From Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul on Love & Friendship

A Pyramid

We do not remember days; we remember moments.

Cesare Pavese

My mother’s grating demands finally became too much this summer, so I submitted to “really cleaning my room.” I excavated everything I’d stashed and put out of the way for years. I gutted and sorted countless vaults jammed with old erector set models, souvenir Kennedy Space Center pennants and long-forgotten rock classification science projects. Mired in the habitual rearrangement of my junk, I planned to just empty and repack the containers to satisfy my mother and to free some time for leisure. As the dust started to settle, I realized I was completely surrounded by treasures saturated with priceless memories and sentimental value. Each item urged me to save it and put it in a safer place—my museum of precious trinkets atop my bookcase. I bulldozed the garage from the neater display of more worthy pieces and came upon a wrinkled plastic bag containing two three-dimensional puzzle pieces resembling oddly-cut jewels of opaque turquoise plastic. A smile spread across my face as I remembered my first experience with this seemingly insignificant, peculiar-looking relic from my childhood.

When I emerged from the toy-enhanced world of an eight-year-old’s room and into the kitchen, I noticed my father hunching over the table, his full attention on the objects he was growling at in his hand. His focus was evident; he did not even pause from his task to glance up at my entrance into the room. His brow was furrowed in deep thought and glowed with frustration in the yellow light. Hoping to get his attention and offer my help, I boldly climbed into his lap, thrust my curious face into his and asked, “What are you doing?”

He surrendered his concentration and explained the source of his annoyance and the focus of his attention for the past thirty minutes. “I’m trying to build a pyramid from these two little pieces. It’s sort of a three-dimensional puzzle.” Perched on his knee, I picked up the two wedges and stared at them, admiring their peculiar shape and hypnotizing color. My father scooped me up, rose and set me back down all in one fluid motion—a feat accomplished only by dads. “I’m just going to go to the bathroom,” he stated. As the bathroom door down the hall closed, I immediately began building—arranging the pair of pieces, rotating them, leaning them together—until I slid one piece on top of the other laterally and staring at me was a diminutive plastic pyramid. I yelled, “I got it!” and giggled with delight.

An incredulous “What?” erupted from the bathroom as my dad came stumbling out in the process of pulling up his pants. Like a royal monument, a miniature pyramid stood triumphantly on the table, and the expression of surprise, disbelief and envy upon my father’s face was both priceless and unforgettable.

As I sat there Indian-style in my dusty room this past August and toyed with this little souvenir of my childhood, I dreamily examined my relationship with my father and the person he was, sifting through my memories. I remembered all those summer evenings before dinner when I watched the Weather Channel with him, listening to him explain the Gulf Stream, the barometer and those windy condition sailboat symbols that looked like chickens. I recalled the excitement in his dark eyes and in his energetic voice as he studied the cold and warm fronts, making his own personal forecast on the upcoming weekend’s weather while deciding if we would all visit my grandmother on Long Island and the nearby beach. I remembered his approving nod when I understood and his later satisfaction when he lounged in his beach chair under the gleaming sun like a triumphant pharaoh.

My father seemed most at home at the beach. His tanned face would relax while his eyes would scan the sand and water with the experience of someone who had grown up there. He just knew when the water would be safe for swimming and sensed when and where riptides or sandbars would develop. One time, to get past the crashing waves so I could play in a tidal pool, he carried me on his shoulders. He made sure my mother, sister and I always had a thick layer of sunscreen on to protect us from the sunburns he had received as a kid. We’d bury each other in vast tombs of sand, adorning them with shells and gems of sea glass. Our sand castles and the holes we dug were legendary all over Long Island. So were the intense games of paddleball and the unruly battles with rock-stale donut holes.

A jagged half-inch scar just below my dad’s eyebrow served as a lesson to never hide the truth from those you love. As a headstrong teen, he lied to his mother and went surfing, and the sharp tip of his surfboard gashed his face. He hid the evidence of his guile with a Band-Aid, feeling guilty and predicting the consequences of its discovery, besides the stitches he should have received. The mark never went away, but it captured my dad’s experience and the colorful, fascinating life he led—and the many adventures he had along the way.

My dad and I shared so much, especially a zest for life. His desire to share his knowledge with me, to challenge me and to teach me never ceased. Intelligence and wisdom radiated from his expressive face anytime he became excited, which was often. I never saw someone become so ecstatic over a science project that labeled the parts of the human heart. My youthful vigor and intelligence fascinated him, and the awe and pride in my father’s eyes inspired me. We helped each other to really live. His presence, along with my mother’s, was the security and stability of my life—the foundation upon which I built my own pyramid.

As I looked around my room, scanning over the relics from the first seventeen years of my life, I realized I was smiling. Now, I was piecing together my own pyramid, living by my dad’s lessons, adding my own uniqueness, creating a mysterious whole from parts of a puzzle, as my father would have wanted me to as he watches from heaven. In my hand was a priceless symbol of our relationship. Although we are separated like the two pieces, my dad and I will always form a perfect pyramid— together.

Jonathan Evans

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