Valentine's Day 2013

                                    Valentine’s Day 2013
My father is in hospice but my mother says he is not dying. He is in a depression, he has cancer, he is 87 but he is not dying. My father saved my life when I was dying of alcoholism, twice. He took me home and told my mother to let me be and he listened years later when after a six month binge inspired by grief, I told him my husband was beating me and I was drinking again. I stopped. This time for good.

I was with my father at the hospital when they told us my oldest sister would not survive and he asked me to help him tell my mother. I wanted to run away. He called me “the bolter” after a character in a Maria Edgeworth novel, an often-married woman who runs away. We drove down the New Jersey Turnpike towards my parent’s house and as we passed Newark Airport he said, “Don’t leave,” and I agreed although I knew I would fall back over that cliff, that cliff that had receded in the distance.

He is funny, so funny in his darkness and his genius and his anger that it is nearly impossible to not laugh even when he is clutching your hand and telling you he wants to be dead.

I found out my father was in hospice from a stranger on the phone. It was Valentine’s Day and I was alone in a coffee shop trying not to cry. Public grief is a terrible thing made worse by strangers. This time a man approached my corner where I was sobbing quietly, shadowed by a beautiful woman, and with eyes full of kindness asked, “What has happened?” and I answered, “My father is dying.” Even though I knew it was traitorous to admit such a thing just as it was unforgiveable to tell my mother her eldest daughter was dying. 

He held me in his arms for a moment and I thought about him, my daddy.

                                    13 Ways of Looking at your father
Da-da-da-da-da. Smoky, soft-rough-soft. Kiss. Carry. Swim. My daddy. Lap.
Call your father. Grey hair framed, across the lawn, the back house, mysterious and then the door. Closed. Knock. Yes? Dinner’s ready. He is writing, reading books and books and papers. Daddy Daddy? What are you thinking?
Wine. Wine and then whiskey. Oh no. I think we will all die. He is yelling, the record breaks, yelling, my mother begging, blood. I tell him, “I hate you, I’ll kill you. Mommy. I am precious and good. I love my mommy. He is bad. Very bad.
Busted. Pot and mascara running. The policeman puts down the phone. You are fifteen and have been stoned exactly once, arrested exactly once. Together. You threw the pipe and hit the cop who sports a red mark on his forehead. Daddy. You are a terrible person. Silence until mom and screaming. Always screaming.
Magic. Stranded in Gatwick as the Laker Airline Industry folds. A week of waiting. Woodstock in a airline terminal. Finally, you land and walk out of the airport,  Backpack leaning against a tree, sleep. He is there in a yellow VW, waiting. Miracle. Daddy.
Cape Cod. Dawn A girl with tangled hair sneaks in.Silence. You are lost. Furious.  Talk to me. Ask me why. Why?
His daughter. Yes. The writer. Yes. The critic. Yes. The professor. Yes. His daughter. Yes. His.
Let me go. No. No it’s not. Don’t you love me, daddy? I love him. How can you say that?  I’ll never forgive you. Never.  I will stay but I will never forgive you.
Help. Don’t tell mommy. I’m afraid. Yes. Please forgive me. I can’t stop, daddy. Terrible things. I can’t stop.
Yes. I’ll tell mommy. She’s not going to live. No, I won’t run away. No, I won’t disappear. She was my sister. Your, Athena. I’m so sorry, Daddy.  Sorry I’m not her. Sorry.
He’s beating me and I’m drinking again. I want to be dead. Daddy, tell me what to do. Forgive me. Help me.
We understand how it feels for people to read our words. Good-bad-sad-hard. Yes. I made you proud. But you are better, daddy. I’m just your daughter. His middle name is your lost father’s. Love, such love. I am a mother, daddy. Someone’s mother.
What do I do? How can I help you now? You are afraid and I am so sorry. I will never be angry again. You loved me and I loved you. You took me to that poetry reading when I was eleven and Yeats taught me to be your Aengus, your glimmering girl.  The youngest child always defends the father. You are Cordelia, my mother says, you are so good.


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