Most Memorable: September 2015
It’d been almost two years since I’d moved to Colorado, two years since my father had laid eyes on me. And he’d come all the way from California, but I didn’t know how to spend my time during his three-day visit. I counted each hour we were together, checking my watch often. I’d never been in a bookstore with him, but we walked through the Tattered Cover where I showed him where my novel would be one day, if published. I didn’t tell him much about the writing, how I struggled to render a character like him with compassion and specificity.
“You going to let me read any of it?”
I said, “It’s loosely, loosely, loosely based on our lives.”
He rocked back on his toes, took in all those stories around us. “Good enough.” It still surprised me, how much I wanted his approval.
Afterwards, we went to dinner. Once our steaks and potatoes arrived, he said, “I drove seven hours out of my way tell you this, but I’m not sure where to begin.” He shifted, “Your mother and me, we had our hard times, but we had something good, something sweet for a while. Once I started that job out on the coast—where there were still some big trees left—right after you were born, things slid around. So many daughters.”
I wanted to ask him about his violence toward her. Instead, I took a bite of my steak. I ordered it rare, but it was particularly bloody.
“Seems like the poorer we were, the more close we could be.” He paused. “You know, with your hair long again, you look so much like her, maybe I should’ve stayed.”
His words confounded me, made me feel strange in my own skin. A father shouldn’t want to connect with his wife through his daughter; the orbit’s all wrong.
After the waitress brought ketchup, he said, “She’s a nice looking little bitch.” He turned back. “The reason I come all these hours, is that I want you to know why I left; it’s all the Jehovah Witnesses’ fault.” He pushed back his hair, so dark, in deep contrast to my mother’s blonde hair.
“Here I am, doing one of the most dangerous jobs in the world, falling trees, and she, your mother, that fucking bitch, wouldn’t agree to give me a blood transfusion if I needed one. What kind of horseshit is that?” He adjusted his plate. “And that fucking bitch from the congregation, she comes to the house to tell me how I have to support my wife because she’s supporting Jehovah.” He stabbed his steak.
I had stopped eating, and I asked, “Why do you call all women bitches?”
“Because they are, Charlotte, they are. If any of them have crossed me that makes them an automatic fucking bitch.”
Despite myself, despite all the ways I’d tried to move out of his orbit and shadow, I asked, “So what am I?”
“You? Well, you’re sweet, but you got a little bitch in you, too. Don’t forget that.” He removed the ketchup bottle’s lid, stuck in his steak knife and dragged his findings across the plate edge. “You need to know the second reason I left your mother also has to do with the Witnesses. They don’t believe in blow jobs.” He shook his head, knife still in hand. “That’s no way to live: no joy in the bedroom and no assurance that your own wife wouldn’t let you die.”
“This is why you cut your elk hunting early?”
“I’m just trying to explain. The three reasons I left your mother.”
No wonder I’m always counting things. In my mother’s religion, a finite number of people will make it to heaven. When we used to run away from this man, we’d pause at the bottom of our road and, depending on how ready Mom was to leave, we’d count between twenty to fifty cars, sometimes those only going south, sometimes both directions.
He held up finger. “No blood transfusion.” A second finger. “No blow jobs.” And a third finger. “I almost killed her once. I came to, and my hands were wrapped around her throat. Her face was blue.” He lowered his fingers and formed a fist, studied it. “You said you wrote about me and your mother some.” He dropped his hand.
“Only loosely,” I responded, with a smile, feeling the little bit of bitch in me rising like its own sun.
Story image credit: Flickr Creative Commons/Paul Swansen