"An apple a day keeps the doctor away!"
My father handed me a piece that he had just peeled. I was young. He was scared I could swallow the peel wrong. Eagerly, my little fingers were reaching for it.
I was so delighted by his undivided care and attention that I drew out the moment pretending that those chubby short fingers of mine had not yet mastered the art of holding onto things.
He laughed as I struggled.
During the years, he would continue to slice an apple for me every single day. He was so careful, too. I never saw him cut himself. First, he told me how to do it. I watched.
"You hold it like this," he motioned, "and you make your way around." He used the peeler like an extension of his hand. I was mesmerized how the peel winded itself around down onto the plate.
I whined in my seat. When was it my turn? He said the time would come. Now, I had to watch. It was safe and I trusted him. He was the one who knew how it was done.
He was the only one I had ever seen slicing an apple. And he did so only for me.
Then, I was allowed to peel. He made sure to guide me with every stroke. He sat next to me and his hands cupped mine. I was so nervous that my little hands were shaking.
Now, they were at least big enough to grab a small apple fully. I scrunched my face at the apple. The pressure of my peeler was barely enough to scrape the red, waxy skin.
He watched me every step of the way and encouraged me before I gave up and asked him to do it.
"We'll try again tomorrow. Don't worry! It takes practice."
By the time I got into school, I was peeling the apples every morning while my father would slice them. I practiced with the knife on weekends when we had time.
Maybe I would have learned quicker if he would have just let me do it every day, but after all, I think he felt joy in doing it. Doing it for me.
When I managed to peel and slice my first apple all by myself, he congratulated me. He congratulated me in the way you congratulate a co-worker on a promotion that you wanted yourself.
I hugged him enthusiastically. When he picked me up from school, I told him how I sliced apples for everyone and how everyone wanted me to slice their apples the next days.
"This is amazing," he said without taking his eyes off the road or hands off the wheel.
One morning, when he reached for the peeler, I stopped him.
"Don't peel it! All the nutrients are in the peel!"
"Where did you get that from?", he asked.
I shrugged as if to tell him it didn't matter.
"I don't know. School."
He proceeded to slice it and put it in my lunch box. Now, with the peel on. Sometimes, he forgot about it.
I wouldn't check on him or come down late to leave for the day without peeking into my box, and then, sometimes, it was peeled.
On the days I caught him in the action, he wouldn't say anything but dully cutting his ritual short by loudly letting the knife cut through the round fruit.
The sound of the knife hitting the board echoed through the kitchen. It had startled me in the beginning as he was always so careful cutting apples, but I got used to it.
It was how others cut their apples. There were other things to do. One couldn't simply take all the time in the world to cut apples.
It was the first week of high school when I was late. I ran down the stairs and he told me to calm down. I grabbed my backpack and hurried for the bus.
"Hey! What about lunch?" He held up my lunch box that I had forgotten.
"It's fine. I'll just grab something in school."
I didn't even wait for his answer. The next day, we would fight. He accused me of never coming home in time for dinner. I argued that there was no specific time on dinner. Dinner was our valve.
Tension had built between us.
"If you were home in time, you would get up in time for school! I won't allow you staying out until god knows when!"
I got up in time the next weeks. Breakfast was quiet. I ate, he sliced. The peeler lay forgotten in the kitchen drawer. When he was finished with his, he grabbed mine.
I took it from him before his knife could carve into the red.
"It's okay like this. I'm not a child anymore."
As always, he didn't say anything. He nodded and put down his knife. I put the apple into my backpack. There we sat. Like we always did.
Now, each for themselves and I hoped he couldn't see the fear in my eyes, sense the churning in my stomach.
The apple was my responsibility and it weighed down my backpack by ten pounds that day. The weight became easier the taller I grew.
The longer I carried the apple by myself, the more stronger I became, the less my father had to do for me, the less apples he bought.
I stopped eating apples not long after. I told myself I just didn't like them anymore. They were undeniably connected to a childhood I had outgrown. A childhood I wanted to outgrow.
The truth was:
They just didn't taste the same.
Not for me. Not for him.