Sometimes I get sad when I think about the fact that as much as I love my dad, he's only been my dad for a couple of years. It makes me sadder to think of the fact that the love he has for me is the love he means to give to someone else, someone who walked away from her own life. I have a complex opinion of the "real" Tori, because she was gracious enough to let me keep living a life that is rightfully hers when it turned out I wouldn't get mine back. But the way she gave it up, sometimes I wonder if she appreciated what she had.
I put off talking to my family for a while after I got back from Houston. I really didn't want to talk to anybody, but of course I live with Raine, and I work with Alex, but I was quiet about it, and they respected that. They knew things with Buddy were complicated, but I never really could explain why, obviously. There were a lot of issues, even stretching beyond the "I used to be a guy" thing, because of who I was as a guy... partly, he reminded me of the old me, and that was both a good thing and a bad thing. Things I liked about myself, I liked about him. Things I hated about myself, I absolutely couldn't stand about him. But I guess I felt I owed it to myself to try to make it work, because I was just so high on being able to be in a relationship anyway.
But breaking up hurt even though it was mostly my own doing. I didn't want to show it because after all this time, I should know it's better to have loved and lost than never at all. I'd fall asleep clutching my pillow wondering if I'd made a mistake, and feeling guilty and irrational and emotional and embarrassed.
A while later, my dad called to see if I'd help him paint the house. The weather was getting nice and mom had been on his case about the window sills and the garage doors. Even though I didn't quite get why he'd ask me -- I don't think either the old Tori or myself showed signs of competence with that -- I was glad to do it, because I hadn't had an excuse to see them in a while, and wanted to stop avoiding them. Mostly, it just felt like a fun normal afternoon.
So I found an old t-shirt and some shorts and we spent an afternoon painting the place up. He goaded me into going up the ladder he'd rented to do the top floor windows. We ordered a pizza for lunch, and then he came out with it.
"So... I'm gonna guess you and Buddy are off."
I sighed heavily. "What was your first clue?"
"Well, he moved off to Texas, didn't he? Dallas?"
"Right. And weren't you thinking of joining him?"
"I was. I was looking for work down there. In case it worked out."
"And it didn't?"
I gave a moment's thought and answered "No. It did not."
He took a long time responding to that. He took a bite of his pizza and chewed, and then another. Maybe he was waiting for me to elaborate, but I didn't know what else to say.
He stopped chewing and looked at me and said "I didn't like him."
I smiled uncontrollably, but had to twist my face into a sour expression. "That's sweet of you to say, Dad, but I know it's not true." Although he wouldn't have, if he'd known how badly Buddy handled the break-up.
"No, it's not true. He was smart, nice enough, very polite. Your mother and I liked that you were with him."
I winced. "I've dated a lot of assholes." I haven't, but part of being someone else, unfortunately, is having the balls to own up to their mistakes.
He laughed, "Yeah. Sure. Some assholes here and there. But I never protested, did I? I let you find your way. And now look at you. I liked him fine, but I liked that you were dating him. He never got a ticket for street racing, I bet."
Dad brings this up from time to time and I have no idea what the story is behind it.
"He was smart and he had a good job and he didn't seem like he would've been popular in high school. Really different choice for you, if you don't mind me saying so."
"But that doesn't mean I'm upset you broke up. If there was a problem that couldn't be fixed, I'm glad you did what you felt was right. You're a very strong girl, Tori. You're a very different person than I thought you'd turn out to be, and I'm always surprised by what an amazing person you became."
I wanted to cry, I was getting so choked up, I had to throw my paint-covered arms around him. He had no idea how much those words could possibly mean to me, or what he was truly saying. I actually felt guilty because I'm not the girl he raised, but knowing he approves of who I am just means the world to me. You don't get to choose your family, and I'm so glad that when I landed in this body, I got one I love so much.
I was struggling to open a can of paint and I said jokingly (but not without meaning) "I bet at times like these you wish I was a son, right dad?"
He just grinned at me, popped the lid open and said "Hey, I could have called your brother up... what would I need another son for? I've got the best daughters ever."
He paused and added, "And the best son."
I was on such a high about that weekend, but it didn't last. A while later, I got an e-mail from "J.H. Clifford." Willy. My heart sunk and I almost didn't want to hear what he had to say. I clicked the message.
He had just gotten word that my dad -- My real dad, in Buffalo -- had had a heart attack and was in the hospital. Willy's still in England, but maybe I would like to have a look in on my family, in case he doesn't make it. There wasn't anything else in the letter. No "This is what I've done with your life," no question of returning to the inn. Just this fact.
I was looking up bus tickets to Buffalo that night, and before I knew it, I was back home...