For this week, my fellow Persephones, I am going to delve a little bit into my own psyche. Well, sort of. I’m taking a creative writing course this semester, and one of the subsections the professor set up was nonfiction. (Technically, she called it “creative nonfiction,” but only so that we could differentiate between something we may write for her class and, say, a news report; something that truly happened to us, the way we saw it, but not purely “who/what/when/where/why.” I won’t go into the technique itself.) For my final workshop piece, I turned in a story that I called “Snatches.” What follows, for your reading pleasure, is that story, as I turned it in to my professor. I haven’t polished it since it was workshopped, so you’re getting exactly what my group got. I’d tell you what grade I received”¦ but I don’t quite know myself yet, since she hasn’t posted them. Here you are:
I remember snatches of him. Not deep, strong memories like the ones I have of the man I call (and always will call) my dad, nor so little that I can’t picture him at all. I can hear his voice, too, if I think hard enough; distinctive to me but probably negligible to anyone else. When I last saw him he was so much taller than I was (and probably still is, if for no other reason than the fact that I am ridiculously short), with hair so dark brown it was almost black and the dark brown eyes I refuse to admit I inherited from him. He was a producer, which I refuse to admit may be part of the reason why I am such a pop-culture nerd. He was already in his mid-forties, and that was ten years ago, so I can imagine he’s probably rather lonely by now since my younger half-brother graduated high school last year, and now he and his wife are most likely alone in their house that is only forty-five minutes from my parents’. He wants to create some memories so that he (I mean I ““ Freudian slip, I suppose) can have more than just snatches.
When I was very young (say four, five, or six or so) he used to come and pick me up at that same exact house to go and do something with him for the day. I don’t remember any specifics about that era except that I was not told that he was my father. (At the time I thought my mom’s second husband, whose name was Mike and who was the first person I ever called Daddy, was my father.) His name was Jim, the grown-ups told me, and he was a friend of my mother’s. Being little, I didn’t correct the people in the store who, when I started jabbering away as a child of that age does, referred to him as my father. Apparently it’s a good thing I didn’t, because he was. The day they told me, when I was around seven years old or so, we were all seated in a big bright room at my mother’s psychologist’s office (or her “talking doctor,” as they explained it to me). Two of the walls had huge windows that let the sun shine in on the light tan carpet and the matching beige leather couches. The words themselves have faded, but the general point is still there: no, the man I had been told was my daddy since I could speak (and who was now passed away) was not my father. I understood the concept; any man who loves you and cares for you can take the role of a father figure, but you only get one male whose genetic material makes up half of your existence. What I had to wrap my head around (even though I never asked the question out loud) was why they chose to lie to me. The only way I was able to put it into words was to ask my mother in her horrible white Ford on the drive back, “What happened?” She didn’t understand what I meant, though, because her response was, “Jim and I made a baby.”
He came to get me every other weekend for years. I remember the house with its high ceilings and fireplace, and the bedroom they had for me that also had a desktop Macintosh computer in it for his work. I would look forward to arriving at his house and reading the issue (or issues, depending) of Nickelodeon Magazine that he would store for me in the little nightstand by the bed. I would hope that when I asked him, “Can I go on the online?” that he would say yes right away and not make me wait. I would wake up early in the mornings and go into the living room, turning on the TV to watch Nickelodeon, which we didn’t always get at home. I had to be careful not to wake Jonathan purposely (the one time I had, they had told me to let him wake up on his own and come out and see me whenever he was ready), but I remember scooting over so that the two of us could share the big black recliner that Jim usually sat in when he was awake. I remember going to the Ringling Brothers circus (twice), and him showing me how to ice skate the one time we went to the rink in Maitland. I remember meeting a friend named Samantha, who was the daughter of his friend Fred. I remember him turning me on to the Barenaked Ladies (who I still like, connection to him or not). This was the norm”¦ until it wasn’t.
I still, to this day, don’t quite know why he stopped coming around, but I do know that it caused me to go into a deep sadness (not suicidal, but sad nonetheless) the summer between seventh and eighth grade. No matter what anyone says, you can’t convince a tween that something isn’t her fault when she’s convinced it is. I would play the Everclear song “Father of Mine” and burst out crying, but that was no reason for me not to play it, now was it? I remember sobbing the lyrics: “Father of mine/ Tell me, where have you been? / You know I just closed my eyes/ And the world disappeared”¦” (I still cry when I hear it, but I’ve smartened up enough not to be so masochistic with it and hold it together when I can’t avoid hearing it as it plays.) My dad (my mom’s third husband, the father of my brother Aaron, and the man I consider my true dad and one of my greatest confidants) saw this and it angered him to the point that he forbade me to listen to it any longer. He was offended, he said, because he was there for me and all I was doing was pining for the one who wasn’t. “This is done, Amanda. I’m not going to let him keep hurting you like this.” He hugged me as I sobbed, a look of steel determination on his face. I may have seen my father once or twice since that moment, but that’s about it.
Two days after my sixteenth birthday when I was in tenth grade, he called. I answered it anyway, even though my dad rolled his eyes as I did. “Happy two days after your birthday!” Eye roll. “Thanks.” Then a lot of goop about how he, Jonathan, and Karen missed me, and how I could try and contact him, too, and how he wanted me to come out and tell him if I ever thought he was being an asshole. (His exact words, mind you.) We talked for a minute or two more, and made plans to see each other that I knew were completely false, and ended the call. I don’t know quite why, but I still ended it with, “I love you, too.” That was in 2002, and I haven’t heard his voice since.
Fast forward to Christmas 2009. I hopped onto my Facebook page just to send a Merry Christmas message, and there it was: a message from my father. My first instinct was to faint, then to vomit, then just to say screw it and delete without reading it, then to weep openly, then maybe go and get my stomach rented out as a sandal because of all the flip-flopping it was doing. I knew what I couldn’t do, and that was mention it and/or make a big deal of it. After all, I had nonverbally promised my dad as he held onto me while I wept over this man who had essentially called it quits on me that I would not try and have a relationship with him again. I wasn’t going to break that, no matter how curious and how (surprisingly) I wouldn’t mind doing it just to get some answers. My cousin had done it. My dad had done it himself with his father under worse circumstances than mine. Yet I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I closed the message, no reply given, and continued on with my Christmas. A similar message on my birthday the following year. I twinged again with a guilt I didn’t deserve to feel and didn’t reply to that either.
The last message I received from him was an invitation to Jonathan’s high school graduation last July. I wanted to go, to see my brother whose life I had missed out on, but that would require breaking my promise. I actually spoke this one aloud, and got just the reaction from my dad as I had expected: NO WAY. Deciding this was not worth the fight, the effort, or the hurt feelings, I let that message go, too. He hasn’t written me since.
I got married a little over six months ago. The man who walked me down the aisle was my dad. He stood there with me, just as he had since I was four years old, waiting to place my hands in those of the man I would marry. I saw the look of sadness/happiness/hurt-my-daughter-and-I’ll-end-you that echoed his words from long ago, promising me he would be there for me and telling me that my father wasn’t worth hurting for. The man who was sitting there next to my mother sobbing was not someone who was there when he wanted to be, then gave me a bunch of flimsy excuses as to why he hadn’t bothered to check up on me. The man that shared these moments has given me memories, not snatches. He is the one that has loved me all along. And the crazy thing? I know now that I wouldn’t change it for the world.
————— End piece —————
Feel free to ask questions. I know I used a lot of pronouns (“he”, mainly), so there are parts that are hard to follow, so I can clear that up if needed. I’m not posting this for sympathy, that I can promise. I just wanted to not only perhaps share this, but to use you guys and see what my fellow Persephones made of it as a piece of writing in itself. Until next time, dears.