Father Shaped Spaces.

by Cassie

It’s the second day of the year, and the thing I’m thinking on most is oddly out of place.

Well. Maybe that’s not exactly right. Anything that informs so much of what you do and who you are is never truly out of place out amongst the space of your thoughts, a dim twinkling thing that refuses to burn itself completely out. It dangles there, part of its own cobbled together constellation, and it will always be somewhere in your sky, illuminating its origins.

The origins of this are my father’s face.

This morning, I watched my husband pick up our tiny toddler, and the way he smiled at her, and the way she smiled at him — it was a one-two punch of gratitude and grief. How lucky she is, I thought, looking at them, her hair the exact same shade as his, her eyes the exact same color of ocean meeting sky. That is a girl, I thought, who will never question she is beloved.

Three years ago, on the first day of another year, I stood on steps made of concrete blocks and screamed so loud and so long that when I was done, my throat was raw and ragged, and I had to suck on a cough drop in between sobs. Twenty years of holding in my emotions exploded in an atom bomb of ugliness right over my father’s head. “I HATE YOU,” I yelled. “YOU RUINED EVERYTHING,” I yelled. “WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU,” I yelled. Words like shrapnel, flying into his face. Words like heat seeking missiles, aiming straight at his heart. He tried to push past me, and I shoved him, hard. He stumbled backwards, almost fell, managed to stay upright in the last second. Imagine the smallest measure of time, and half it, then quarter that — for an instant that small and unimaginably fleeting, I found a way in; I scrambled past the endless wall of his defenses, and struck as deep a blow as I could manage. In that half a heartbeat, the mask slipped, and the howling loneliness and utter bewilderment I saw beneath it broke something open within me, something I hadn’t even known existed, hidden deep inside layers and layers of cells and memories — a place where I could still feel pity for the man who made me in his image.

My mother and sisters and I, all created under the careless eye of men who couldn’t stay still. All ripped along familiar seams, sewn back together by occasional phone calls and part time promises. Each of us always looking in the wrong direction, decades of little deaths left for us to trip over, because we’re never looking at where we’re going, we’re only looking for where we once were. The not-quite-fatherless daughters, forever finding more of our tribe, because there are so many of us out there. Yet there’s no comfort in not being alone, because you would never wish this nomadic yearning on any of them; you only wish for each of you what your own golden daughter enjoys so easily —  wagons full of warm, easy love, circling the fire of her existence, setting up camp on the stretching prairie of her spirit.

In the middle of writing this, I called my mom. I wanted to know if there was ever a time when my dad had adored me in the effortless way our kids are adored. I wanted to know if I’d ever been first in line for his love. Yes, she said. But when had it stopped? I don’t remember it. When he met her, she said. And that’s pretty much what it’s all about: a million of us with the same crooked constellation, made by men who can only love in one place at a time, and the women who must become globes in their place, a terrestrial commitment to their half-abandoned babies, hearts like mountaintops.

It’s the second day of the year, and the sky behind my eyes is lit up by all the space in the shape of my father.