My mom took me to his job in the city one day.
His boss handed me a maraschino cherry,
and pinched my cheek.
The brown wooden cash register clicked
and rang when my dad pressed buttons.
The sounds conveyed complexity and importance.
I pictured his perfect posture
with his black vest and bow tie
all during the subway ride home.
He would serve drinks
until two in the morning
six nights a week
to customers
who were oblivious to what formed
his stiff smile.

When I’d peek into his closed bedroom door
the television would be blaring,
but as soon as I’d turn it off,
the snoring would stop,
he’d sit straight up,
his eyes would scream
and he’d fall back on his pillow.

On a trip to Israel,
as soon as we joined
the long customs line
he hurried us to open our luggage
before the uniformed inspectors even asked us to
or sent out their dogs.

He once passed by my school yard
just after dismissal
and stood behind the gate
as a screaming crowd of classmates watched
me fight our class bully in the courtyard.
He waited for me at the entrance.
My heart pounded.
I thought he might yell or slap me.
Instead, he spit on his fingers, wiped
mud from my face,
stroked my cheek with the back of his hand,
smiled and said,
“Don’t tell your mother.”

He sat in the kitchen
in his boxer shorts
eating a late Sunday morning breakfast
my mother had prepared.
His bare foot rested flat on the seat.
His knee pointed to the ceiling.
I stared at the concave, reddish scar on his thigh
that looked like the imprint of a jagged rock.

He panted beside me on my bike,
his hand gripping the back of the seat
as my front wheel wobbled.
He smoked two packs a day of Pall Mall unfiltered.
His lungs screamed but he would not let go
until that one day, weeks later
when the wobbling ceased
and I was capable of escape.