Several months after making contact with my Father, a message pops up on my screen. He would like me to join him in Newfoundland for the final burial of his Mother’s ashes in one weeks time. “Probably the last time all my siblings will be in one room during this lifetime,” he writes. “Everyone is anxious to meet you,” he insists. He floods my inbox with rationale for the trip, covering every angle. His desire to meet me touches on a deep seated need for acceptance and I realize that he probably is very persuasive man.
The logistics of making an out-of-country last minute trip, while leaving behind 3 small children is overwhelming. I honestly don’t even know where Newfoundland is. North, somewhere. I have no idea how to make this decision and the answers I find from my half-siblings muddy the waters. I reach out to the one Aunt I’ve been in contact with and she says I’m welcome to join them. Still, my self doubt looms.
I start daydreaming about that family again. I want to imagine a room full of people that bear a resemblance to me, all smiling and doling out hugs. But darker thoughts prevail. What if I’m an intrusion? What if they don’t understand why I’ve come? What if they don’t believe my story? My anxiety disorder smells my fear and sinks its claws into my chest.
The next day, after swimming in uncertainty, Joe makes a generous offer to cover my travel expenses. “I never did anything for you growing up,” he rationalizes, “It’s the least I can do.” It is the final deciding factor – the trip will cost me no more than my time.
As we finalize our plans to meet in Toronto and fly to Newfoundland together, Joe reaches out again. “Last time I saw you, you had no shoes on. Maybe I’ll buy you a pair of shoes in Newfoundland.” I am deeply touched by this small gesture of recognition that he would like to right this single wrong.
In the days leading up to the trip, my anxiety blooms and binds itself into my entire being. I snap at my husband and children, frantically trying to prepare for my absence.
I procrastinate on packing until the night before, spilling clothing across the bed, desperately trying to choose 3 simple outfits. My daughter, up past bedtime, is perched on the other side of the bed, glad to have this grown-up time with me. I settle on mostly black and roll each piece neatly into my backpack.
On the morning of my departure, my anxiety has worked its way into my abdomen, digging away at my intestines. My foster-sister, no longer a baby – but a grown young women, drives me to the airport, empathetic to my plight as we laugh about my digestive woes.
My first flight lands me in Toronto, where I capitalize on my layover to have a drink with my 20-something seatmate. I realize that the gravity of what I am about to experience is more than casual chit-chat, so I turn the conversation to her, secretly reminiscing as she talks about clubs and camping. I make a note to myself to talk less and listen more as I head into this monumental life moment.
As she talks, I try to be discreet about compulsively checking the time. When the time arrives, I wish her well and venture out into the terminal, scanning the horizon for a thin, wrinkly man with a crooked smile.
I first spot him about 50 feet off.
I’m tall, with a solid build, big wavy hair, large magenta glasses, black top, leggings, and sneakers. My purple backpack bulges behind me, bobbling as I stride towards him.
He’s small in a wheelchair, pushed by an Asian man in an orange vest. He looks tired, and he’s slumped to the side, his lips in a slight frown.
Joe sees me and his face breaks into a wide smile, wrinkling his cheeks and squinting his eyes. We approach and his smile is so big I can see almost every tooth.
“Excuse me, sir,” I say the the attendant. “This belongs to me.”
I take over his chair and lean down to talk as we find our gate. His voice sounds like gravel scaping over the road and I have to ask him to repeat himself several times.
We find out gate and sit side by side. An elderly woman smiles at the two of us and I am keenly aware of the dichotomy in our appearance. I want to tell her that I’ve just met my biological Father for the first time, but instead we snap a selfie and I send it to my mom.
We have just a few minutes together before boarding is called. I clamber to gather our belongings, balancing two coffees, a cane, my ticket, and a passport. I realize our seats are not together. I refer to him as my traveling companion to the flight attendant, asking her to alert me if he requires assistance.
When we land in Deer Lake, Newfoundland, I get an inkling of how stubborn my Father is as we navigate the small airport and rent a car. Even though I’ve clearly instructed him to let me handle his wheelchair, he periodically uses his scrawny arms to scoot around, each time sending me into a scramble to gather my items and grab his chair. I chastise him, “Jesus Christ, I’m right here, just let me help!” It is the beginning of a series of theatrics that thread its way through our trip – Joe, proving that he is able and capable, me, scurrying to lend a hand.
Once we are settled in the rental car, we set our GPS for Stephenville. As we drive, I realize that this is easily the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen.
Joe chatters on, telling story after story, his scaping voice is hard to hear over the road noise and my own hearing deficit. I strain to capture the essence of each tale, repeating back what seems to be the most important parts.
He is seemingly oblivious to the beautiful surroundings, perhaps he is just used to it the way one becomes accustomed to a beautiful painting. I listen as we dip and weave through mountains studded with evergreens. Brooks and rivers tumble over rocks as we zoom past. I spot a waterfall peeking out between the trees- it stretches the entire height of the mountain. We wind past rocky cliffs and sapphire lakes sparkling in the sun. There’s not a cloud in sight and the sun hangs heavy, beams of light splashing across the peaks, creating deep shadows again the brilliant light.
I seriously consider quitting my life and moving my family Newfoundland.