The door slams behind me, I let my hand fall from my mouth and release the tears- shaking, dropping all effort to hold them back. I grasp wildly trying to figure out what went wrong. Where it went wrong. Was it my fault? A glance in the mirror, I look mad. Hair sticking out in all sorts of places, matted to my face in clumps from a wet salty face, eyes bloodshot and hysteria rising.
I’m tempted to pour blame on him, write him off as a bad person, then I don’t have to care and everything can be good again. Or whatever it was again. But it’s not as easy as it was, it’s impossible not to care now. I try to recall where exactly that changed. God says its good to feel, good to care, even if it isn’t always pleasant. I close my eyes, and there it is. That memory that taunts and pulls, just when you think it’s gone, it’s right there ready to show itself as it so pleases.
It’s summer, I can still see the bright blue sky and the contrast between it and the bright green grass, the red shed and a broken down barn in the background. I’m seated on my father’s lap, and we are on the tractor, with a bush-hog attached cutting the grass. My father does this very specifically, tracing the lawn (more like a field with a house in the corner of our 100 acre land) and riding back and forth, not missing an inch. I’m no older than 6 or 7.
So here it is, the climatic part, the memory that lingers at the back of my mind never ceasing to ring false expectations. The smell of fresh cut grass pleased my nose, and the sun slightly was burning my cheeks and shoulders. The summer breeze allowed the heat to drape pleasantly over my skin. Then I reached out and put my hand on top of my father’s, looking down, and studying them to see whether or not they were identical, like everyone said. Mostly my Mom and my Grandma. My Grandma always said my face belonged to her side of the family but my hands were always my father’s. My little eyes traced all the lines and curves, bumps and marks to find that they really did look the same.
When I think about this, my mind often wanders to all of the times I danced behind him, or stepped in the deep footprints he made in the snow as we made our way out to the shed to feed the animals in the cold winter. Another was when he always bought me hot pads to put in my mittens so my hands wouldn’t freeze so quickly. But more-so I would think about the numerous occasions I’d scurry up to him, just barely coming up to his waist and reach for his hand, hoping that he would hold it back. When he did, there was always a sense of relief, and in my head it registered that it was okay to relax and not be uncomfortable.
My high-school years were made up of 4 sets of 365 days filled with frustration, misunderstanding and harsh words. It was the time where my father’s lack of understanding and favour on my brother thrived. The look he had sometimes when my brother won competitions, or played hockey, his face beaming with pride, was a look that I never got. There were nights that I was required to cover my sisters’ ears from the deathly bellows echoing off the house walls, spoken by my brother when my father wasn’t there. Numerous times because of this, I consoled my mother to bed with a face streaming with tears. And yet, no matter how we begged my father to correct him, the sparkle in his eye was stored for my brother, and my brother only and I was the spoiled brat who had an attitude and a mind of my own whom no one had a prayer in understanding.
When it becomes tempting to see my father as a cruel person, this memory of examining my hand on his while riding the tractor come to mind. Perhaps he does love me. He always smiles, always laughs, with soft grey hair and kind eyes. Maybe he’s the kind of person who never shows sentiment. These past few months away from him, I have spent wondering just what kind of person he is.
So now, 12 years later, with not an ‘I love you’ from him during the course of my life so far , not a ‘you are beautiful’, making me feel like a princess. But having the same hands, and the same desire to love the other the way it was supposed to be from the beginning. Was it my fault? Is it too late? It’s been 17 days since he’s spoken a word to me, 3 months since we have shared more than a 3 sentence conversation and 3-4 years since we have shared anything meaningful with the other. The last time we actually talked was the time we were riding back through the fields in a clunky truck, coming back from chopping firewood. I sat with raw, chilled hands and pink cheeks from the cold in the passenger seat. I asked him if the job he had was something he always wanted. He paused. Then answered, saying he went to school to be a Marine Biologist, and when he got a job offer, mom didn’t want to move across the country. So they stayed. And thus the family was born.
I can’t help but think he feels dissatisfied with his life. Just going through the motions and hoping that something will eventually spark his heart and make all the labour worth it. But, often I think he’s given up on me. Given up on trying to inspire and lead me. I just don’t listen. I was never something that was meant to be constrained and pushed towards my future, in the way that a bowling ball rides down the lane bumping against the guardrails, preventing destruction. Everything he thought I would be has fallen apart in front of him, my destruction has been evident and his controlled grip has tried to stop it, with arguments about my carelessness and stubbornness. But my character will release no matter how tight his grasp, how cold his silence, no matter how deep the pain goes that leaves heaviness in my chest. When I think about the memory of me placing my hand on his, a little part of me that I always forget about, brings hope to the forepart of my mind that maybe there can be that day where it’s okay again and I can have the father a princess is supposed to have and he can have the little girl he always wanted. After all, I was too young to see the neglect, waiting at the window for him to come home from work late even if it was only just for him to say goodnight.
And then I remember the little soul that came 11 years after me, my father’s second chance at fatherhood, a place of redemption. To brush me off like a sin he has been forgiven of, cleared off his records with a new daughter to start fresh with.
So fatherless I sit thinking that other people are princesses and their dads are their kings, some are sitting abandoned by their fathers wondering why, while I sit in the middle, not abandoned but not fulfilled, not loved, but not hated. Am I at fault?
When the doubts sit in and the clouds start rolling, all I can think of is that my childhood wasn’t a complete loss, I’m sure he loves me, he does. If not, we still have our hands that are the same and no one can take that from me.