I can barely stand the thought of sitting on his lap as a small child. Having him slide me up and down on his leg. How he would have me sit on his foot and jiggle it. The image makes me nauseous.
He would tickle me until I wet my pants, until I cried for him to stop. And he would keep on, laughing, never saying anything. He would grab just above my knee and squeeze and it would make me jump. Dig his fingers in the backs of my thighs. I laughed and cried. It hurt. And tickled.
As a little girl, he let me do all the things my mother said no to. Sit on his lap on the riding lawn mower. Sit on his lap to drive the car when I was four, five years old.
Seems I was always on his lap.
He was so quiet. My mother said he was gentle and kind, when she was in a sloppy drunk mood. When she was a angry drunk she said she married him because he asked and her father was unhappy with paying for four years at Hood College she hadn’t found a proper husband.
And she still hadn’t.
I’ve gone back to my mother. As I write this, I run back to my mother. I cannot stand thinking about my father. The camping trips. The apartment. The house in Ithaca.
But he is the real demon.
My sister and I can sit for weeks and talk about my mother. How much she tortured us, the awful stories about her making my sister pull up carpet at 2am, or how she ran out to my car the night I finally realized I did not have to stay for her abuse and in her nightgown tried to stop my car by slamming her fists on my windshield… and we laugh and laugh. Somehow, it’s funny. My mother. Her abuse. We can laugh about it. We compare notes- I’ve been disowned five times. No, no, I’ve been disowned more.
And we laugh.
But we never talk about my father. Ever.
Part of that is because when I turned 25, I said no more. He called all the time. He sent gifts- clothes bought at yard sales that were for a twelve year old at best, stuffed animals- he wanted me to be a child. I was not. Something about it was so awful- I told him you cannot call me but once a week on Sunday. He would call Friday, Saturday, Monday, Tuesday… never Sunday. And finally, I said, no more. I will not talk to you anymore. It was the early days of answering machines. I stopped answering the phone. He would leave long, garbled messages. My girlfriend at the time, in her infinite wisdom and complete immaturity said, he is one crazy motherfucker, isn’t he? Indeed, he is.
Eventually, he stopped calling. It took years.
I can remember vividly being eleven years old and having him come into my bedroom after having dropped us off at home from our court approved, weekly visit with him. I was making my bed. And he walked over the sheets on the floor. And I remember the anger and hatred I had for him. I remember writing in my journal about how much I hated him, how stupid he was, how he disgusted me. And how drunk my mother was.
Again, I go to my mother. She’s easy.
His apartment was in a huge building. I have dreams, now, forever, that I have an apartment in a building that is his building and it’s filthy and dirty and I cannot clean it no matter how hard I try. In my dreams, I have to live there, I have no choice. It’s disgusting and I think, maybe, just maybe I can live here if I clean really well. In the dream, I scrub the filthy apartment with cockroaches climbing the walls… how can I make this work? I have to make this work…
There were only three rooms to his real apartment. A kitchen, a bath and a main room with his bed, and his desk. The kitchen was my sister’s domain. The bathroom was mine. My sister cooked. I cleaned. I would scrub the layers of dirt off the bathroom sink, covered with stubble and the unwashed remains of toothpaste. I would work the gray ring in the bathtub until it finally washed down the drain.
I was obsessed with it being clean.
[reference removed upon request]
I feel myself wanting to tell about how the museum holds my mother’s O’Keeffe now. Her prized piece of art.
I need to leave my mother alone. It wasn’t her fault.
My father walked around the apartment with only boxer shorts on. Sometimes, he would drink gin and sing Judy Collins songs, slightly off tune. My mother hated Judy Collins.
Ah, back to my mother. I’m running to her faster and faster.
If I was good- I’m afraid of what that meant- but if I was good, I could take out his banjo and play it. I loved the feel of the thin skin, and how you could rub your fingers just on it and make a rustling sound you heard in songs sometimes. But if I took it out and played with it, he would take it from me eventually and try to play it. He never really could. An expensive toy, my mother said.
See the pattern?
I remember the piles of Playboy magazines. Go ahead, he would say. What do you think of that? He would laugh when a centerfold was pulled out. That creepy, quiet laugh. No words. Just laughter.
And I would pick up the magazines and read them. Read the stories. Women getting raped and having great orgasms. I didn’t know what an orgasm was, at first, but I learned. I would read, and read… housewives masturbating on the spin cycles of washing machines. A woman walking into a firehouse and having every fireman in the place in every orifice she had. And it was mesmerizing. Over and over, I wanted to be the man. I wanted to be the one dominating the woman. I wanted to be in power.
I felt so little. Being a girl was scary. Meant horrible things happened to you. Horrible things did happen to me.
Take a bath, he would say. And see myself in the bath. And hear him make that noise. I remember it in the car. I remember it in the bath.
Until a few months ago, I remembered nothing. Not the tickling. Not the stacks of pornography. Not the noise.
It makes me sick.
It’s time to leave my mother alone. It wasn’t her fault.
It wasn’t mine either.
But I'm cheating here. I'm racing through the years. Tomorrow I am going to start at the beginning and take slow steps, holding each one.
Without running to my mother.
The real demon was my father.