In this corner (er, on this side of the car parked on the Kansas plains), weighing in at three-hundred and twenty pounds (more like three-fifty, let’s be honest), wearing a sweaty tee shirt that sticks to his rotund body, was the out-of-work therapist and neglectful father from Back East, S. Harry “Bleeding Heart” Zade.
And in this corner (the other side of the car), at five-foot-two and weighing one-ten, one-twenty, wearing shorts and Uggs, crying over her cancelled wedding, was the unemployed hometown Kansas kindergarten teacher and neglected daughter, Natalie “Born Again” Zade.
I hadn’t been told she was getting married. I came out fighting.
“Were you going to tell me? Was I going to be invited to the wedding? Was I going to give you away or were you going to have Frank do it?”
“I don’t know,” she bawled. I had pulled my new tennis shirt from the back seat and given it to her. It was on its second good cry.
“What do you mean you don’t know? You weren’t going to invite your own father to your wedding?”
“We were still working on the guest list. We had a lot of people and we knew we’d have to cut some.”
It was like I was cut already, with her first punch. I hit back with the deadliest weapon a parent has: outraged guilt.
“You might’ve cut me from the list?”
Anger slashed out from beneath her tears; eyes as sharp as daggers; teeth as keen as blades.
“It’s not like you were there for anything else.”
It was just like I couldn’t see. Cut again and bleeding into my eyes, I couldn’t see she was my daughter whom I loved. I was blinded by my injury and bludgeoned her with a flurry of reprisals.
“You’re no better than I am. You didn’t even tell me you were getting married. You never even said you met someone.”
“I didn’t think you cared, all right.”
I lost the power of speech, as if I was punched in the gut. She followed it with an uppercut to the head.
“I still don’t know if you care, or if it’s all about you and your ego.”
We had only just started the first round and I was all but beat already. I danced around the ring and kept my opponent at a distance. I was just like when I used to fight with her mother. My fights with Joy, or Joyce, as I called her when we fought, were verbal slugfests. Each blow of hers would knock me down, but I’d get up before the count and hammer her till she fell. I’d withdraw to my corner and watch her on her knees, sweating onto the canvas, breathing hard, shaking the stars from her eyes. She’d get up an we’d go at it again.
There’s no excuse for arguing like that. It’s not as if I gave in to impulse and lost myself. I fight deliberately. It’s not as if cruel words tumbled out of my month before I have a chance to rein them in. I have full opportunity to select my words and polish my prose before speaking. That’s what adds to the punch. She knew she was hearing what I really felt.
Having gathered up my strength, I delivered a haymaker to Natalie. “I see why your man broke up with you. I understand why you’re not getting married.”
“For your information,” she seethed. “I broke up with him.”
“So, now you’re crying over a wedding that you cancelled? Can’t you make up your mind?”
“Look, I love him. I didn’t want to do it, but I had to. We were unequally yoked.”
“Unequally yoked?” I knew what that meant. I was stunned into disbelief.
“I couldn’t marry him because he isn’t a Christian.”
I unexpectedly admired this unknown formerly prospective son-in-law. He could’ve mouthed a few cheap words and had this fine creature for the rest of his life. A wedding with Natalie might be worth the price of a bath, but he stood on principle.
“So, what is he?”
“He’s Catholic,” she said.
A Catholic, like Mother Theresa, like St Francis, like Saint everybody.
“Catholics are Christians!” I exclaimed. “Oh, you people are the most ignorant, closed-minded…”
“No they’re not,” she insisted. “They worship the Virgin Mary and the guy in the pointy hat…”
“Yeah, that guy.”
Exasperated, I turned the car back on and resumed driving through the Kansas plains and didn’t say another word. I couldn’t take it anymore. I just couldn’t take it. I was defeated by ignorance, as it defeats us all.
For miles upon miles we drove through fields of wheat. Weeds warily poisoned and the roadside vigilantly trimmed, there was nothing else but wheat. Each stalk grew up straight and true and yielded uniform heads of grain. Not one wheat plant lolled on the ground like a vine, or branched like a tree, or spread like a bush, or bloomed like flowers, or prickled like brambles. They knew nothing of vines, or trees, or bushes, or flowers, or brambles, so nothing influenced them. All they knew was wheat, and wheat, for all they knew, was all there was.