Beer and Rumination

Last night, I had two potent beers and watched Birdman. This is a dangerous game when your medications are also potent.

Sure enough, when IMDBing how old Michael Keaton is (63), I realized that my father is 65 years old as of last month, and while that might qualify him for Medicare and Social Security, that’s nowhere near old enough for me. Especially since his family line has a penchant for living as close to forever as human beings can reasonably live.

My father is the worst human being I’ve ever had the misfortune to meet. If that sounds like an exaggeration, I assure you, it isn’t. Both my mother and my best friend’s mother (who unfortunately chose to date him for a time during my sophomore year of high school) have restraining orders against him to this day. My mother divorced him 24 years ago, and my best friend’s mother broke off their relationship 15 years afterward, 11 years ago somewhere around this time. He raped them both, and was physically violent to my mother on multiple occasions. She’s been in the hospital more than once as a result of his hand.

I’m lucky in that he only hit me once.

I was a senior in high school, and living with him at the time. I had been on the phone with a friend who had to hang up and call me back. It would be a matter of moments between hanging up and the phone ringing again. I was sitting on my father’s bed with the phone in front of me; he was putting away laundry nearby. When the phone rang, we both reached for it, but I made the ‘mistake’ of pushing his hand away, saying, “I got it. It’s for me.”

In response, he punched me above my left knee, on the outside of my lower thigh. It left a bruise for well over a week — I don’t remember how long exactly.

When I backed away from him, and said that he would never touch me again, I remember his laugh, as if to say¬†how ridiculous — over this? I left that afternoon, and went to my mother’s house to exchange music on my iPod — my father’s place didn’t have iTunes. I don’t remember how I mentioned it to her, but it was casual — our relationship then was strained, nothing like it was now, and I imagine I wanted to tell her so she would feel badly about making me leave her house.

She didn’t say much about it, and I left to see a movie with my best friend — Silent Hill. We were cowered in our seats at the sight of various creepily crawling monsters when my mother tapped me on the shoulder (not the best move) and told me I was never going back there again. And I didn’t, save for the day after she got an emergency court order changing my custody — we went into his house during the day, when he wouldn’t be home, took everything that was mine, and left.

For whatever reason, my freeze-out didn’t last as long as I would have hoped. I’m ashamed to say it was probably due to convenience. My freshman year of college was a miserable experience, and I came home every weekend I could make plans with friends, which was often. I needed rides back and forth, and my mother could only do so much, so, eventually, I reached out to my father.

That ended one afternoon in April 2007.

I had spent the weekend talking with my mother about her history with my father, piecing together the history of violence committed by one whose genetics I shared, whose awful temper I sometimes shared. She told me that, when in the Navy, he had picked up a fellow sailor by the pecs and left weeks-long bruises because he had pinched my father. She told me that he had held her in the air by her throat when they were long-distance dating, leaving her in terrible pain on the flight home. She told me that they had had a puppy together — but that he had grown sick of it, and so, one day, shot the dog instead of giving him to a shelter. She told me of the many, many cats he made her give away after promising they would be permanent pets. She told me that he had called her fat when she was pregnant, while he made her pose sideways in a two-piece bathing suit to monitor her progress. She told me that he had anally raped her, many times.

She told me that when she decided to leave him, we ran away in the middle of the day, while he was at work. We had to take the dog, for fear of her life, and, since the women’s shelter we stayed in didn’t allow pets, my mother begged and pleaded until a local vet agreed to kennel her until we found a permanent place to stay. We lived in that shelter for weeks. I was two years old, and they had been married for about as long.

She told me I hated going to see him on alternate weekends as a child. I believed it all, but this I could remember. I remembered staying with him and his girlfriend in the house they shared, and being forced to sleep in the basement because the guest room shared a wall with the master bedroom. Presumably he couldn’t keep their sexual activities outside of the four nights per month I stayed with him, so I cried myself to sleep at night, scared of the furnace, the cold and dark. If I couldn’t sleep, he made me march around the room until I became exhausted, or to stand in the corner, but not lean against the wall.

He did take me rock climbing, to the science museum, the aquarium, and the children’s museum, but more often than not, I spent my father-weekends riding my bike to the local library, stocking up on books, and climbing the tree beside the driveway, reading away the time. I remember playing by myself in the woods for hours, going deeper and deeper into the wilderness, and never hearing my name be called. I remember only being allowed to watch educational VHS tapes about the biomes of the Earth. I hated it there — I remember many things.

She told me these things because I had asked her, knowing he was going to drive me back to college on Sunday afternoon. It had been about a year since he had hit me, and I was ready to confront him, scared as I was. He never drank, never did drugs, but worked out constantly, and was strong, especially for a man in his mid-fifties. I had caught slants of his temper before of course — he would never yell, but his eyes would turn cold, and his voice would sharpen, and you would know to hold your breath and do as you were told, else

I was in the car, calculating the time until we were to reach my dorm, on a busy street in Boston. I knew that once the car pulled up to the curb, I would have to fly out of it and away, and that it would be difficult for him to follow, especially since leaving his enormous Buick on a street that narrow would be almost impossible in the city.

So I confronted him.

I told him everything I knew, with anger and dismay. I told him that I knew what he was, that I was ashamed to be related to him. I repeated back to him the story of the time he had hit me, never asking him to apologize, but speaking in such a way that it was suggested. And then I asked him why.

“You had to know who was in control.”

At that point, the car was at the curb and I flung the door open, grabbed my bag from the back, and hurled my parting words into his face before slamming the door, and racing up the stairs. Recalling it even now gives me a speeding heart. I don’t remember what I said to him, but it was intense — it was loathing — it dared him to take action.

There were no elevators to the dorms on the first floor — you had to walk up to the second first, and then present your ID. I remember there were people in front of me, and I cursed them, sure I was about to feel a hand on my shoulder, and fire in my face at any moment.

It never came.

Instead, I rode up to the eleventh floor, hid out in the laundry room, and — sobbing — called my mother. I told her I never wanted to see or speak to him again, and I haven’t since. It has been eight years.

He has tried to contact me since, calling me every so often until I changed my phone number. My mother told me that when we split from him, he hired a private detective to hunt her down, and wouldn’t be surprised if he’s done the same with me. He’s incredibly thrifty, and made quite a lot of money when I was a child. How else would explain the sudden appearance of his mother in the restaurant I worked at in 2012? I pretended I didn’t know her, poor thing, with such fear and sadness in her eyes. She has since passed away. That was the last time I saw her, the first time since I was a child.

I dream of him often, nightmares all. He’s always hunting me, for violence or sex — though he never assaulted me that way, not that I can recall. I’m always afraid he’ll turn up somewhere, and thank my job for it’s lockdown approach to security — no one gets in without a badge, no exceptions. I thank my building for requiring a fob to swipe into the parking lot and building. I thank my husband for being a man that makes me feel safe.

And I wait for the call that will inevitably come, the one where some lawyer somewhere will tell he’s died. That day, I will feel a great deal of relief.

Perhaps it sounds monstrous to think this way about your father, but then again — if you knew a man who had beaten and raped multiple women, who had hurt and neglected you, who savagely killed animals and never apologized for any of it — if such a man happened to be your father, even — wouldn’t you hate him, too?

When Nothing Hurt

Lighting a cigarette, cupping your hand around the flame to protect it — fragile, young thing — until it begins to burn, igniting the paper into blackness, the tobacco into a beautiful ruby ember, and the first inhale, long because it’s packed tight — American Spirits aren’t loose like the rest and they take 15 minutes to smoke down to the filter — with that beautiful exhale that feels like Parisian money and Vegas money and the vices of people with no money: I miss it.

The camaraderie that comes with having a lighter that works, or a spare smoke for the homeless guy who doesn’t have anything else, or the waitresses and bartenders at Your Place (you know their first name and you all cluster round as they take their breaks and avoid their tables in the humid wind) and it feels like true friendship, especially after hours when the owner passes out plastic cups filled with water so you can smoke indoors with the door locked if you’re important enough to be there — those evenings that turned into nights and then into early mornings where we all stumbled off into sleep as the commuters got up for work.

Reaching for the pack naked in bed and sipping whiskey, laying across the chest of a man — your elicit lover — and your breasts graze his chest before you offer him the pack and you light them both together, sitting in silent reflection of what you’ve just done, the bad, bad thing while Tom Waits plays muffled from his phone and your exhale fills the room with smoke imported from around the waist of a belly dancer in a hookah bar, or the parted lips of a dazed intellectual in an opium den as he meets God for the first time — it comes to you, through your lips, and when you kiss, you taste a mirror.

I said goodbye to all that because of morning coughs, believing an electric facsimile would be the same flavor of glamour, but it’s a cheap xerox going out of business downtown from my loft apartment, and I turn into a child whenever a grown man asks to bum a smoke (“it’s fake” — and something changes in everyone’s eyes before I throw mine down, like a butt to be rubbed out by the sole of a single spike heel), but there’s no returning — my palette has changed, and I’m not in the same 23-year-old place that can learn to love disaster — I’m elsewhere else I turn back and that’s nowhere I want to be — so: here, another quitter, dreaming of those magic dream days filled with haze, when nothing hurt.

Love and Longing

I cannot look at the pictures without feeling a tug just below my breastbone, pulling out an ache that blooms like a peony right in my center, red petals stretching out their yearning arms from my skin and the touch is too beautiful to stand.

I cannot look at the pictures, of my smile like a dream of a growing vine against my face, and my eyes are focused on my endless paramour, somewhere outside of frame.

I don’t browse through the past because nostalgia does not melt like sugar on my tongue, but collects in the corners of my eyes, in my restless hands, in the winter crackling of my elbows and forehead.

I long for the green face I came to know, the blue wash of hair, the chirruping talk I learned to understand in the early mornings, when I’d rise thick with sweat from the sheets and look out with drowsy eyes as I smoked my morning cigarette, covered in a lacquer of love, shining dewy and new.

I feel the piece, round and tangled, where completeness once resided; I left it behind as the tide recedes from the sand, retreating into the deep cold and wet.

There were breakfasts with luxurious coffee and raw sugar, gently stirring me awake with a small spoon, placed gently on the edge of a cup plate, leaving the complicated taste of early morning on the china; lunches taken in the heat of the day, slow bites paired with drinks of mint and fruit; dinners of many courses, the last of which is sleep, taken sweetly to a bed of dark blankets.

There was the enviable form, winding, mysterious, and easy to travel for all its length, like fingers moving gently down the body of a cat: first fur-over-skull, the long bumpy road of the spine, and the fingers wrapping around the tail and continuing out to empty air; that was the way of it.

I miss myself then, the burning in each padded fingertip relieved by keyboard presses until I had made beautiful things (look, you — look what you helped me to make), and the cold fire that was succumbing to sloth, laying together in hammocks, seated with bare legs slinking down the length of a bench, walking hand in green-brown-sparkling-clouded hand.

And then it would rain, and it felt like crying, a release of so many ticking seconds not to be retrieved, and that was the time to mourn; it never rained for long.

No, all was sunshine spilling through the canopy onto spotted trails — shade overstriped with beaming streams of light — and I cannot bear to remember it, because to fall in love with a place is the most painful love of all; when you leave, your footprints fade, and you know the land isn’t thinking of you any longer.

But you — you continually, lustily, painfully think of the land.