I chewed on my thumb, bored as I watched my father passionately type out a letter, his green eyes bright and feverish. I hovered over his shoulder, reading the words he kept pouring over with such enthusiasm.
The document was addressed to the 40th president of our country, Ronald Reagan and stretched on for two pages.
I leaned closer, scanning the sentences with little interest, words flitting past without comprehension. My father was forcing me to read through his letter, but he couldn’t control my attitude as I did so.
I had only read the beginning, a bit describing why a national apology and reparations on this 200th anniversary of the Constitution were crucial, when my father turned to me, breaking my concentration.
His eyes dulled, losing a bit of their frenzied passion, as he took in my sullen face and disinterest. “What do you think, Evie?” He inquired softly, shockingly interested in what I had to say.
I shrugged, half apologetic and half confused. I was barely thirteen, so I had no idea why he was asking my opinion on a matter that concerned the President; I didn’t care, either.
My only concern was returning to my friends in the yard, where we’d been gawking over the neighbor boy, though I secretly preferred his sister. She was beautiful where he was awkward.
My father sighed before smoothing the hair back from my face. “Evie, dear, do you even know why this is so important?”
He was exasperated, I could tell by the way his left eyebrow kept twitching; his patience thinned, worn away by my disinterest. I answered him with a short no, my patience equally as thin, like the threads of my favorite childhood toy.
He huffed a small breath, almost a laugh, as my childish pout strengthened. His attention returned to the letter before us, eyes lost in the past. His words began wistfully before gaining strength.
"This is your heritage, Evie. Your grandparents suffered through this injustice, imprisoned in their own country for the crime of being Asian. Don’t you think their suffering deserves to be acknowledged? Reparations made?”
I knew he was talking about my mother’s parents, who had outlived their daughter to see my thirteenth birthday and who had made this country their home.
“Of course,” I huffed, “But why now? Why not when this happened? You’re the one who says mistakes are best repaired as soon as possible." And why was this so important right now when my weekend was draining away by the second?
My father smiled, a brief, fluttering thing that disappeared too soon. “They are, but sometimes a late apology is better than none at all.”
He turned to a map of the U.S. pasted to the wall and made a grand show of starting a lecture like he was talking to one of his college students instead of his 13-year-old daughter.
“Our country was founded 200 years ago when our Founding Fathers came together to form the nation’s Constitution. They ensured that, even generations later, their citizens would have protected, equal rights. Every American knows this and expects these rights in return."
He met my eyes over his shoulder, both of our faces as sullen as the topic we discussed. “What they did to your grandparents was against those rights, Evie. And only now are they willing to admit that they did something wrong."
He continued, words a flood. "We have to show the younger generations that the Constitution is still alive in this country, as much as it was back then.”
His serious tone and his sharp, focused eyes unnerved me, so I avoided making eye contact, shifting my gaze from my father to the small picture he kept on his desk, hidden behind clutter but always a small sliver visible.
It was my mother, months before alcohol had drained her life away, her face lively, eyes a bright, deep brown.
“It’s too late,” I whispered, talking more to the ghosts of the room than to my father. “Everyone who cared is gone.” Dust in the earth, their souls lost to oblivion, and their suffering nothing but a blight in history.
My father's reprimand was quick and sharp. “Evalin! How could you say such a thing? If your moth-”
He clamped his lips around the rest of the words, cutting himself off, but continued in a much softer voice, one of regret and grief, “It’s never too late to make amends. Don’t forget that, Evie.”
I stared at him, a lump forming in my throat. Tears burned their way up my throat and settled behind my eyes. I wouldn't let him see me cry. Not again.
I forced myself to roll my eyes. “Dad, I don't care about my heritage. I'm American, isn't that all that matters?” I swallowed the tears, unwilling to let them fall.
My father's only response was a deep sigh. He rose from his chair, and I backed into the hallway, hoping to finally retreat to my friends. They'd promised to wait as long as the sun stayed in the sky, as long as they had a good view of the neighbor boy and his quirky smile.
My father moved past me down the hall, already pulling a cigarette and lighter from his coat pocket. “Dad,” I called, eager to make peace, but unsure of how to proceed. I hadn’t wanted to stress him.
He halted mid-stride, turning back to me with a frown, cigarette paused halfway to his mouth. My words faded away. I had nothing to say. There was only this broken thing that lay between us, the blame each of us laid on the other but that neither of us wanted to acknowledge.
“What is it, Evie?” He was trying to be kind, but his left brow was twitching again, and his fingers worried his cigarette. I was afraid he'd pulp the poor thing.
With nothing to say, I returned his frown, but mockingly, a sad attempt to gain a smile from him. The corner of his lips half-heartedly curled, a ghost of past smiles. That little response was enough for me, though.
“Nothing, Dad. I think you should finish your letter. They should hear your voice, too.” In true American fashion, I wanted to add but refrained. Better he worried about himself and the past than about me.
I'd already been a burden no parent should have to bare, and I was only thirteen. He already had to stare at his dead wife’s child every day.
My father's smile turned into a look of puzzlement, that left eyebrow curling toward his hairline. He walked back to me, shoes clacking against the wood floor, and ruffled my hair. “When did you become so wise, Evie?” He wondered wistfully before continuing outside to smoke.
His green eyes held less of a burden than they had moments prior, and my heart settled a small bit. To the empty hall and the ghosts that filled it, I whispered, “When the adults stopped being wise, and I had to do their job." Then I joined my friends outside in the brisk November air.