My Girl

The day I was born, my father didn’t speak.  He sang.

They wrapped me in a bundle and put me in his arms; the youngest, the first and only girl.  There’s a faded picture of him cradling me, smiling, singing.

“I’ve got sunshine, on a cloudy day.  When it’s cold outside, I’ve got the month of May.  I guess you’d say, what can make me feel this way?  My girl, talkin’ ’bout, my girl…”

When I was four, before the 50’s diner shut down, my father would give me a dime to put in the jukebox, and tell me to play our song.  I would sit on his lap and he would give me half his milkshake.  We would sway under the neon lights and the fake car crashing through the wall until the Temptations sang their final note.

When I was fifteen, at a sock hop thrown by our church, I snuck up to the DJ.

“Play ‘My Girl’ for me?”  I asked, “It’s for my father.”

He smiled at me from across the room when it played, knowing who was responsible.

At twenty two, he went through my phone records.  I’d been living away from home for four years and paid for that phone.  He knew he had no right.  He found the international number of my British boyfriend, who he hated, and called him at 3am with a threat.

“Get out of my life!”  I screamed.  “I’m a full grown woman!”

My cat got sick that year, and was put in the animal hospital.  I remember driving up to see him from college, and passing my father in the waiting room.  We didn’t say a word to each other.  I looked at him through hard eyes and walked into the back room.

We grew farther and farther apart.  I left his faith.  I didn’t know how to talk to him anymore.  He told me that if he saw me running into a burning building, it was his job to rescue me.  I told him that I didn’t share his beliefs, that I was an adult, and I should have the same freedoms as everyone else.

We had a series of horrible fights, culminating in me shouting at him, “I don’t believe in your god!”  and storming out.

I went back to my place in Long Beach.  We didn’t talk for a while.

I am twenty four when my mother is hospitalized.  Only Dad and I come to visit her every day.  I curl up with her in her hospital bed, wishing with every ounce in my body that my love could heal.  I bring her chocolate milkshakes like the kind we used to get from the diner.  When visiting hours are over my dad and I drive back to their house together.  We don’t have the words to say anything, but in the car I hold his hand.

At twenty six, my world is shattered.  I was going to be married, and now I have nothing at all.  I gave up my home, my job, my car, and my life to move to Europe with my fiance, who has disappeared for a week.  When I finally get a hold of him to confront all of his lies, it’s too late.  I throw the ring across the room and cry.

“He wasn’t worthy of you.” My father tells me.  “Come home, come heal.”

When I didn’t leave my room for a month and did nothing but eat cheese and beer, he said nothing.  When I wandered the house in tears, he held me.  When I asked him if anyone would ever love me again, he said, “You are the bravest soul to walk away when you had to.  I know some who didn’t, and regretted it.  Someone will know your spirit, and someone will love you more than he was capable of.”

When I got a job and an apartment to get back on my feet, he lent me his car and told me he would miss having me in the house.

When I was twenty nine, my father got sick.  Truthfully, my father has been sick my entire life, and while his yearly hospitalizations have always made me nervous, over time I’ve learned to cope; it’s been happening for three decades.  This time was different.  He, along with my aunt and uncle, were throwing my Grandmother’s 95th birthday party.  I was on a flight, waiting for him to pick me up at the airport when I got the message that he wasn’t coming.  By the time they knew something was wrong, he was vomiting from the infection that had spread to his kidneys, and then to his blood.

“Can I see him?  Please, let me see him.”  I begged. I came from the airport as fast as I could.  But they wouldn’t let me in.

They take him into surgery before I have a chance to see him or tell him I love him.  I spend hours watching the little green tab on the screen above me, indicating that he is currently being operated on.  As the tab next to his name turns blue I exhale all the breath I feel I’ve been holding for eternity.  When they finally let me see him, I run to his bedside and cry.  He is pale, and he is tired, but he is alive.

They won’t release him from the hospital for a week.  He misses the party that he helped provide, the visits with all of the people who’ve flown in, the time with his mother, and I can’t stop the crying.  I realize that this was his entire childhood, and most of his life.  He’s taking it better than I am I think, because I’m realizing for the first time how many things have been taken away from him because he’s been sick.   How many things he’s had to lose.

I insist that I won’t leave Florida until they release him from the hospital, but on my last day there, they let him go.

Two months later, I have a grip on a clumsy piece of sidewalk chalk, and am drawing a large square in the middle of my parents’ driveway.  In the middle I write the words, “Dance Floor”.   I put my ipod speaker on the ground and breathe.  I don’t know why I’m nervous, but I’m nervous.  I ask my mom to call out my dad, who is in jeans and a ripped up shirt, having been working in the tool shed.

Suddenly I feel incredibly foolish, but he’s here, and I’m standing all done up in a white sundress, and I have to say it.

“Dad, it’s our 30th Father’s Day.  I realized it’s our 30th Father’s Day and I thought…”  I stammer  “I just know Dad, that the way things have gone, I might not ever get married.  There might not ever be a wedding or a reason to do this.  But this is our song, and this is our dance, and I’ll be damned if I let you… and this… pass me by because some guy I’ve never met hasn’t come along yet.  We always knew this was our song.  We always knew this was our dance… And I’m here, and you’re here, and you never know how long you get with anyone anyway…”   My eyes fill with tears as I ramble at him, but I manage to force it out.

“I love you, and for our 30th Father’s Day I want to have this dance with you.  Whether or not it ever happens anywhere else, it’s going to happen here.”

My mother hits a button and “My Girl” starts to play.

My father takes me in his arms, and dances with me.

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Things I Learned When I was 21

A few weeks before my twenty second birthday, I decided to write a list of the things I had learned in the previous year.  Year after year I look back to this list, and laugh not only at how true it remains, but how reflective it is of being precisely twenty one years old.  It was a time of discovery and stupidity.  I had a lot of both.  I like to re-post this each year to remind myself of where I was, and where I’m going.

THINGS I LEARNED WHEN I WAS TWENTY-ONE

Wherever I go, there I am. Disappointing, but true.

The best way to get free ANYTHING is to go out dressed as a naughty nurse.

Working full time and simultaneously attending school full time is the death of everything you hold dear. Only do that if you enjoy watching all of your health, sanity, and relationships deteriorate.

Travel. Travel travel travel. There is so much world out there and you can’t die knowing that you didn’t bother with most of it. Go get you some.

Drinking a third of a bottle of Jäger in a bathroom stall will not necessarily make you vomit, but downing a Guinness immediately afterwards will probably put you over the edge.

Hot tubs, S’mores, margaritas, high heels, bikinis, and my girls are the stuff dreams are made of.

It isn’t worth seeing the greatest sights in the world with people who don’t care about you, it’s a wasted opportunity for a grand adventure.   Experience life with those who love you, otherwise it’s not worth living.

Mono sucks. I mean really really really sucks.

Love is in the touch of a friend.

If you see your ex’s parents, be super nice to them. What goes around comes around.

Garages can be comfy places to live. Better than cars anyway. Make friends with spiders.

Double Decker busses, like everything else in life, will only get old if you let them.

My mom is an all-seeing, all knowing being.

It shouldn’t be too scary being who you really are, because those that love you best, love you no matter what you do, say, believe, or don’t believe.

Europe really is everything it’s cracked up to be.

Body boarding might rip your nose ring out, but it’s still totally worth it.

Every good relationship should have a million inside jokes, including but not limited to barn animal names, salty nut sundaes, Scrumsquatullating, “Space chair”, putting Johnny Depp in Princess Sophia for a little ride, and bumpin’ knees with nacho cheese.

Change is inevitable, and often painful. Buck up. Run into it with fists flying and make it suit you. Embrace that which you don’t understand because it still happens to be what you’ve got. If all else fails, buy a pint of Ben and Jerry’s, get your cat, call a friend, and watch a movie with explosions instead of a romance.

Nothing compares to a lazy day spent laughing over old family guy episodes while drinking beer and eating pizza with your favorite British person.

Tanning beds give you cancer, but even your parents will tell you that you look great.

Catching bouquets at weddings should be avoided at all costs. Even if they hit you in the chest.

It turns out the best thing my momma ever taught me was that you can get upgraded tires with a delicate mixture of tears and cleavage. Thanks mom.

Don’t kiss everyone you know on New Years just because it’s New Years. January 2nd, things might feel awkward.

College has a four year way of neatly wrapping itself up. Bands break up, friends get married, and everyone starts packing.

Mistakes are just that. Mistakes. Tattoos on the other hand, are permanent etchings on your body.

Your ex-boyfriends are your EX-boyfriends for a reason.

You will get hurt, badly, playing football in a hallway.

It’s bad to make the same mistake over and over expecting that it will work out well this time.

Family is the best thing to ever happen to me.

Mayonnaise on french fries actually isn’t all that bad.

The dorms are all fun and games until you’ve been living there for four years. Free rent can only get you so far.

Politicians, the guy who fixes my tires, and the ring finger on my right hand are crooked. There are some things we all just have to learn how to live with.

Everyone should find a person who will have adventures with them and cling to that person for the rest of their life. The mundane is a slow and painful death. Creativity is like a sunrise every second.

Nobody should ever have to live anywhere without access to, or the ability to make a little music.

It’s a bad idea to admit what you’re thinking most of the time. It’s only going to get you into trouble.

School is just not that important.

Laughing loud enough to get kicked out of somewhere is a GOOD thing.

Always live somewhere that has a bathroom.

Butt charades is an effective means of communication.

Plastic purses can effectively carry all the sand you might ever want from the beach to your dorm room.

Studio apartments =   

Long distance relationships =   :<

No bar in America truly knows how to make a snakebite.

Fanny means vagina in England.

The best things in life are free, but it costs a lot in gas money and airplane tickets to get to those things.  😉

One.

Every mother has one story about each child that, over and over, they still love to tell. In this one, I am standing in the grocery store, maybe four years old – up to her knees or so – and I tug on her jeans.

“Mommy! Mom! Moooooom!” I say, eyes full and round.

She crouches down to my tiny level, cream cheese in one hand and lunch meat in the other, and as she does I throw my arms around her neck and breathe in deep.

“Mommy,” I say, “I would know you in the dark. You smell so good.”

It’s something a child that small would say. It is earnest and endearing, because it is honest.  Because it is true.

I wonder what it is that makes us feel that kind of tethered connection to another person. One could argue that it’s biological. That we know those joined to us through twisting strands of DNA, cavorting in the minutia of space. One could argue that it’s emotional. That we form a bond by choice, by desire, by proximity and repetition. That we nurture our decisions to follow through. That once we’ve chosen something, we feel the need to back it up, regardless of how illogical or nonsensical it might truly be. We’re hooked, reel us in. It’s too late.

The neurons in our brains, they dance. But they like to dance the dances they know. They look crappy trying out new shit on the dance floor. Maybe we’re just replicating the past in endless loops of static electricity, failing to notice that it’s all just rhythm with no reason at all.

My friend Shanna likes to look at the world as energy, all connected, moving in force to and away from itself. She says that we don’t know why we feel it, but we feel it. It’s how your mother knows when your broccoli goes bad and your heart is broken. It’s the reason your married ex-boyfriend texts you out of the blue after two years of dead air, when you’ve only recently stopped thinking of him. They do, in a way, have radar. Energy moved away from them, and although they don’t know why, even though there could have been years of silence between you, they suddenly felt a loss. The clip of a string, a free flying corner in the breeze. The weightiness of you is gone. They can feel it.

I don’t know if I buy that crap.

My married ex boyfriend texted me because he was drunk on a Thursday. My mom knows my broccoli is bad because I’m always emptying and filling my fridge with sporadic fervor and no sense of due process. There are reasons, I say. It’s logical, mathematical even. Read a book, I say. Duh.

My heart never presents it’s arguments in complete sentences. Allowing me to amble onwards with a quiet ache, though pain and subtlety, it warns my body that something isn’t right. A tiny, persistent wonder, a needing to touch and be touched. I can hardly stand to admit it, that despite all of my arguing and rationalizing, I feel it. My tiny hope that there a line to grasp. That there is something to hang onto in the panic of the deep.

For a year and a half, desire seemed impossible. Everything was scorched and barren. Everything tasted like ash. But now, peeking from the depths of a heart that speaks to me in silence, I know a part of me is still waiting. That I feel a blind, mad hope. That despite everything I’ve been through, despite everything my mind tells me is true, my heart feels a tug from a cord, even though I have no idea what lays pulling at the end of it.

I am groping around in the mess of things, blind. Feeling my way desperately towards something that feels like home.

When everything is peaceful. When I am still within myself. When I lay with him in the quietness of it, satisfied in silence, I’ll know it. I’ll reach across the counterpane of the sheets; my fingers will find his.

And I’ll say to him “I knew you. I found you in the dark.”