on a Caribbean vacation.
The door opened and the same smiling round face with a hijab handed over the finished product. Pants had arrived. Dad rushed out, and I wanted to hug and kiss the lady. Her polite reserved smile said “I am happy I could help.” I think about the compassion that binds us all together, but even more I think of how thankful I am not to spend the day with an enraged father. The only thing worse would be an 85 on a test. Little did I know what ghosted in my near future….