My memories of my dad are few and far between. I remember tactile sensations, smells, and the ways he made me feel. I remember the way it felt to hug him in his black leather jacket when he’d come inside from the cold. I remember the way he smelled at the end of a day. Not a bad smell, just a dad smell.
Sometimes I catch whiffs of it on Ryan but I never say anything. I just close my eyes and breathe it in.
I remember the way that he was in love with me.
I remember a time in a pickup truck with my dad. My older brother on my right. This was a time before mandatory seatbelts and bucket seats. I was in the middle. The skin on my legs would stick to the vinyl bench seat—straddling the stick shift. I’d lightly hold that knob with my little toddler fingers. Or if I felt like no one would notice, sometimes I’d put my lips up against it just to feel the rumble of the driving inside of my body. I remember the smell of it–motor oil mostly. Salem cigarettes. Lots of dust and dirt. A work truck. It might have been my grandpa’s–I don’t remember.
I don’t know where we were going or why it was just the three of us in the truck at dusk or why we had a glass bottle of grape soda to split between us. We never got those kind of treats. But I remember my dad saying something about how he didn’t want to drink my backwash so I’d need to learn how to drink from a bottle.
I was confused because I’d seen lots of babies drink from bottles. I wrapped my lips around the outside and took a swig just to choke on all the fizzy soda—definitely doing exactly what he didn’t want me to do.
My brother said, “No, your lips go on the inside!” So I tried that. Pursing my lips and trying to get them inside the mouth of the bottle. It definitely constricted the flow more but it wasn’t pleasant and it created a suction that made my lips feel puffy. I knew there was something to this. I remember thinking about the future and how I’d need to learn this skill at some point.
As my dad was driving, I crawled up on the seat and felt the waffle-print vinyl against my knees, making imprints. I steadied myself on his shoulder and I watched his mouth intently as he took an exaggerated sip and tried not to laugh.
He put one lip inside and his lower lip on the outside. Oh, so just like when drinking out of a regular cup.
I took the bottle from him and tried it myself. It was successful on my first try. My brother and my dad both cheered me. Dad said I could have the rest of the bottle to keep practicing. I remember being surprised that my brother relinquished the bottle to me without a fight.
Adam looked out the window.
Dad looked out the windshield.
I sat back on the seat with my feet just barely making it over the edge. I remember my ruffled socks in contrast with the truck’s rough interior.
I remember feeling very much like a big kid that day having just mastered a new skill.
I remember that he was in love with me.