by Toni Fagerhaugh

There he is.
I’ve seen him before,
standing on the corner
under the street light
looking at our house.
“Who is he?”
I ask my mother.
She answers, “He’s a bad man.
Stay away from him.”
I am afraid.

My father has gone.
It has been months.
We do meet him
in strange, dark places.
But I haven’t been told why
and I am afraid.

I walk to school. I am 11.
My father’s picture
is on the front page
of the newspaper.
He is wanted by the FBI.
I’m afraid to go to school.
No one says anything.

My best friend is no
longer my friend.
Her family was visited by the FBI.
They read about me in her diary.
She doesn’t look at me.
Maybe it is better this way.

We move and I am now in junior high.
I am now an
accomplished liar.
Friends ask,
“Where is your father?”
“Isn’t he ever home?”
I say, “Of course, he comes home, but
he’s a traveling salesman
and is on the road a lot.”

Yes, they had traveling salesman back then.
And, yes, in my mind my
father had become one.
The only one I’m quite sure
with three different identities
and three, count ‘em,
different social security cards.

About four years later, my
father came home.
That was great, but
things were not the same.
I was okay and happy he was home.
But my mother was different.
They slept in separate bedrooms.

Then there came a time when my
father ceased to be an activist,
labor unionist, socialist…all these things
that I was now familiar with.
I think he quit for my mother.
She was not a strong person.

I married and had a family.
My husband eventually taught me
that time would prove my father
to be a hero and not a criminal.
I know this to be true,
but I don’t shout it out to the world.

My husband has now stepped
into the shoes of my father.
He wants to fix so much of what
is wrong today.
He tells me,
“This can’t happen
without protest and action.”

I agree that what he is doing is right.
But do I join him?
This fear that I have carried with
me for so many years
is still there, buried deep.
And it keeps me from joining.
And I choose not to change it.

Is that horrible? Is that wrong?
Some feel I should rid myself
of this fear. That if I do, I could
join the cause, fight the fight,
make the world a better place.

Perhaps that is true.
But for now I don’t want to
change who I am.
I don’t want to be my father.