by Robert Mayette
It would be the perfect Thanksgiving, but only if Ryan would come.
When you’re pushing middle age and never had and never will have a son, it means that God is telling you to go find one out in the world. Someone that was looking for a missing father.
Ryan was that. We had met at the jiu jitsu gym where we both trained, and within twenty minutes of talking after class one day he’d told me how his own father had committed suicide, abandoning him as just a sixteen year old kid with a drug problem and some self-extinguishing thoughts of his own.
He didn’t have to say it, but he wanted any older man to care enough to step into that emptied role. I did, gladly. I wasn’t the only one at the gym who came to look at Ryan as something of a nephew, but I liked to think that I was doing the best job of it. I had to. Having two young daughters forever into Disney princesses and hanging onto their mother meant that Ryan would be the closest thing I’d ever get to a son of my own.
If only the dumbass would listen.
Especially about the door.
Two doors, actually. Ryan had graduated from a trade school (a carpentry major) instead of a traditional high school, and somehow he thought that that diploma made him a genius. And I wanted to believe him. I wanted to believe that here in my presence was a DaVinci that no one else in the world had yet to recognize. He would often talk of supports and header beams with an inspired look in his eyes. Thomas Edison was doubted as a young man. So were Einstein and Tesla. This is what I wanted Ryan to be. Someone that just needed someone to recognize him.
It’s also what I wanted to be: the first person to see that genius flourish, the one that could say, “I knew all along!”
And I had these doors in my garage and basement that needed replacing. It was the perfect opportunity.
Until he actually put them in and called me down from my home office to look at them.
I stood before them. “Ah… well…”
They were horrible. Like they belonged in a funhouse.
He smiled. “Good, huh?”
“Well, it’s just that they don’t seem…”
And what followed was every last ounce of reason and coolheadedness that I could muster. I got nowhere. No, they were perfectly plumb, he insisted. What, did I want him to deliberately install them out of plumb in order to have them be whatever way it was that I wanted? Well, he could get three carpenters here in an hour who would agree with him. I just didn’t understand: the whole house was collapsing, and if he installed it the way I wanted then they’d get all screwed up and wouldn’t be able to be opened at all after he brought in the twelve housejacks he’d need to get the whole structure righted again.
I paid him per his hourly rate. I told him I needed some time to think about next steps.
Some weeks passed. I let it drop. So did he.
The doors finally got fixed by a carpenter off of a social media recommendation. (They looked great.)
But now it was Thanksgiving again, coming up. Ryan had come last year. And to Easter. And how I would love having at my table an extended member of my family, this accidental son, that I broke bread with and talked MMA and politics and country music with after the girls disappeared into their world that never seemed to have much room for me.
I texted. Hey, Thanksgiving is next week. You’re invited, of course. Same as last year - come at 1, dinner at 3.
He wrote, Yeah, well…
And then no answer.
I let it sit for three days before writing again. Are you coming or not? I need to plan. I don’t want to talk about the doors. But I want you to come.
The sensible part of me said to forget about it.
But I knew Ryan.
I was his replacement Dad. I made sure there was enough mashed potatoes and the cranberry sauce that he especially liked. It wasn’t like he’d eat that much anyway.
And when his motorcycle pulled into the driveway at 12:45, I had a drink already poured for him.
I knew all along.