circled and pushed against him but has never really touched him because
I haven’t been able to see him seeing me, as if we both exist in shadow.
In a flush of revelation, I realize that, like me, my father was the oddball
in his family, the one who broke loose to make a new life, one different
and perhaps incomprehensible to his parents. They expected, at most,
that he’d go to work, as they had, at the docks in Mobile or the paper
mill in Pascagoula, cooking gumbo and catfish and playing cards in the
evenings or watching wrestling on TV. They lived, it seemed to me, in a
numbing complacency, perhaps too distracted by the hard buzz of their
lives to ask larger questions. Like me, my father must have been both
tied to and separated from his family, a bicultural kid, educated beyond
them into a life of different values, where respect followed academic and
professional achievement rather than maintenance and loyalty.
I write this too.
I have a picture of my father as a little boy in 1929, sitting at his desk
at school, a picture I’ve kept in an envelope and gazed at each time I’ve
packed up and moved. Now I pull it out of a suitcase. In the photo, my
father wears a white, stiff-collared shirt and smiles shyly at the camera,
his hair a nest of curls on top, short above the ears. His eyes look like
my eyes—curious but simultaneously suspicious, a raw hope held in, not
quite ready to explode. And this is the father I write to, the boy in the
man whose contained curiosity is my guide.
There’s someone in the bathroom at night who tries to stop me
from getting in.
What do I want? I ask as I write.
I no longer want to be let “in.” That’s now beside the point. What I
want is to let my father know that I’m no invisible night creature but
here, right here, alive and well and defined by the desires and boundaries I’ve created by scraping against my own moment of history, which
means I’ve pushed hard in one direction, fallen off track, picked myself
up, and corrected my course, seeing possibility through the thin sheen
of a bubble. And I’ve followed that possibility. It’s what matters.
What I want is to be a daughter again, a daughter who can amend
and make amends, can change our story or at least find shelter in a new,
more intimate place. When I shove the letter through the mail slot in
the post office in Iowa City, I feel a great weight shift from my shoulders.