National Hippo Day
“Hey Dad, FYI,” my text started, “Did you know today is National Hippo Day?”
I don’t know what possessed me to send that message to him. There was nothing remotely rational about it. And why would I have brought this alleged national event to my father’s attention—a man who I’ve only spoken to, in person, on maybe a handful of occasions in the last dozen years? Most times I don’t even want to acknowledge that he’s my father. I certainly don’t bask in the glow that I’m his daughter.
Hippos are seen as huggable, docile, and sweet. The Disney movie Fantasia even had them dancing in tutus. I couldn’t have been more than eight years old when my father took me to see the movie, and I laughed until I cried at that scene.
About three years later I was fitted for braces. They didn’t warn me that a few teeth would have to be pulled. The dentist put me out for the extraction; I was still groggy when my father took me home. He carried me to my room, laid me on my bed, placed my new favorite stuffed animal—a long-eared rabbit I named Flops—in my arms, and covered me.
As I was about to drift off, my father came back into my room. He was still in his dress shirt, tie, and suit pants, but had a towel wrapped around his waist in the shape of a tutu. Then he danced around like one of those hippo ballerinas as he serenaded me with the music from the movie. Once again, I laughed hysterically. He curtsied when he finished his performance, kissed me on the forehead and said, “Get some rest, sweetheart. I’ll be downstairs if you need me.” I don’t remember much after that, except I believe I had a smile on my face as I fell asleep.
Hippos, in reality, are not the huggable creatures portrayed in so many stories or pictures. Just ask a crocodile—assuming you could—who’s invaded the hippo’s space. It’s not pretty.
I had turned fourteen. My parents, after thirty-one years of marriage, separated. More accurately, my father left us—he left me.
His departure didn’t come as a surprise to my older sister, brother, and me. For many years we witnessed a train wreck in the making, but chose to ignore the reality. In retrospect, I can’t lay it all at my father’s feet; my mother wasn’t blameless. Nonetheless, the separation, and the ensuing divorce proceedings, shredded our lives.
My brother escaped to college. He was the fortunate one. The house where we had grown up, the only home my sister and I had ever known, had to be sold when my father stopped paying the mortgage. He gave some bullshit reason that his divorce attorney advised him to do so because he could no longer afford it. Left with no alternative, the three of us moved in with my maternal grandmother who lived in a suburb of the city. My mother had to lie about where we were living so my sister and I could stay in our former school district.
We weren’t the first children of divorced parents, and I know it could have been worse. My sister and I still had a roof over our heads, food on the table, and saw our friends daily at school, but it was never the same. We might as well have lived on the dark side of the moon.
My father’s new residence was only a few miles from us, but I had no desire to see him. As far as I was concerned, he had committed an act of treason against us, and I wasn’t about to play the part of a crocodile. Nor would I forgive him for not supporting us, although I had learned the truth years later—and not from my mother—that my father was giving financial support to us all along. Forgiveness has never come easy for me.
So why the text about National Hippo Day? I don’t recall how or when it actually began, but my father and I started to communicate, sporadically, mostly through text messages. He usually initiated them, other than when I would send one to him for his birthday or Father’s Day…if I had the inclination, or remembered to do so. I have yet to return one of his voicemails. He sends me cards and gifts on my birthday and other holidays, but I have never sent him one for any reason.
Perhaps it’s because of the pictures I’ve kept from when we were together, and randomly survey, like the one where I poked my head out of a pile of leaves he had just raked, and he looked down at me and acted surprised. Or perhaps it’s the picture that I still carry of me as a young girl, sitting on his lap, bangs down to my eyebrows, with an ear-to-ear grin, hugging him with my arms around his neck, taken shortly after we had seen Fantasia.
Most likely it’s the indelible vision I have of a young man in business attire, dancing around like a hippo ballerina in a makeshift tutu, doing his best to make his little girl laugh.
I believe my message made my father smile. He sent back a text and thanked me, and added he was embarrassed that he wasn’t aware of such an important event. The message was capped off with a smiley face.
Forgiveness might just be a text away.
L.D. served seven years in the Navy, which included a combat tour in Vietnam on river boats, and five years aboard nuclear-powered, Fast Attack submarines. At 67, his life is quieter now. He lives in a small city in southeastern Pennsylvania, and is a member of The Bold Writers group.
His short stories have been published in, among others: Indiana Voice Journal, Slippery Elm, Cobalt Review (print), Evening Street Review (print) and Philadelphia Stories (print). He has had several public readings at Albright College, Reading, PA.
L.D.’s website is: ldzaneauthor.com.