In 1964, my father went to the World’s Fair in New York. I’m guessing it was one of his last outings as a single man. He was a smoker. He quit many, many years later and is one of the few people I know that has pulled that off. He did it cold turkey and my mother says he did not speak for three days. My father says if he gets diagnosed with a life-threatening disease, he’ll take up smoking again.

While at the World’s Fair, he bought one souvenir: an ashtray.

He eventually married my mother and had children. He put the ashtray away thinking the little kids running around the house would surely break it.

When I was 12 years old, we moved to a better part of town into a bigger house. I didn’t want to move. My sister said she was going to stay in the old house and live in the attic. My parents said that would be okay. So I said I also was going to live in the attic of our old house and they said, “Absolutely not.” That entire summer, I rode my bicycle two hours to our old neighborhood every day.

It started to get strange.

I would just be standing in the street, waiting for the neighbor kids to come out and play. They would all go in for lunch and I would hang out alone again. As it got dark, I would ride my bicycle back to our new neighborhood.

One day my father announced to the family that the children were all old enough now and he was going to put out his ashtray from the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. The next day, I got up off the couch to go to the kitchen and hit my hip on the table with the ashtray. The ashtray jumped off the table and smashed into several pieces. My father came into the room. I said, “Do you think we can glue it back together?” He said he didn’t think so, picked up the pieces and tossed them in the trash. That was it.

This is going to sound dramatic and I don’t mean it to, but later in life, when I’ve thought about life and death or the couple of times I thought I was really close to the flame, I’ve thought about that ashtray. It’s like some kind of ghost. My father has long since stopped smoking and if I ever said anything about it, he and my mother would both say, “We have too much crap anyway. You’re gonna need a giant dumpster when we die.”

But that ashtray is haunting me. When I’m in surgery in a doctor’s office. When someone crashes their car into mine. And sometimes at night.

Yes, I was just a kid. Yes, my father doesn’t care and yes, it’s just a thing. But today I bought him a replacement ashtray from the 1964 World’s Fair on eBay.

Karmic debt paid.