This Might Be the First Time
"Nobody Passes," Make/shift, Spring/Summer 2007
I don't know what's possible, as my mother and I drive through pitch-dark suburbs that I don't even recognize until we get right near their house -- did they always have those same lights at the end of the driveway? The trees are even bigger than I remember, driveway cracked in even more places.
In the family room with my father in his hospital bed, I stand there kind of frozen with my hand on my hip. I can see myself seeing him, looking at him like I'm daring everything. Every now and then, my father gets agitated and his hands move around like they're part of a different person, my sister Lauren asks: are you okay? Do you need something to drink? Lauren, her boyfriend and the attendant are watching Survivor and I glance over occasionally to glimpse various almost-naked athletic male bodies and women in bikinis -- someone just lost something, and I guess people like this show because it's like porn.
If I'm trying to establish some form of narrative here, crying is that narrative and everything else is around it -- crying is elemental, the rest is important too but I can’t reestablish the order with all this crying. I say to my father: what did you think of my letter? He says I don't think I got it. I say would you like me to read it to you now? He says yes.
Can I say something about my father's voice? Feeble is not the word I would use, though I can see others invoking it. Can I possibly choose innocent? Softer and more childish than before. I say to my mother: could you get the letter?
My mother, standing at the head of the bed, her eyes almost squinting from panicked determination: that is not possible. Me, standing at the foot of the bed: Karin thinks I'm going to give you a stroke. My mother: there are other things to talk about besides the letter. Is this when I start sobbing? It makes more sense here, if here is about sense. This is the moment made for the movies, I can feel my chest arching forward, head back -- this is the fight-or-flight reflex, I mean the fight part. I say: you're just trying to control his death because you couldn't control your life with him. And the tears are pouring down my face like armor. This is the moment when I'm cold like the way I survived them except that I'm also crying -- it's both at the same time and my father looks up at my mother and says: is that true, Karin?
But what are the words? Once my mother, my sister, my sister's boyfriend and the attendant finally leave, I'm crying and my father's crying and are we crying together? I'm saying: when I first heard that you had cancer, it surprised me because for so long I had wanted any trace of you to disappear from my life, but I found myself wishing that I could save you. I realized that I still had some hope that you’d come to terms with sexually abusing me, that you would acknowledge it and then we could have some mundane conversation about publishers or something else from my life I thought you might be interested in.
I see his face tense up into a grimace when I say sexually abuse, but where I'm really crying, probably the most except for at the beginning, is when I'm saying I wish you could acknowledge sexually abusing me, because it would make it easier for me to go on living. I'm asking for something that he could give me. A few tears drip down his face and he says thank you for sharing your letter and then there are so many layers to my sobbing: there’s holding the chest while spasming anyway; there's tears gliding smoothly down skin; there's speaking with tears in eyes, in face, in vision, inside everything.
What I want to do is to touch his arm, softly, his skin. It feels intimate and nurturing and dangerous and right now I'm okay with all of these sensations. At some point I say that I've learned there are other ways to be strong besides holding everything in-- and of course here there is more sobbing, sobbing is the texture of the air, sobbing is the feeling of this room, sobbing here it feels like strength.
My father says something that I don't understand, it sounds like: you're a very compelling liar. But he doesn't look like that's what he's saying, I ask him to repeat himself but he doesn't -- talking is difficult for him, a lot of the time we're together his eyes are closed and I ask him if he’s tired, he says no. I say is it because of the drugs, and he doesn't say anything. I say your eyes are closed, but you're listening, right? He nods. This might be the first time he's ever listened to me.
At one point, there's a single tear dripping down his cheek -- I touch it with my finger, then brush his hand softly again. It's almost sexual in this moment, even if it's scary to say that. When I leave the room, I don't feel afraid of the house anymore -- that chimney where I'd imagine myself floating away, away from him splitting me open, right now it just looks like a chimney, I mean a fireplace leading to a chimney.