Memory Seven: Palm Springs – Finding Dad

Anna and I loved Palm Springs; we loved our school, friends and the distinct feeling of being normal, or at least what I imagined normal to feel like. After my first photo shoot with Rick, I was more certain than ever that I wanted to be a model.

Mom worked most of the time and in general was rarely home. When she did come home it was only to shower, change clothes and leave again. I never knew where she went or when she would come back. I told her she needed to start telling me where she was going in case she disappeared, so, I would know where to start looking.

She never told me where she went, but showed me where the food stamps were in case she was gone a long time, so I could buy food for Anna and me.

I kept the apartment clean and took care of everything, and wasn’t scared because we had nice neighbors and I felt safe where we lived.

Anna had more friends and was much more social. I had a tendency to stay home even though I did love being at Kelly and Jennifer’s apartment. They were our Greek neighbors who fed and loved on me whenever I did come over.

One day while home by myself feeling the emptiness and isolation that seemed to be a constant companion in varying degrees, I decided to look through mom’s box of family photos for some comfort. It was the box that we risked our necks to retrieve while fleeing Chris’s house in the middle of the night.
It held pictures of my grandparents, mom as a child, as well as all of our baby pictures.

I’d look through the box from time to time, because it gave me a chance to see my two brothers who I missed very much and pictures of us with our father. I came across my favorite picture of him holding me by my legs in a blue dress and white baby bonnet, smiling at the camera. I wanted to insert myself into the picture and start all over again with that moment as the starting point.

Continuing to look at the picture, I heard a soft voice say, “Dad” and felt a warm felling come over me. I stayed still and quiet and heard the voice again say, “Dad”.

Anna came home and found me sitting on the floor, with all the pictures out, holding the one of dad and me. She said, “What are you doing? What’s wrong with you?” With certainty, I answered , “I have to find dad. I was sitting here looking at the pictures and I heard a voice say to me “Dad” —I’m suppose to find him.” Anna looked at me for a few seconds and slowly asked, “What voice??” I said, “I don’t know, it was just a voice. It was soft, but clear as a bell. I heard it twice and I feel that I’m suppose to find dad”

Anna said, “How are you going to do that? We haven’t seen him in ten years and even if you could find him, mom is going to be so mad, there’s no telling what she will do to you.”

I snapped back and said, “ I don’t care, I’m suppose to find him and that’s what I’m going to do.” Anna said “Ok, don’t get all upset about it, I’ll help you.”

I asked Anna if she thought dad still lived in Sacramento and she said she thought so, but wasn’t positive. I went to my mom’s dresser and pulled out her phone book and looked up Carlton Barkley. He was married to my Aunt Marilyn, mom’s deceased sister.

I stood holding the phone book and turned to Anna and said ”So, I‘ll just call him and ask him if he knows where Dad is, right?” Anna looked at me and said, “I don’t know, you’re the one who heard the voice.”

I picked up the phone and dialed the number, a woman answered and I quickly hung up. I saved the number by writing it in pencil on the underside of a table in our room.

Later that night I rang Carlton again, and this time he answered.
I said, “Hi, I don’t know if you remember me, but I’m Elena, Elaine’s daughter.” With a slight drawl, Carlton said, “Well, hell, of course I remember you sweetheart! How ya doin’?” Hearing the pleasant surprise in his voice, combined with the fact that he clearly remembered me, made me want to run to him through the phone line. He continued by asking how my mom and the rest of the kids were. I simply replied, “Fine. Everyone’s fine.”

I asked Carlton if he knew my dad still, if he kept in touch and how I could get a hold of him. He said he hadn’t seen him in ages, but he would ask around and see what he could find out. I didn’t give him my number, but told him I would call him back in a week.

I called Carlton back a week later almost to the hour. He picked up on the first ring, which caught me off guard. Stuttering, trying to find words, I said, “Uh, hi, it’s me, Elena.”
Carlton said, “I know who it is! Guess what?” My mouth didn’t have a drop of saliva in it and the blood drained from my head and heart. Barely answering, I replied “What?”

In a voice filled with so much compassion, Carlton said, “I found your dad for you.”

Silence, silence and more silence…

Carlton said, “Elena, are you there?” Heart pounding, I replied, “Yes.”

He continued telling me that he had tracked my dad down through the social security office in Sacramento, they had already spoken on the phone and that my dad wanted to see us right away. My head was spinning!

I said to Carlton, “I can’t believe you found him and that you went to so much trouble to help me. I don’t have words to thank you for what you have done.” He said, “You know what, Elena, your dad has been looking for you guys for a long time.” I was shocked, I said, “Are you kidding me?” Carlton continued by saying, “Your dad said he’s been trying to track you and Anna down for years and couldn’t find you girls or your mom.”

I believed what Carlton was saying and it made complete sense. I’m sure our incessant moves coupled with the fact that we weren’t enrolled in school half the time made tracking us down impossible.

I wanted to see my dad as soon as possible. I explained to Carlton that we lived in Palm Springs and there wasn’t any way for me to get to Sacramento. Carlton said, “Take your dad’s phone number, call him, he’s waiting for you. Elena, you don’t need to worry, your dad will take care of everything.” I wanted to cry, but didn’t let myself. He ended by saying “Now you take care darlin’ and remember everything’s gonna be alright.”

After hanging up with Carlton, I waited a minute to collect myself and then dialed. I realized after the phone started ringing that I didn’t know if I should call him Tony or Dad?

Like Carlton, he picked up on the first ring and with a very thick Greek accent sweetly answered, “Hello, Elena?”
“Yes, it’s me. Hi, Dad……”