August named for Augustus Caesar, conquering ruler. August, the month that conquers me with cravings. Years of habit made manifest in compulsions that open me to melancholy I have only begun to understand. End of summer, when I would fly back to my mother and leave my desert home for another year. Stuffing myself with food, until my belly is gorged, until even the idea of food is repulsive, and then opening the fridge to consume more ice cream, more Pepsi, more of my past assimilated into my cells. More of my grief consumed and stored as fat on my thighs.
My first love, my father. The reason dark haired, unemotional men drew me in. Long haired hippies with bristly mustaches and a twinkle in their eye were irresistible and dangerous. I wove a blanket of excuses for him to keep me warm. That clothe protected me from the fear that somehow I wasn’t enough to catch his interest. While he chases windmills, I chase my dreams of having him care enough to call. I expect so little of him, he rarely lets me down anymore.
I try to cover my craving for my father’s interest with other, more attainable cravings. I know he loves me, but in the passive way that someone loves a painting or the precise way in which someone loves a car. He admires my qualities, and details them. He is always happy when happenstance unites us. But he attends to me in a dutiful manner– tune up cards and gifts for the appropriate holidays. A relationship through others, through god. When I ask him to come and help me work on my house he tells me to call my home teachers. The men assigned by the church to take care of me. He’s not responsible as my father, god is. He spends all his love and energy on god, the third party mediator in our relationship. If he loves god enough and I choose to be his kind of righteous I’ll be taken care of. But if I don’t fit into his god’s kind of righteous, why waste the effort? God needs it more, right? God may have thousands of worshipers, I may have only one father, but somehow god’s need is greater.
When I was 2 years old my father shaved his mustache. I remember going into the bathroom to watch him do it. I stood beside him as he looked in the mirror and carefully removed the thick black facial hair. The first mask he wore for me. When he turned to me and asked “What do you think?” I screamed and began to cry. “Where’s my daddy?” I ran from the room, terrified of the stranger before me. Shortly thereafter my mother left him. He’s never worn a mustache since — and I still want to ask, “where are you dad?” but I think know, and I can’t go there with him.
I spent my summers trying to be the daughter I thought he wanted. Copying my Barbie –like sisters with their perfect blond hair, delicate features, and model make up. I belonged in another world, but this was the world he wanted to share with me. I dutifully submitted to hair perms and cuts that fried and frizzed my carrot colored hair. I let my dad buy me clothes that felt strange like a costume. I tried to be what he wanted, I was so grateful for any interest he showed in me, it never occurred to me to be myself.
My father was generous with me but always on his terms. I remember asking him to come to my high school graduation. He was too busy, it was too expensive. 11 years later when I invited him to my wedding he was too righteous to come. Reality was still something we couldn’t share.
May 15, 2009
Every year my father and I would go deer hunting. He used a compound bow that required a strength beyond mine, I could barely pull the practice arrows out of the hay stacks we used for targets. My sisters and I would start on one side of a wooded area and drive the deer through the forest while my father waited on the other side for a shot at the fleeing deer. The memories associated with those yearly trips are assorted vignettes of love and absurdity. My sister leaping 5 foot cactus plants when I screamed in pain from a bee sting in the eye. Boiling hot chocolate melting spoons in styrofoam cups– melting shoe rubber when the car had a major malfunction. The power of the desert in my blood; dreaming of magic beside a blazing moonlight fire; yearning for something beyond the everyday. Flannel, scratchy and dirty, frosty wet mornings, family love– somehow they stay connected and just the scent of summer desert fills me with the peace of being at home.
I was with my father when he got his last deer with a bow. I begged to hunt with him every year because I knew my sisters didn’t like to go. It was one part of my father that belonged to me. Despite my hatred of death and pain nothing said love like hunting with my dad. Our last hunt together we used a tree stand. We spent the day sitting together on a five by five platform 15 feet up drinking pepsi and waiting for dusk. I read fantasy books all day with my walkman on while my father sat quietly with his thoughts in the wild trees–listening to the sound of nature the way a musician listens to a symphony. Occasionally he would tap me to show me wildlife my book obsessed self wouldn’t notice. I wonder now what he thought of me. This strange female creature, blood of his blood, talkative, loud, cerebral. Did he know how I yearned to understand him? That he knew things I dreamed of knowing?
As dusk fell, my bladder reached its waiting limit. Unfortunately, my timing was off. Getting down at that point was not an option. So I held on and watched the cautious deer approach the river while we predators waited for our chance. THWACK! the bow string smacked his wrist guard, the leaves below us jumped and writhed. “Let’s go,” he said with eager determination. We climbed down and Dad told me to wait where I was.
“I didn’t kill it,” he said, “I paralyzed it.” He stooped below the underbrush and came back a few minutes later with his knife casually at his side. I fixated on the blade, smudged brown in the fading light. It wasn’t until later that I heard the story of its death. When I overheard him tell his friends the story of having to kill a deer with his daughter. It was only through these overheard tales that I learned of the fountain of blood he’d had to avoid in his grim reaper role. This was grimy reality. This was death. This was something I couldn’t share with him. While he proudly told me stories of teaching his boy scout troop how to hunt and kill rabbits for dinner, I couldn’t watch him finish the deer we had waited all day to kill.
I watched him wash the blood off of his hands and knife but he bagged the carcass without me ever seeing the body. He struggled to put it in the truck alone. Grimy, bloody reality– it was too much for his image of his daughter. It wasn’t something we could share.
April 28, 2009
I joined the mormon church when I was 13, kind of. My parents were mormon when I was born. My dad had been raised in the church, kind of. I think his stories about sitting in the car at different country bars in other towns so grandpa could drink without anyone in town knowing, points to a less-than-stellar devotion to the church. Anyhow, my mom joined the church when they were dating or married because some of his friends told her about it. And then, being my mom, she expected him to show her the way. I think what she really wanted was a top, not a husband.
So, she threw herself into a patriarchal church to satisfy her needs for domination and then demanded that my father fulfill his role as head of household. His post-vietnam-hippie attitude didn’t combine well with spiritual mormon patriarch. He tried. He failed. One week they couldn’t watch tv because it broke the sabbath, next weekend they’d be out drinking beer with their friends. My mom blamed the church for their divorce. I blame them and their clearly incompatible personalities.
She left when I was two, relocated to the East where her family lived and continued to take me to church until I was 6. From 6-13, I was mormon when I visited dad and hippie agnostic the rest of the year. My sister was extremely concerned I would end up in hell (outerdarkness in mormon terms) but I wasn’t really concerned. Until I skipped church in an act of defiance and had my purse stolen. Never mind the weird logic that god would have someone break a commandment to get me to do the right thing, it seemed clear in my 13 year old mind. I signed up, almost immediately, and began an 11 year journey as one of the faithful.