A self portrait of the subject of the below piece upon receipt of one of his three bacon themed Father's Day gifts. When in doubt, novelty bacon gifts always get a laugh.
I am happenstance. An occurrence without intent. I don't know if the condom broke or if there was a condom at all, but I know because I'm here and I've seen the house where it happened.
A newly minted man with Andretti dreams met a charismatic, chaotic slightly older blonde and the rest was history. I'm in their wedding photos, ripening beneath the bulge of her gown.
And I happened. After a long and arduous labor involving the dreaded forceps. I didn't want to come out even after induction. I had pointed elfin ears and sparse honey colored hair. Eyes that changed from grey to turquoise depending on how they dressed me and my mood. Sapphires when I cried.
One day later, his idol was murdered. Five shots fired, four taking purchase outside the Dakota. His greatest joy mixed with his greatest sadness up to that point. It is, to this day, an exercise in poor judgment to argue the supremacy of McCartney over Lennon. There will be anger, and likely tears, his grief and joy still entwined.
Two days later, his new bride hemorrhaged and he was left alone with this six pound creature that couldn't tell him what it needed. This wasn't how he imagined anything going. His mother helped, and like everything, he made it work until his wife, my mother, was released with a clean bill of physical health.
I have no memory of these things. Though it is certainly long and surprisingly accurate, I'm not a superhero. I know they were happy together for a while. I know they shared a pair of white cats, Fripp and Eno, both fluffy and white, disappeared. I know she planted flowers and likely wandered the acreage surrounding my parents property while he went to work at jobs that paid enough to get by but weren't at all what he'd wanted.
I'm told their last argument was over the final quarter inch in a bottle of vodka. She'd had enough and he told her so. Disagreeing with that statement, things escalated quickly. The scar from where she bit him rests just below the yin yang tattoo he now bears on his upper arm. She says he beat her and he says that when someone's got their teeth embedded in your arm, sometimes your only choice is to hit someone until they let go. I don't know if I was there. I do know her drunk and I know the viper strike of her knuckles on my orbital bone, the venom of her words.
What I do remember is a fierce custody battle. The two of them screaming at each other on shitty two flat porches over who got to see me and when. I remember a refusal to surrender parental rights when my stepfather wanted to adopt me. I remember a plea to end my suffering in the face of repeated throat infections by tonsillectomy and her tacit refusal.
By the time I was seven, they'd both remarried or were with the person they would remarry, one for better, the other for worse. I had a half brother and we'd moved, our nuclear unit, seventy eight miles and a forty five minute ferry ride away. Every other Friday night after work, he would drive those miles and take that ferry to get me only to repeat it Sunday and return me. He did this despite her attempts to drive him off, to poison me against him. "He gives you things as a substitute for the love he doesn't have. He wanted me to abort you." She and her husband called him names in front of me. She and her husband called me names in front of me.
When I was twelve, her marriage dissolved. I told him about the mistreatment at my stepfather's hands, kept silent about hers. It was my fault. I was always against her. The hemorrhage had kept her from appropriately bonding with me.
I was a fiercely bright child, taking after him. Offers to skip grades. My refusal to do so. Taking home straight As and being bullied for it. He taught me to throw a punch. Made me practice it just in case. Don't fold the thumb inside the fist. That's how you break your hand. Pivot on your rear foot and use your weight to propel you forward. Just like when we went candle pin bowling, remember to follow through. Take no shit. I think he might be happy to know I've only used my fists in defense a couple of times, that I found other ways to teach bullies not to fuck with me.
He held my hand outside MRIs and attended neurologist appointments with me when lower limb paralysis struck, fretted over whether I would walk again or if this was going to be progressive.
We watched Star Trek: The Next Generation, The X Files, and Millenium over spaghetti on Friday nights. We logged thousands of miles together. We witnessed amazing heat lightning in parking lots, sang with Guinea pigs, raced bigger, better cars on the highway and won, I yelled "flying flossers!"
He's always said "like father, like daughter" and I am a thing made in his image. I prefer my knives sharp both in the kitchen and in my purse. I hate raw tomatoes. I am ferociously protective of the people I choose to love and if I tell you I love you, regardless of our relationship state, I love you until one of us is in the ground. I'm silver tongued, often accidentally. I swear like a sailor, and I do it creatively. Forging compound curses that would permanently curl my grandmother's hair if she heard me.
Our relationship hasn't always been easy. I'm fiercely independent and prefer to learn lessons on my own. I think first, act later, but my actions don't always match his. I ran twelve hundred miles away two days after Christmas one year. I turned off my cell phone and drove it straight in twenty four hours. I abandoned my mediocre university and my entire family, all of my friends, because I needed to learn who I was without anybody else's influence. I can only imagine the confusion and hurt that blossomed as my wake widened in those early months.
And still he forgave me. He visited me after I bought my house, saw the place I've settled, and said "you're happy here. I can tell. And I'm happy for it." If I called, no matter the hour, and said "I need you," he'd hijack a flight, expend every resource, to get to me as quickly as he could.
He has been steadfast and, in a way, we've grown up together. I happened to him. He rose to my challenge. I work every day to make him proud and sometimes I like to surprise him. This is the resilience he's bolstered. The surprise in his voice when he acknowledged my words following the announcement of my divorce.
"Will you be okay?"
"Dad, if life has taught me anything, it's that I will always be okay. And if I'm not, it means I'm dead. And when I'm dead, I won't care, but that won't happen for a very long time. I'm absolutely okay."
"I never thought about it like that."
This is a small thing I have done for him. Making him think about things differently than anyone else could because of my ability to combine words, thoughts, and feelings in my own strange way.
It is the job of parents to do things right. If not always perfectly. And he has, with rare missteps. I love my daddy and I love myself because I am him with a few tweaks, lighter hair, blue eyes, and, oh yeah, breasts.
The smells of fried dough
stale booze on a carnie's breath.
Wobbly metal steps scaled
and you wait
the warm breeze lifts your skirt
carries giddy screams
The arms of an alien craft wave
up and down in the distance
As it spins
This is summer
And maybe it's the smuggled alcohol
But you are thankful for it
Because soon you will be spinning
Your knees bruising against the safety bar
With someone you love
She won't let you share your favorite photo
She says she has crazy eyes
But you wanted so badly
to kiss her in that moment
Nothing crazy about it
As you looked at her sideways
And clicked the shutter
head tipped back
feel the tears slip down your throat
Out of view
Cold descending the dark warmth
Focus on the nomenclature of
Because it's easier to compartmentalize
To fall into science
Your clenched masseter
Than confront the uncontrolled
The unclinical fact
Of saline threatening to leak from your face
You don't want to release the ocean inside
you don't want to feel anything at all
Except perhaps the electric surge
of autonomic dysreflexia in your legs
Because you've ignored an itch
If you hadn't ignored all those itches
For all those years
Perhaps your entire existence
Wouldn't now be twitching
Telling you to pay attention
To the signs and stimuli that left you sitting here
Curling in on yourself
Pinching the bridge of your nose
I pull you
Pop you into my mouth
Staining my fingers
Descending the ferry ramp
My mother and brother wait for me
I've got new loafers on
I've been gone a week
Gram and Grampa took me to Virginia
I hand dipped a candle
I rode a roller coaster with a stranger
I got my period
I got embarrassed
I said to Gram "I'm stuck between a rock and a hard place"
It's October but it's still warm
The sky is grey
Whitecaps dot the harbor
I don't know yet
But I will
"Joey and Adam are gone."
"Fred and Sonny with them."
"I didn't want to tell you while you were gone, didn't want to frighten you."
"They were fishing in the Sound."
"Didn't come home."
"Boat, dog, Sonny not found."
"Other fishermen pulled them up."
"Two days in the water."
My first funeral
2 boys younger than I
because if one person is missing
he can't be buried
A line out the door
snaking through the parking lot
My dress isn't right
White with blue flowers
I wore it to the spelling bee
It should be dark, right?
Trying not to look
But the boys
They're so small
Faces fish-nibbled and purple
Even through the mortician's makeup
This is island life
The ocean in which you play
Will take what it likes
Return what it chooses
Even when the taken
Things that are not its to take
A kleptomaniac for lives
And even those left living
Parts of themselves also dead
Never to be returned
We talk about widow's walks
How whalers' wives would pace and wait
Atop the roofs of their homes
The architecture has fallen out of favor
The pacing left private, indoors
Instead of mourning periods
We hide it behind shrine doors
Clutching teddy bears
Smelling the ones we've lost
And soaking their fabric with salt
The storm mumbled to itself between shouts
A litany of past wrongs
A warning for us to repent
The trees bow
supplicants to the barrage
Silver sides of leaves fluttering hallelujah
For the life it bestows
While the water runs as fast and far
Away from where it came as it can
It has beheld the raging source
can't stomach the thought of return
Every life taken
An entire universe
I cannot read names
I cannot see faces
Because to do so
Would be to fall
Into the black hole left
In their fresh absence
There is no sense
In the deaths of people
Firing ballistic projectiles
Because of their own fear
They hold moments of silence
When all of their moments are silent
Silently accepting the money
Silently writing the bills
Silently contributing to
Thousands of bodies
Placed in cold storage
To protect the rights
To hold machines
To fire ballistic projectiles
But they will raise their voices
To protect toilets
From the waste of people
Assigned an arbitrary idea at birth
To protect marriage
From adults who dare to love each other
They will raise hue and cry
Because of their own fear
You fizzle on my tongue like Pop Rocks
Catalyst meeting saliva
An occasional sharp shock
Reminders that pleasure and pain
Are forged together
Their base the same
Jagged lump of firing neurons
In the middle of the night my house speaks to me
A series of creaks and cracks
A language I never learned
a slow revealer of secrets
A burlesque artist always on the tease
Skeleton keys to lost doors
hidden under dingy carpet
Atop fire engine red hardwood
Wallpaper a pristine time capsule
to design dreams held before I was born
Stairs climbing to walled off places
a possible cask of amontillado
A foundation from a century ago
dug from pasture
built from the rock it revealed
It crumbles a fine dust over everything I own
but never collapses
The house breathes
Exhaling humid air
Back from where it came
Because windows are lungs
And I, sleeping, its heart
It’s been about six months since I took off my wedding ring and the imprint is only now beginning to fade from my flesh.
I think of what that ring meant for the 13 years I wore it. It meant that I belonged. To someone. For a fat girl, that was a badge of honor. It said “fuck you, someone loves me enough to claim me in spite of your bias.” That’s what kept me wearing it so long, really.
I wasn’t happy. I was neglected. Ignored. Lonely. So very, very sad. But, the belonging was powerful. The status it conferred. It wasn’t worth the band, so I chose the reclamation of myself, recognizing that I’m worthy of so much more than just belonging.
Reincorporating what I’d given up in order to belong made me smaller on the outside, larger on the inside. I see the two rings sitting on my dresser every morning and I think about how long they stuck to us in spite of nothing working. They’re together, the phrase engraved forever complete. I designed them so I could always stand alone and he couldn’t, his clause dangling.
Perhaps that was cruel, to go into it knowing I’d always be alone somehow. But life teaches harsh lessons, sometimes early. I always have a Plan D. I always have. I always will. Plan D was even in my vows. I didn’t vow faith. I didn’t vow forever. I vowed friendship and honesty. I’ve never broken them even when he’s been cruel and even now that it’s nearly over. Vows are promises. And, when it comes to promises, Fiona Apple taught me I can’t afford to lie. I didn’t and I won’t. There’s a possibility that he will see this and that it will hurt anew. But, I’ve said it all before behind closed doors.
It’s time to let it go. This thing we clung to for the wrong reasons. I love you. I’m sorry. I’m better than your unwillingness to grow. Those rings didn’t tarnish when we wore them because of proximity to our bodies, not because our bond was so strong nothing could dull it. Might I end up alone the rest of my life? Sure. But, sitting on my porch in a rocking chair surrounded by cats will be better than anger.
I wonder if anybody will ever love me exactly as I am. Because of who I am and how I go about being her. Will they take my hand and support it all without question or rebuke? Who knows? I’m okay either way because I’m whole. No piece missing.
My vows did say he was the missing piece. I didn’t see when writing them that pieces were missing in part because of him.