My earliest memory of my father is of him working on a car.
I am 4, and we are living in Northern California, in a house with a garage and hard wood floors, small blue flowers on the kitchen wall paper, and one of the walls in the living room made entirely of those big glass bricks that look like huge jewels all stacked up.
I am running through the house, listening to the way my new shoes click on the wood floors, and I am looking for my mother.
I know that because I have that frantic tightness in my chest that I get when I can’t find someone, and when I was little it was always my mother that I couldn’t find.
I fling open the door to the garage, hoping she’ll be out there, and there is my father, bent over the front grill of some car with the hood up, examining it’s insides like a surgeon looking at a patient on his operating table.
Tools spread out all over the floor and one arm lost up to the elbow inside the car’s guts.
He looks back at me, smiles and says “Hi.”
One word. Simple.
The way my father always greets little kids that surprise him.
Calmly and sweetly, as if he was expecting them.
I panic because he’s not my mother and shut the door without saying anything, but I have to stretch to reach the handle again because I’m four and too little for everything.
The smell of motor oil wafts into the house in a puffy cloud when I close the door, and I start crying.