When I returned to my dad at the age of fifteen, I did so with something of the mentality of a child who has been kidnapped and held hostage. To be reunited with the one my heart loved best had been the gist and shape of my dreams for all of those years; now here I was restored to him, feeling vaguely suspicious.
This was, after all, an exclusively male household. There was about my dad's apartment a foreignness which was manifest mostly in the lack of womanly touches. No curtains graced the kitchen window, no dish towel patterned in flowers or cheery cows hung from the handle of the fridge. A general messiness gave the rooms an air of forlornness, yet I found a certain beauty in Dad's art work taped to the walls in slapdash fashion in the least likely of places, and in all the accouterments of his artist self: bunches of paint brushes gracing old coffee cans, bouquet like; canvasses stacked in corners in various degrees of completion. Did the mere sight of little nubs of charcoal, or the smell of turpentine take me back to those earlier years spent as the apple of my father's eye? I don't remember now if this is true, but I have to think that something within my well protected memory was aroused by the sight and smells of my father's craft.
In the low built-in cupboard which ran the length of one living room wall, beneath the long windows, I nosed around looking for clues to the lives and personalities of my long lost family.
Everything but the kitchen sink could be found in that cupboard, for it was the equivalent of a huge junk drawer, holding the accumulated detritus of their years together. I waded through piles of old (and unopened) bills; stray socks; crumpled up napkins; discarded pads of my father's endless doodlings; tattered and creased Playboys (which I hid in my room to peruse in private, wondering at the beauty of such bodies, wondering when mine would ever measure up to such female perfection.)
I did my digging when my dad and brothers were out, thinking to puzzle together from all of these sifted clues the mystery of those longs years lived without me: the only daughter, only sister. I read (shamelessly!) notes to one of my brothers from his steady girlfriend, notes written with all the passion of a first love imploring him to open up his heart, to confide in her, to speak more spontaneously of his love. Digging through discarded issues of TV guide, whose covers featured Goldie Hawn (back when she became famous in the silly weekly show Laugh-in), and The Monkees, I found grocery receipts from five years ago (I would have been 10, and no longer a virgin), the box from a fried chicken TV dinner, black and white photos of people I'd never seen before in my life.
There was nothing for me in that cupboard, not really. What had I hoped to find? Some evidence maybe that I had been missed? Photos of me before my banishment? Locks of my thick hair? Perhaps an old sweater, a favorite of mine whose absence I'd overlooked in the greater drama of being wrenched from my family? I suppose in some melodramatic corner of my soul I longed to stumble upon a journal of my dad's in which with great pathos he poured his heart out, grieving his lost daughter. The pages would be ripply from where his masculine tears had fallen, and some words would be runny or totally illegible. No such journal was forthcoming, of course. My dad was one to express himself either through the safe cover of verbal humor, or on mute canvasses awaiting his inspiration.
I studied my dad and brothers covertly, wondering at their ease with one another. The suburban home to which I'd been banished had not contained nor encouraged such bantering! I distrusted it even while admiring its naturalness. But beneath the casual jibes and teasings, who were these men? Who were they in themselves and, most importantly, who were they to me? A heavy sense of self-consciousness washed over me at odd moments. I'd come back to my father, but I'd come back to him with an otherness about me. True, his blood flowed in my veins--but my stepfather had known an intimacy with me which cut to the quick: not simply the intimacy of naked flesh but also of abuser to victim. What had my father to offer me that could compete with my (hated) fusion to my abuser?
I studied him and wondered what about him had caused my mother to forbid the continuation of our relationship for 8 years. What had he done to so insult her that she felt the need to punish him in this manner? Or was I the one being punished? And did he ever balk at her stubborness, ever threaten horrible things in a feverish attempt to change her mind? My dad wasn't one to let himself be pushed around; I have to think he fought for me behind the scenes. I watched him, wondering if my otherliness was something he sensed, maybe without realizing just what it was that was a bit off putting about me. Did he sense on some primal level that his enemy had stormed his daughter's gates, so to speak, had raped and pillaged and restored her to him a battered, sorry replica of her former self?
I wonder if, instinctively, my father pulled away from me just a little, exultant to have me back in his life but at the same time leery of my stepdad's influence during my missing years.
I see my father back then in his favorite trench coat, his bow legs giving him a rather comic look. He tells me my eyes are huge, as big as headlights. He tells me I'm pretty. My hands are soft, I have a nice smile. But does he see beneath any of this? Does he have even the slightest clue as to who I am beneath my surface self?