I hear the screen door creak, his heavy boots sliding.
“Are your friends picking you up tonight?” The nicest question he’s asked in a while. He’s imploring about non-essentials. Something is coming. A faint alarm spins my gut.
He leans against the house under the yellow glow of the porch light and I turn so my side is toward him—I don’t want my ass in his view, and I can read his body language this way. His arms are crossed over his plaid belly, hands under his armpits. He’s nervous.
Hesitating, “Amy, I want to tell you something.”
“What? ‘Is Jeremy going to be there?’”
“No. I trust you.”
Silence. The crickets are loud this spring. I hear the frogs mating out back behind the pole barn. Beyond the tree line, a semi’s headlights float.
“That’s a surprise,” I smile weakly at him. He smiles back and makes room for himself.
“Amy, what are you going to do with your life?”
My smile ends. I look down at Kurt Cobain on my black t-shirt, and hear ‘nothin’ on top but a bucket and a mop and an illustrated book about birds!’ I look into the railing’s grain.
“I don’t know. Why?”
I cannot fully absorb this question.
The atmosphere has changed; I feel my body instincts alert my senses… but this pressure is different—his presence isn’t to harm right now. His voice is closer, but he is not.
“I want you to know something—something I think you need to hear—you have so much potential in you, Amy–so much more than in anyone I’ve ever seen. You’re talented, you’re smart, you can do anything. There are so many things about you that you can use in this life and you don’t even know it.”
I turn my back to him and watch the tear seep and spread into the wood. Come on, Lori.
“I just wanted to tell you that, because you don’t know. Because you act like you don’t care. Because I see you wasting your talents and time and you’re so…I…”
The pressure is starting to push itself down on my chest and make way for something I am not ready for—to look at him, to see him, to hear his words as human. He wanted to say what I’d chased after from him over a decade ago, on that nappy carpet, me crouching behind the owl lamps, spying on my new father, giggling until he turned his greasy nose in my direction and blew smoke in my face. My wet hair, my itchy nightgown stuck to me.
And I felt a forgotten piece in me move-an isolated bubble in my chest rising—a shape of a silent center I can’t quite feel, and then I felt it start to grow into a globe–a planet–a world of loneliness, the ocean where I had sucked up all the silences in the shell of what I was becoming, the land masses the million faces I was dividing into, shifting each continent of myself either away from or crushing into each other, dismantling. Only the beginning of how I masterfully destroy. But that anger doesn’t bubble up here. It is stripped away, and so is my guard, and in that slip of a bare moment, a kind of shared sorrow I’ve never heard of floats between us-I saw it. I’ll never forget what I saw in him that night under the porchlight-a shame and grief so deep, so big it cut through me into that lonely center. I saw him saying he was sorry; almost as if he were saying leave, get away from here, this is not meant for you; there is nothing that can be done to repair the damage I have done, so I will give you away. Maybe you’ll make it. Get out of here.
My sorrow is him. All I had ever wanted was him to love me. I wanted to be his daughter. All the years of my girlhood spent in the dirt in the garage watching him with engines and tools, pretending I liked Deep Purple, asking what a socket wrench was, who was Led Zeppelin, how do I bait a hook…and he couldn’t love me like that. And he knows it. And I know it. And that very fact hangs between us like a breath on frost. The shared sorrow from opposite sides of the ice.
This center he had pressed, it is the only thing left I do not hate about him. And I have denied that center ever since.
The moment passes and I remember my defense—that he is despicable. That I was naïve for allowing this. I thought I’d fear him looking at my body again—but my chest is hurting, trying to swallow that earth, that world, that small center I cannot hold.
Beneath his sickness, beneath his ghost-like existence, beneath his perversion and depression, there is something in him to speak past all that, step on what pride he had left, to tell me what he sees in me-as a human. As a person. Maybe he wanted to, as a father, give me something no parent had ever given me—hope.
I can’t look at him anymore. I cannot bear seeing someone in so many pieces who has broken so many things there are no words.
Headlights, then bass. “Lori’s here.”
“OK. I just wanted to say it. Have a good night.”
“Thanks,” I say without looking at him and trot down the steps toward the car, heart pounding.
“Hi my Jo-Jo Bean!” Lori smiles, her bouncy self turning down Tupac and putting the Buick in reverse. Night slips around me, the only light from the dash. She hands me a cigarette.
“Hey turn that up,” I say and smile. As if nothing had happened. As if I could forget this.