My Lover, My Father, and Me {EXCERPT}

There are many details in life that you will forget, and a few that will follow you for a lifetime, haunting you to recreate them, such as the nostalgia of your childhood home. You’ll never forget how the house flooded with the aroma of basil on spaghetti night. The heart-racing anxiousness that rose when you spotted Daddy’s truck in the driveway, from the window of the school bus. Or how thrilling it was to watch Friday night sitcoms, while everyone loaded onto the never-ending green leather sofa, that sunk down in the middle, forcing the inevitable nestling, and how everyone knew not to sit in Daddy’s chair. You’ll never forget how soothing his hands were on your scalp as you sat at his feet, echoing his laugh, to display that you shared the same interest in humor. The sincerity in his lips as they pressed gently into the middle of your forehead when he tucked you in at night. Or how you would run for your shoes, when Daddy grabbed the leash to walk the dog every evening, hoping that your brother wouldn’t notice and ask to come along. These are your most cherished memories, that you lock away deep in the dark craters of your heart, so that they can never be as shattered as you, on the day your father left. 

It seems that your father engraved his persona, that you perceived as the male standard, so deeply into your unconsciousness, that you view a hello as nothing more than a delayed goodbye. 

One week into the New Year, you meet a familiar stranger. The moment you met him, his hello somehow sounded distinctly like goodbye, although, ciao does signify both in his native language. The emotion you felt the first time he looked at you was overwhelmingly reminiscent. You had felt this sensation many times before. Perhaps it was in the look your father gave when you came home with a perfect report card, or the adoration he displayed that time you whispered in his ear that you loved him more than mommy, or maybe it was the reflection of his smile as you sat on the counter in the bathroom watching him shave and handing him his tools, just a good apprentice should. You knew his smile. It was the smile that you would work tirelessly to reproduce upon each successive encounter. You wanted him to never stop admiring you the way he had the moment you’d met. You also yearned for him to never stop resembling your father. Underneath every layer of your excitement, you knew that he would inevitably leave and silhouettes with pixilated memories would remain. So you stayed in bed for an entire week before either of you had the courage to carry on for a single moment apart. 

Just as with bees, the men that attach themselves to you die off soon after. And you are left wounded as new hives are built all around. Your sweet beauty would attract many others, but you would wear a mask of caution, to warn them that your honey is laced with venom. He didn’t leave so quickly, which makes the infected lesion more difficult to medicate. You often argue with friends that it is worse to have a father for half of your youth, and lose him, than to never have a father at all. Others believe it is better to have loved and lost. 

After four short months, you decide to move with him to his home in Italy. You were asked to bring nothing but love to adorn the home with. If love were to have its place, surely it would dwell in this small white stucco structure, ornamented by blue shutters, with sliding glass doors that summon the morning sun. The cottage, positioned at the bottom of a hill littered with wild aromatic herbs, awakens the youthfulness within you. 

When you wanted tea, he climbed the tree out front for fresh lemons. When you shivered slightly, he returned with fresh chopped wood to burn. When you mentioned hunger, he brought live clams from the seaside, and you can still feel the soft texture of his fingertips as he placed the shell against your lips. You knew that a love this attentive could not last forever, yet you craved this feeling that had been robbed of you so abruptly in your adolescence. 

He had your father’s pale translucent skin, and his soft alluring eyes, that seemed to follow you across every room like the Mona Lisa. To him, you were an abstract work of art. A piece that he found painfully beautiful but could not understand completely. The brush strokes were hidden, the pattern hard to follow, the colors were bright but the mood was grey. You could feel him watching you, as you lay tucked neatly into his nook at night. He would massage you beneath your hair until you dozed off, never to fall asleep first. He had the embrace that made you feel like a small child, protected from the world, and almost made you believe that he would never hurt you. Those assuring hands that made you feel as if nothing could creep between a grip interlocked so tightly. But darkness is despotic. He was beautiful, and you accepted his lies, just as you did when your father told you that he was, “going to see a man about a horse,” and you would instinctually reply, “Daddy, please bring me back a pony?” You had been predisposed for he, and you could calculate his steps before his thoughts had manifested. 

He made you feel ashamed in moments of weakness and fear, because your bond was built around his insecurities; there wasn’t enough room for both. This reminded you of the time you told your father you didn’t think you were good enough to be a dancer at school, and how afraid you were to go home after your name was absent from the list after try-outs. Failure was not accepted. He only loved he, and you, you only represented an extension of he. Your father would boast to a perfect stranger about how you made the Dean’s list, but become infuriated when you asked for his help with homework. “Yes, she’s an excellent writer,” he would rattle off to distant cousins; yet he never read the poem you gave him on Father’s Day. 

There was no you, just he and We.

Other’s self-interest became your constant, and you grew to accept this position in all of your human encounters. Searching to make everyone around you feel the warmth that the spotlight provided as you seemingly relished in the shadows. This was your home. Even your friends saluted you for your ears that never spent. 

Remember how ugly you felt when your father looked down at you, repulsively, and told you to hold in your stomach on the first day of 4th grade? This was congruent to the day He grabbed your ass and proceeded to moo. When He said his ideal woman was a virgin prostitute, you immediately felt inadequate. 

But he was charming. His thin lips parted evenly across a strong face with sharp intimidating angles that seemed to dissolve with the hint of his smile. Every waitress loved him, your friends adored him, and every dinner party applauded him. You would arrive hand-in-hand, but once he had captured the attention of his audience, with misogynistic jokes, you could feel him slowly slipping from your grasp. He shared your father’s humor and egotism. He would often abandon you in public for the thrill of captivating a stranger’s attention, whom you felt was much less deserving. He refused your friends as if they weren’t interesting enough to hold his attention, though really it was the thought of him competing for yours. He was to always enrapture you completely, or not at all. 

But he was crazy. And you were crazy. And you loved the adventure. Remember when he saw you in bed reading the Anne Frank Diary, and the next day you were in the attic where it was written. Or when you said you always wanted to see Capri, and he sailed you across the Tyrrhenian Sea in a tiny fishing boat. Or that time he said you were going to lunch and he had arranged a picnic atop an active volcano. If Vesuvius were to erupt in that moment, what better way to die? With he in one hand, and a mini prosecco in the other. 

When he inquired about your former lovers, it always ended badly, with words searing across the room. “Prostitute.” “Opportunist.” “How could you?” “He’s old enough to be your father.” But the truth is that he was only five years younger than your father. Both of them born on the same day in October, presumably at dusk. 

You loved your position as mediator between him and his enraged state. Constantly talking him off of the manic ledge brought you purpose in the relationship. He was always the teacher, the provider, the initiator, and here was your time to contribute. He executed every task with immeasurable precision. You could cook, but not like he. You could dice, but not fast enough. You could season, but it was always too spicy. You could toss the pepperoni, but not like his mother. Only in moments of his inhibitions were you able to assume any responsibility. He loved this about you and scrutinized you for it. 

The passion was the adhesive that held two damaged souls together. But the air was thin when both souls were not occupying one space. You had become so dependent on one another that being apart would trigger intense feelings of abandonment and frustration. When he went off shore for work, he would rarely respond to your mail. Replying only with accusations of infidelity and confessions of the suffering it caused him to communicate with you while away. Selfishly, he carries on this way to avoid the pain. 

Your father would share a similar response when you asked why he divorced you, when your mother divorced him. Was your suffering of less importance or completely unfathomable?