Were you ever worried about becoming your dad when you were growing up, because I’m worried about becoming you and mom.
I’m serious, I don’t mean it as a dig, it’s just a weird topic to discuss, which means it should probably be discussed the most. And I’m pretty terrified to discuss it. Which is just another reason why it should be brought to light.
You don’t feel like my dad. You kind of feel like a housemate that begrudgingly has to help with things sometimes and also takes me to obscure concerts every once in a while – which is nice. I guess I like it. I didn’t have the heart to tell you that I only liked the Ingrid Michelson songs that we sang in chorus and danced and screamed my ass off so I wouldn’t seem ungrateful, because I know concert tickets aren’t cheap. And the only Arlo Guthrie song I knew before that concert was “Comin Into Los Angeles,” and I snuck out during intermission and smoked a couple roaches I’d been saving on a street corner, because it was the only thing that made the trip exciting.
The majority of conversations we have, I cry afterward. Mainly, we talk when Mom makes me talk to you – to check something she doesn’t want to say yes to, so she hopes and prays you’ll say no even though I’m fairly certain (from the genetic source that my apathetic depressive swings stem from) that you don’t give a fuck, or if I need help with something on the car. The way you talk to me makes me feel stupid, and it’s juvenile and mean and I literally bat away tears halfway through having to talk to you, because I know you’re the reason I believe I’m stupid at heart. I was the goddamned valedictorian of the whole campus, but I know I’m interminably dumb because I don’t know how to put air in my tires. Even more confusing and anguishing are the times when you’re nice to me. You offered to make me a grilled cheese sandwich a couple weeks ago, you were making one for yourself and thoughtfully offered one to everyone else that was home. You were in a pretty good mood that day. I said no thank you and went back to my room and cried with complete confusion as to why.
I’ve sort of convinced myself that you aren’t my father. My chef takes a greater interest in my life and knows more about my life than you do. You didn’t know I was a chef until a month ago. So I’d concluded that you aren’t my father. All of my memories growing up are of mom, and you’re kind of just a blurry part of the background.
I remember you yelling at me and freaking out when I spilled a soda in grandma’s apartment, she was fine with it and told you to calm down, while I cried on the couch. I knew I fucked up bad, and have been afraid of failure ever since. I’m afraid to drive to Philly, because I think I’ll fuck up, drive on the wrong side of the highway, get terribly lost, cause accidents, get a flat, never get your love.
I remember a similar situation in which Megan and I spilled milk. I remember walking in on Megan after we all rode home from the carnival, crying into her pillow because you called her stupid. I remember you teaching us how to play croquet in the backyard in the summertime, and you swung too far back and hit yourself in the eye and the day was over. I remember the ridiculous way you used to hide your cursing, and I could never understand why you couldn’t just get over it. I remember when it started feeling weird to kiss you on the lips; I was in the kitchen in June, standing behind the dishwasher and you walked inside and I huffed out my gut so that I would look ugly to you. I felt pretty uncomfortable in our embraces after that, and didn’t really know why. I didn’t trust you, didn’t trust me. I remember staying outside raking leaves and hauling firewood two consecutive New Years Eve’s, respectively, because I wanted to stand out from my sisters and show that I was a good helper and that I didn’t do half ass jobs and that I would stay outside as long as you were outside.
I remember when I stopped giving a fuck what you thought. When you asked how school was and I told you I was dropping out, not breaking eye contact with my coffee mug as I pulled it out of the microwave. “What,” you said with confusion that was trying to be upset, but who the fuck are you to start giving a shit twenty years into my life. “I dropped out of school two weeks ago,” I walked past you through the kitchen and was already in the hallway when I heard you say “okay,” with abandon. I remember feeling pissed the fuck off whenever you tried to be my father before that moment, but I didn’t yet have the power to not give a fuck. Whenever you said no to something I wanted to do – the times mom’s prayers came true – it felt like betrayal. “Who are you to have anything to say with what I do with my life,” I screamed into a pile of laundry on my bed when you vetoed the proposition that I spend the night at Amanda’s beach house, without parental supervision.
I remember when you and mom were separated. I used to cry on the weekends we had to stay with you. Your side of the house was disgusting and smelled and was cluttered with your moldy neurosis and I hated it. I remember waking up early to go to the flea market with you. I never walked as fast as you and Megan, and it was usually cold and everything was old and dirty. All my friends had new coloring books and plastic bracelets. I think that was when I started to feel like trash, watching you root through the trash all weekend and bargain and talk with the ugly fat people selling garbage out of the backs of their trucks. All our dress up clothes smelled stale. Whenever I went over to a friend’s house it was always clean and there was a place – a drawer, a cabinet – for everything, so whenever we took something out of its place we had to put it exactly back, and their homes had scented candles burning and it was nice and I usually liked it better than our house, but usually I missed Mom. And soon, I never wanted to ask people over to our house, because I slowly became aware that ours wasn’t as good as theirs, but when it came to spending the night, I needed my mom.
I remember sleeping in your bed when mom was in Florida for Greg’s funeral. I tried sleeping alone in her bed and couldn’t do it and had to walk like a scared sheep back to your room, nose dripping with snot and tears. I ended up getting sick the week she was away, and you gave me NyQuil and brought me cranberry juice in the middle of the night when I was coughing. I remember looking at the half finished cranberry juice, right where I left it on the side table a week after mom got back, we’d set up a banner for her on the garage. The cranberry juice was covered in mold.
I came to understand that your room was where we hid the embarrassing things. When I became too old for dolls, that was where I still played with them, immediately embarrassed if Sarah walked in unexpectedly to see me holding them about the waist and making them kiss, I think I was a preteen when I finally stopped playing with them. It wasn’t a connection to the dolls that made me keep them, it was an escape, just like weed is for me now. I like to escape into the fantasy world of their love affairs and their shaming and battles and drama. I was always trying to leave the house I hated so much to spend time with my friends, but they could never spend time with me – were too busy with their own lives, but I made the round of calls to them every weekend, desperately lonely.
I remember when you put up the rope swing for us, and Megan climbed all the way to the top. That mud hill and slide and rope swing were the best parts of my childhood, and now that I think about it, I don’t remember you putting it up. It was just sort of there one day. I remember you mowing the front field.
I remember that Halloween when the Fransisco’s came over and we were playing manhunt in the backyard, I was giddily hiding behind the swings. Then out of nowhere “ZHOOOOOM” a bright green streak illuminated across the field, in the garden. Darth Vader emerged, growling “Cindy Loo Who.” Danielle. We ran around for an eternity, you chasing us, I don’t remember when I realized it was just you, but it was the happiest night. I remember when you and mom had an anniversary, I had just come home from a sleepover birthday party at Felisha’s house or Becca’s, and you made lobster and shrimp for dinner, because it was a special night and we were all allowed to have some. The Fransisco’s came over again and we played hide and seek in the basement, I guess while you and mom had a nice night. I remember that was when I first wanted to be a writer – I didn’t want it plainly like that, but it was when I first had the urge to record my thoughts and memories, even though I didn’t know half of the words I was writing. I can’t even imagine what my attempt at spelling anniversary was, but I’m certain it didn’t go well. It was also, appropriately, the first time I abandoned my writing to keep having fun, so that there would always be more to write about. More memories to cherish and hold close when the ever-forming bad ones gurgled up.
There aren’t many good memories of you from my childhood. That’s not to say you didn’t do a multitude of kind things for me, and that you didn’t feed me, burp me and wipe my ass when I couldn’t walk, but I have so many bad feelings and uncomfortable situations associated with you. I think I must have rejected you from the beginning. Mom was so nice, that I just never wanted her to leave, and you were the villain that held the reigns when she went away. I think I remember being three when she went to yoga and I screamed and wailed and threw a fit, because she was the only one I wanted, I squeezed my little fists around her sweatshirt, the memory is so fresh that I’m sobbing a bit now, gone as soon as it came. You always put me to bed in her bed where I lay in wait for her, you never read stories right. She did all the voices and sounded like a mom, and your voice was male and tired and feigned and I felt like you were waiting for it to be over. My favorite memories from those nights, the sound of gravel and her headlights tracing the wall as the old van, the one that got crushed, floated up the driveway.
I remember the day that van got crushed. We were in the back paddock, you were cutting trees and I was feeling the beauty of the world in the tall grass and butterflies. Sarah came out scared and said mom was on the phone and needed you and she said the word crash but I didn’t know what it meant, but I knew that you never ran anywhere, but this time you dashed inside. I followed. Later, we set up pillows on the old couch, so that mom could get comfortable, like when we were sick. I though a car crash must be some kind of illness, and she said she had a guardian angel after that and we got a new van.
I remember how I hated when it was you that would stay home with me when I was sick. Half the time I wasn’t sick, but I recognize it now as I sometimes do as an early sign of my depression. I never wanted to be at home with you, just with mom, because she was so nice and pitied me and loved me and kissed my forehead. I think you sat in the other room while I watched TV on the couch. I felt like a chore that you’d walk in to check on. I remember telling you I was better halfway through the day, because I’d rather be at school than at home in the dark cold house. Mom always turned on the lights.
I spent most of my time with mom, because I could never give up sleeping in her bed. It was my first addiction. I remember the agony of trying to sleep in my bed, I thought I’d never be able to do it without tears, and now it’s hard to have it the other way. Sometimes at night when I couldn’t sleep, we’d stay up late telling stories and talking and she’d tell me all kinds of things. She was my best friend, and she told me one night that you cursed so much because you were angry. And when I asked her why, she said “daddy’s angry at the world,” and we changed the subject.
I remember one day, Megan and I woke up on a Saturday morning to watch cartoons, but Sarah was past that stage, so we came out to her just making her way to the couch with a cup of coffee. I dove for the good spot on the couch, resilient to win the TV battle at all costs. I buried my face in the couch pillows while Sarah was still realizing that lunging would spill her coffee. “That’s my blanket. Give me back my blanket.” I claimed territory by wrapping myself in one of the available blankets that happened to be hers, but that she wasn’t quite using at the moment. I got upset at the injustice and buried my face further into the pillows, stubborn. You walked in as she went to rip the innocent blanket from my warrior grasp. “Hey,” you said, walking over to me and smoothing the blanket back over my shoulder, “let the baby sleep,” you made Sarah go back to her own blanket on the couch that didn’t have a good view of the TV, and I smiled into my success and my oblivious partner in justice.
I always liked it when you talked soft to me and tucked me in and called me the baby or the little lamb. When I got older and wary of you, you stopped doing that, which was fine with me – really – but you started doing that with the cats. I remember when Babe was sick, and eventually died, I was jealous of her. This was only two years ago, but I understand those feelings now. I remember feeling bitter, at how you loved that cat and showed it a whole range of affection that I never remembered. I’ve seen you cry three times. Once when your mother died, twice when Babe and Mittens died.
One of the happiest memories I pin to my name, that still glitters with the best in my mind is that four days we spent in Ithaca when Grandma died. You and I got back from a book fair at the school, I wasn’t allowed to buy the book that I wanted because it cost twenty dollars, and fifteen was my limit. I got a cheaper book and was okay, though I still remember the book. It had a shiny covering and was about greek mythology. There was a pretty, long-haired Goddess with a red apple on the cover, I was twelve and already a good year into thinking I was ugly. I don’t ever remember you telling me I was beautiful, and I don’t think it’s just because my memory isn’t perfect.
We got home and there was a phone call from Aunt Chris, and while you spoke to her on the phone, Mom came back and explained to me that grandma might not be alive for very long. When I came home from school the next day, I was ashamed, I used grandma’s sickness as an excuse for not having as much done on the research paper I was supposed to. It’s not that I thought she would survive, it just seemed like an easy way out and I dug my hole of shame a little deeper. We drove up to New York that night, Sarah and Megan fell asleep in the back seat, but I stayed awake the whole time and watched the street lights race across your profile. I always liked the closeness of family car trips. I was the only one up the next morning when you got up, in Grandma Conney’s house – the one that isn’t our grandma, but our cousins grandma. You asked if I wanted to go to Gimme, to get coffee for everyone and hot chocolate for me. It was that walk we took where your obscure, inappropriate humor came out, and I enjoyed it for the first time I can remember. We walked by the planet statues in the park, under the rainy green morning sky that’s still my preferred weather over sunshine. You made jokes about Uranus, you adolescent, and how it’s full of gas, and I couldn’t stop laughing. Every once in a while you’ll say something stupid that I can’t stop laughing at and you’ll catch me and mock me and I’ll feel loved in a weird way.
You cried when you knelt to lift grandma’s body on your shoulder. I remember laying in bed in high school, unable to fall asleep, wishing I would die, so that you’d cry for me.