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  • I went to the beach looking for my father. I took my daughter along so I wouldn't get lonely because I had a feeling I wouldn't find him. My father was the beach. He was Mancini's Brick Oven Pizzeria and Charlie's by the Bay—the Caesar salad, the French onion soup and shrimp salad wrap. My dad was the original occupant of the man chair, where fathers and boyfriends and husbands sit while their women try clothing on the bodies they loathe, the bodies that brought them here in spite of that. My dad was a Nic-o-boli—meat-and-cheese-stuffed dough. He was an overstuffed wallet and outstretched arms and a lifeline and a phone-a-friend and a last-minute raincoat in a deluge. He was real laughter and fake suntans. My dad was the beach. So it was only natural that I expected to find him there, in his place at the Capri on 111th Street.

    I needed to hear his phone ringing on the deck, where he conducted his business while Mom and I judged people for wearing bad suits and picked the bodies we wished we had instead of our own. I needed to criticize his bad driving, sit in the middle of the back seat biting my nails every time he changed lanes. I needed to hear his crooked walk behind us on the Boardwalk and feel his heavy footsteps shaking the hallway outside as we made our way to the door with ice cream. I needed to watch him drip onions on his shirt as he handed my daughter a wad of hot, melted cheese from the top of his soup. I needed my daughter to share his French onion soup one last time.

    But that's not on the menu at Charlie's anymore. And my dad was not at the beach. He was not in the food or the stores or the slam of the waves at sunrise.

    And yet he was. He will always be.
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