What can I tell you that you don’t already know?
I don’t know. I don’t know what you know.
I know what I know.
(I also don’t know what I know and know what I don’t know that I know.)
We cannot experience anything other than our own experience, I’ve been told. So, what can I tell you?
I can tell you how when I was 17 I stole a lot of underwear, and a few bras, from Victora’s Secret at the Moorestown Mall in New Jersy where my friend Ameila was working. My friend D and I. We then added up the cost of all the lingerie and realized that we had commited grand theft. I might still have one of the bras. But maybe you know this. I don’t know where you go when you die besides gas stations.
Maybe you can see it all and you shook your head when we did this and lit up a cigarette, alreaydy knowing the outcome. Which was: nothing happened. We didn’t get caught and I don’t know if we even felt bad. D and I worked at a sporting goods store called Modell’s and we would have our friends come up to the register and not ring them up for Umbros and Champion sweatshirts.
I can tell how you when I was 19 I applied to for a fellowship for poets at Bucknell University. For “Younger Poets”. Only ten people in the nation could win and I didn’t see the point in applying, in sending in my poems at all, because I never won anything, only bad things happened to me. Urged on by my mentor at the time, Donna Masini, I sent my poems in and won the fellowship. I won it! I got the sacred fellowship and a retired NFL football player turned poet who was actual quite lovely was our writer-in-residence. I spent a summer starving myself and writing and running through cemeteries in the rain and reading poems in an old church in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. Only ten in the nation and I did it. I defied the odds and overturned the ruling that God hated me. But maybe you knew? Maybe you in fact, did that? Maybe you had a hand in that?
I can tell you how I got pulled over once when I had been drinking. The cops called for backup and I went and sat on the side of the freeway and prayed to you: Daddy, if I have ever had to call in a favor now would be the time. Please. Help me. And you did. So, I guess I don’t need to tell you that? But maybe you don’t know this one: after that night you saved me, I swore I would never ever have a sip and drive again. And I did.
I can tell you that. I have had some sips since.
I am not perfect.
I can tell you that but you know that. I am quite sure of this. I wasn’t perfect even when you were here. Remember when you used to quiz me on the names of the hockey teams for each state? I could never get them right.
What can I tell you that you might not know?
Maybe you aren’t really dead.
I always knew that if I kept looking, kept driving, I’d find you. I didn’t think it would be here though, that you’d be pumping gas in Kansas. You still smoke, I can tell. The way your shoulders hunch over gives you away. When you push nozzles into canals, into the backs of cars, you heave, your shoulders roll. Your stomach reaches closer to your back,toward smooth pink scars.
Daddy, you look smaller, shirking into yourself like that.
Silently pumping gas, coughing occasionally, scratching your sunburned bald spot. I watch you from the shoulder of I-7o through dead bugs on my windshield. There is a small convenience store attached to the gas station.
You enter it and when you emerge I see the bulge in your pants. You’ve bought Kools: your brand of cigarettes and stashed them in your front hip pocket, next to an Almond Joy.
I see you still squint, smoke, have bad posture, eat Almond Joys. Quiet as ash, you in the Kansas of Colorado, one foot almost in each state. The moment you noticed me must have been when you straightened your back up, crushed your half smoked cigarette and smiled. You know I can’t come any closer.
I can’t pull into the station, roll down my window and touch your face.
But what can I tell you? I will tell you anything you want to know.
How long it took me to find you? How many years I was lost? How I am about to be the age you were when you left? How I know this isn’t you but how I need it so badly to be and how much it means that you let me believe it is. How your gifts never stop coming through? I can tell you that.
How although you ripped my heart out at 8 years old I have never forgotten and I have used every bit of you up and turned you into art whenever I have had the oppotunity. Though the facts that remain are greying with age, they are no less relevant than they were all those years ago. Nor are you.
I can tell you that I am a better person than I have ever been and that it feels foreign and exhilarating in the way being recognized feels after a lifetime of being invisible.
Some days I love you and some days I hate you and how does that make you any more special than a father that is here on this earth in his chair watching his show with his glasses on his chest? It doesn’t. You are not invisible is what I am saying.
That I can tell you.
It’s not knowingness that matters, it’s beingness. Which of course, boils down to empathic love. Love is the biggest word. Ever. Empathy is all about feeling. Feeling. The second biggest word. Ever. The pragmatics & the practical don’t get it. Well, that is they won’t admit it. It’s just not cool. Being right, they believe, is cooler.
I believe that intractable & weird thing we call “heart,” is the only thing that matters … well , that & what we do with it to empathize with others.
It rarely “pays,” but it feels really fucking good.
I love this. The rawness, the honesty and the emotion. If this is part of your book, keep going! (if this isn’t part of your book – still keep going). 🙂
I read this with admiration for your courage and leave inspired to be me today!
I’ve never experienced most of what you describe above. And yet, reading this, I felt my breath shortening and my chest tightening. Like it was happening to me. Like I could smell the smoke, and the gasoline, and rain in PA. You bring life to words like no one else I know. Thank you.
Wow. This is incredibly powerful. I’m sorry for what sounds like a deeply complicated relationship, but awestruck – and grateful – that out of it you can create such art. xox
This gets me. Love
There are no words. Amazing work sister. When I read it I forget that it is part of me as well. I become so engrossed in your words that it feels like I am watching a movie in slow motion. I love you! You are brilliant.
This is really beautiful.
That is just absolutely lump-in-my-throat gorgeous.
thank you. I just love you.