An Excerpt from Love Junkie:

The first time I got high, I was at my father’s house in Kenya. It was my first visit alone to the place he called home. I was 16, and I’d seen him all of ten times since my mother walked out on him when I was three, leaving London for New York and another man. He was 67.

In my bedroom growing up, I’d kept a single picture of my father and I on my nightstand, a large color photo in a calico frame, taken when I was four on my first visit to London after the divorce. He’s holding me high on his hip, and my hands are small, circled around his neck like a lover’s. My blonde hair is long, shaggy. His head is bald. Our eyes are the same, piercing blue. Heads side by side, we’re both looking out of the frame at the same spot, smiling. He’d written on the corner of the picture in a black felt tip: To my darling Anna, All my love, Daddy xo, 1971.

On one of our few visits in England—I must have been nine or 10—he took me on a road trip to the country in a borrowed midnight-blue Mercedes, which broke down on the way. “We’ll just have to make do,” he said, digging out a brown magnetic travel backgammon set from the trunk. We sat on the roadside, and he taught me how to play while we waited for a tow. He let me win a few. “You’re a natural,” he said. We shared a tube of sugary fruit pastilles and watched smoke curl toward the sky from an unseen village. Out there, stranded in the middle of nowhere, the taste of sugar and citrus on my tongue, playing a game on the gravel shoulder where we weren’t supposed to be, the last rays of the setting sun lighting up our board—out there felt like home. A feeling so powerfully comforting I would spend decades trying to recapture it. 

 

We exchanged letters over the years and I learned to type so mine would be just like his.  They arrived in light blue envelopes, PAR AVION inked across the front, a row of wildlife stamps assembled across the top edge. Messages from a far-off place I longed to understand.

When a letter came, I would take it to my room, close the door and read it slowly, following the smudged courier typeface across the page, trying to find something that might resemble the feeling I had for the picture in the calico frame, the memory of backgammon on the side of the road. But the letters were rarely about us. They were about his lunch with so-and-so, a party at the Muthaiga club, his improving golf handicap, his last trip to the coast with the such-and-such-es. Do I remember them? You met them once in London. I didn’t remember, yet the people he wrote about were described with such familiarity that I felt I should, and the fact that I didn’t made my father and his elusive world seem all the more remote. All the more desirable.

 

Then the letter came that would change everything. He wanted me to come visit him in Kenya, just the two of us. My mother had agreed to it: an entire month, to be spent in tents on safari in the Masai Mara, at the Mombassa coast learning to scuba dive, on tour cruising from Treetops to the Samburu desert.  The letter I’d waited a short lifetime to receive.

 © 2020 Anna Marrian

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