By Summer Krafft
This is what being his daughter has always looked like: trying to keep a panic attack silent in a room that does not lock.
There are ghosts here.
Outside the door is a hallway. At the end of the hallway are two doors and a staircase. Down the staircase, there is The Man –The Man who has always seemed more wolf than man. And I am back here, in response to his call. “Something’s wrong,” he said. “It’s bad,” he said. “You need to come immediately,” he said. “It’s not the kind of thing you tell your daughter over the phone.” So I boarded the plane across the country. When we got to the house, I inhaled a sharp breath before walking through the front door, the one I had walked through so often as a child.
I hadn’t seen him since he’d had the strokes. Memory began to make its way back in and I needed to keep as much space between his hands and my body as possible. When I got there, I noticed the way his left leg dragged when he walked. I noticed how often he lost his words -The Man who made a career on language, suddenly wordless. I noticed the storm clouds forming in his eyes.
The first thing I did was sweep the kitchen floor, where leaves and dirt and trash and chunks of grass were littered like bomb scatter. “Oh,” he said, “I hadn’t noticed that.” While I swept, he busied himself at the counter. As I finished, dumping the third dustpan full into the trash, I went to him to see what he was doing. He had emptied the drawer and lined up the all of the spoons in the house on the counter. He kept re-arranging and straightening them. I watched in shock as he stared with the focus of a neurosurgeon, while his hands shook like a man close to his end.
I had not loved any version of the father I had known. I had spent the last nine years trying to un-tangle his voice from my head. “You’re worthless. You’re stupid. You’re fucking poison to anyone who’s foolish enough to love you.” But The Man had called me back and I had come.
After two days, I finally asked. “What’s wrong, dad?” swallowing hard, because the truth is I hadn’t said the word “dad” in years.
“What are you talking about?” he responded.
“When you called and said I needed to come, you said there was something wrong that you could only tell me in person. What is it?”
He shot me a look I recognized –it was the same one he gave me when I was a girl, too small, too helpless to challenge him. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said. I froze, my eyes locked on him, the air between us suddenly electric. “Does something have to be wrong for me to want to see my daughter?”
I went upstairs to the room he had always called mine, and sat on the edge of the bed trying to breathe. It was the room where the haunting began. He had not touched it since I was a child. His memory of me preserved in those four walls and the bed with the sky blue sheets. Secrets were born in that room when he thought I was asleep. Being back there, they all began to rise up from my skin.
I lay there that night, trying to sleep, but I could not bear to close my eyes. I heard his heavy body creak up and down the stairs more than once.
In the morning, I gritted my teeth, still trying to wade through the waters of family, but something broke. It was the end of a two decade story, with just a man and the girl he convinced not to trust her own memory, who he scared silent, who he shamed small. And now that girl was grown and not that girl anymore and standing in his kitchen looking him in the eye saying “I have to go.”
I had called My Mother’s fiercely protective best friend to come get me. She’d called before I went to tell me, “If he pulls any shit, you fuckin’ call me, and I’ll come get you.” She is some of the realest family I’ve ever known. I called, and she got in her car, beginning the five hour drive to pick me up.
The Man did not believe that I had actually called her. He spat at me, “You’re poison, you know that?”
I was too tired to keep fighting. With everything he threw at me, I just kept saying “I have to go.” For five hours, I sat with The Man showing his wolfness and cried, simply repeating over and over again, “I have to go.”
When my mother’s best friend rolled her little car up the gravel of the drive way, he said “If you leave now, I’ll never see you again.”
“I know,” I said.
Is this what it means to be a daughter? Is this wound what it means to have a girl body? Could he have ever loved me? Was it foolish to hope for so long? Is this what letting go feels like?
I let him hug me. He draped his body over mine, arms locked behind my back, spine curved like a question mark. I wrapped my arms around him and squeezed hard for an extended moment. When I released, he kept holding on. “Dad,” I said, but he stayed statued around me. I wiggled my body in his grip, working my hands up to his shoulders and firmly pressing into them. Slowly, I pushed his body off of mine. The Man looked more tired than I had ever seen him. For the first time, when I looked at him, I recognized nothing of myself.
In my mother’s voice, I said, “Goodbye.”
Before I left, I wrote him a note. I don’t know how long it took him to find it. Part of it read, “I never wanted this, it’s just that the ghost of the girl I used to be still lives here. She scares me more than anything.”
Summer Krafft is a writer, performer, playwright, teaching artist, and student based in California’s Central Valley. Her work can be seen in NAILED Magazine, Penumbra, RoleReboot, Your Tango, and The ModestoView. Her work tends to deal with love, rage, forgiveness, and the body.