My boyfriend William was a nice guy, but when he told me he was moving to Nepal, I knew long distance wasn’t for me. Breaking up went smoothly. There was only one problem: telling my father.
“Every father wants to give his children the ability to build lasting relationships,” he’d say whenever I told him about a breakup. “Maybe one day you’ll understand, if you have children of your own…but that’s more unlikely by the year. Don’t blame yourself. When my friends show me pictures of their grandchildren, I’ll accept it was my own failures that robbed me of that joy.”
I planned to tell my father as soon as I walked in the door, but he greeted me with some news of his own: Lacey Greenberg, his best friend’s daughter, had just gotten engaged. The guy? “A prince, a paragon.” The future kids? “The first boy will be named after both grandfathers.”
When I finally told my father that William wouldn’t be my date to the wedding, I took a fresh approach.
“A car accident?” my father said.
“Killed instantly,” I told him.
My father leaned back, satisfied, and proceeded to recount how wild William’s driving had been when he’d visited: “Going almost forty in a forty zone! Those signs are a warning, not a dare!” He took a grim pleasure in William’s fate, the consequence of not listening to his sage counsel. I was even more pleased; my little white lie had worked perfectly.
I was less pleased eight months later when Lacey showed me her reception’s seating plan.
“You and your dad will be at table twelve. I’ve got you next to my cousin Scarlett. Just warning you, she loves to gossip,” she said. “Oh, and don’t worry, I put you on the opposite side of the room from William. I thought a run-in might be a little awkward.”
“W-William? My William? William Yang?” I stammered.
“That’s him. It’s a small world — he and Chris played doubles together.”
“You have to uninvite him. Things are…bad between my father and him. You don’t know how awkward it might get!” I said. No way could I tell Lacey what I’d done.
“It’s two days before the wedding and he’s flying in. I can’t.”
“Then uninvite my father.”
“Your father gave mine a kidney!”
“It was twenty years ago; isn’t there a statute of limitations for that?”
Lacey gave me a look. “I am not uninviting your father.”
I slumped and she put a hand on my shoulder.
“What would you like? For me to spend the day watching William to make sure he doesn’t get close to your father?”
Hope sprung up within me. “Would you?”
“No! I’m getting married!” Tough, yet fair. “But,” she added, “I’ll get you William’s number. You can try to smooth things over ahead of time.”
I thought I could persuade William not to come, but he didn’t answer his phone or return any of my messages. I tried to work on my father, insisting that he was coming down with something, that the church looked structurally unsound, that it had been the site of a Chernobyl-style cover up.
“I wouldn’t miss this wedding for the world!” he told me. “I gave Morty a kidney; the least he can do is give me some cake. You know, he didn’t call to thank me this year.”
“He was probably busy with the wedding,” I told him.
“Oh yeah, sure…it was just a kidney. Not even worth a call. I understand.”
When we got to the church, I told my father to wait in the car till I came back. “I’ve got to talk to the building manager about reducing the asbestos. We may still get cancer, but with any luck, I’ll limit it to stage one. Unless you think we shouldn’t risk it?”
“With the way you drive, I’d be more worried about the ride home,” he said.
Inside, the decorations were aggressively tasteful; even the biggest WASPs attending would find nothing with which to critique Lacey. It was hard to search for William among the crowd; I wove through silky-haired women chatting about how charming the Jewish touches were, squeezed past jowly men chuckling over the latest gaffes on the campaign trail. My heart beat faster. What if William wasn’t there yet? What if he ran into my dad in the parking lot?
“Hey,” a voice said.
It was William.
“Oh, hey,” I said. “How’s life?”
“It’s been incredible,” he said. “Living in Nepal has taught me so much about —”
“Yeah, yeah, that’s great. William, I really need to talk to you in private, okay?”
We went to the pastor’s study and William started things off, his face tense.
“I saw you left me quite a few messages. I’m sorry I didn’t see them earlier. Listen, if this is about getting back together—”
“No!” I could almost see him cataloguing me in his mind under Ex-Girlfriend, Crazy. “No, this is not about getting back together!”
“Okay,” William said. He still looked wary — like at any moment I was going to pull out a wedding dress and say, “Hey, why not make it a double?”
“Then what was it you wanted to talk about?” he asked.
“So…” I tried to find a way to ease into the subject. “So, I told my dad that you’re dead.”
“You told your dad I’m dead,” William said.
“It was the easiest way; you know how he is! His psychologist says that my dad is the most neurotic patient he’s ever had, and he’s treated multiple stand up comedians! If my father realizes you’re alive, it’s not going to help his trust issues.”
“And what do you want me to do? Put on glasses and tell him I’m John from Saskatchewan?”
“That’s exactly the kind of blue sky thinking we need,” I said. “No judging, just tossing out ideas. Here are mine: Face the wall. Hide your face with a hymn book. Avoid letting your voice carry; perhaps you took a vow of silence in a Nepalese monastery.”
“You need help,” William said.
“That’s what I’m saying!”
“William, don’t you want to be a good person?” I said. I pointed to a poster of a suspiciously non-Semetic-looking Jesus. ”What would He want? When I was hungry, did you not feed me? When I needed you to be dead for just a little while, did you not step up?”
William looked contemplative and I prayed his Sunday school teacher had gone full Tarantino in her descriptions of hell.
“No, I’ve moved on from religious nonsense,” he said. “And yet…my life coach told me that I need to work on transcending my worldly identity to embody the infinite nothing. Being invisible today could be good for my spiritual practice.”
“You mean you’ll do it?” I said.
“Yes, I’ll do it,” he said. “The universe could be speaking through you.”
Then William paused.
“Your dad didn’t call my parents and offer condolences?” he said. “We dated for two years. They talked about going to Florida together.”
“He respectfully offered them space,” I said.
“He didn’t even try to send flowers to the funeral?”
“‘And risk provoking someone’s allergies?’” I said, imitating my father. “‘There’s one guy in a coffin, and I’m supposed to risk others joining him?’”
The ceremony was lovely; no one objected, which I’m always secretly hoping for. Then there was just the reception to get through. My father was happy to sit at our table almost the whole way through, listening to Lacey’s cousin Scarlett talk about how the maid of honour was a maneater. However, he eventually insisted on going to get cake by himself.
My father was so long that I started to worry and when he finally came back, he looked ashen. He dropped his cane and moaned, “Oh God, why!”
“Dad!” I said, helping him down onto a chair.
“I was waiting in line next to an Asian woman. After five seconds of silence, I got so nervous that she thought I wasn’t talking to her because I was racist that I ended up apologizing to her for The Chinese Immigration Act. Then, it turned out she was Korean, and I had to apologize again.”
“Oh, Dad!” I said.
My father glanced both ways, making sure nobody could overhear. “It’s not my fault they all look alike!” he said.
I stared at the tablecloth. “Dad, it’s fine. Have your cake.”
“I’m going to go wait in the car,” he said, his face set like a bulldog’s.
“I’ll be there soon,” I promised.
After helping him get his coat, I found William hiding behind some hydrangeas and texting. A set of thick glasses were perched on his nose.
“I managed to borrow someone’s spare pair,” he said, tapping the frame.
“Impressive. My dad and I are leaving now; I guess all the hints about asbestos finally paid off,” I told him. “Thank you so much for today.”
“It was actually fun,” William said. “I texted a picture of myself to my girlfriend, and she told me I looked like Clark Kent.”
“High praise indeed,” I said, with a little pang. Everyone but me was moving on to something better. “Will you stay for — “
“William?” my father said.
I turned; my father was staring at the two of us, his jaw slack. “William! You’re alive?”
I looked back at William; he looked helpless.
“Mr. Miller —” he started, but I put up a hand, stopping him. There have been many great epiphanies in human history: Archimedes in the bathtub, Kekulé dreaming of snakes, Einstein deducing his way to special relativity. This beat them all.
“Dad!” I said. “I’d like you to meet John.”
My father blinked. “This is Wiliam.”
I exuded mortification. “Dad, stop being so embarrassing. They don’t all look alike. John is here from Saskatchewan.”
“The wheat is wonderful this year,” William said.
My father’s face was impassive.
“I know you grew up in a racist society and it’s hard to adjust,” I said, “but try to be accepting.”
My father stood there another moment. Finally, he spoke. “John, it’s nice to meet you,” he said, extending a hand.
William shook it. “Likewise.”
“Sweetheart, I’ll head home soon,” my father told me. “Why don’t you stay?”
“Are you sure?” I asked.
He gave a conspiratorial look to William. “If I take my daughter away from all the men, I’ll never get grandchildren.” He hobbled away, leaving me breathless with relief.
“Oh wow,” William said.
“I’m glad that’s over, but I also feel kind of bad. I mean, isn’t falsely accusing someone of racism the worst thing you can do?” I said.
“Actually being racist is the worst thing you can do,” he replied.
“So I’m not the worst person in the world?”
Just then, Scarlett ran up to us. “Did you hear? Lacey just walked in on Chris and the maid of honour having sex!”
The drama that followed was even better than an objection during the ceremony. The WASPs had finally been given an opportunity for critique and they seized it; the way they joined Jewish guests in swearing that Chris deserved castration created a touching moment of interfaith harmony. When I got home, I told my father all about it.
“I always said that guy was no good,” my father said. “I warned Lacey not to move too fast, but young women are obsessed with the ring. They’re rarely as sensible about relationships as you.”