Sometimes I feel like I’m disappearing in the space between the white of the computer screen and my window. The light leaves the room in the evenings. When I come back home, it’s almost gone. I stood on the train today, nose almost touching the window, for the last five stops. I said to myself, What are you upset about? And someone in me cried. It said, The marble is ruined. Daddy left the lemons on the floor for a week, and the marble is ruined. The thought of the lemons, brown, mushy, still on the marble floor. One of them rolling on the cold floor maybe, before reaching its final halt, where time covers it with its autumnal golden sheen.
I asked Dad to come visit me this weekend. I prepared for the question well in advance. I thought about it as I did the dishes, as I folded clothes, as I walked through the aisles, not minding the groceries. And finally, after church on Sunday morning, I cracked the question on the phone.
He said no. He’d much rather me go visit in Greece so we can all be together.
There are times when I think of those times we spent together, those few times. That summer really, when he lived in New York, and I came to stay with him for three months, doing an internship. We spent five hours at a time over coffee and loukoumades then. I’ve held on to those times, recited them over and over when talking to people about my relationship with my dad. But was it our time together I cherished so much, our conversations? Why do I remember trying to impress him so bad? Trying to get to know him better, asking him questions — that it seemed he answered for too long?
I wanted him to love me for who I am. To impress him with my knowledge. But “daddy” beat me up too when I was little sometimes. Like when he lost patience over history homework. Or that semester when I lied to them about my math grades for months. He tried to teach me … French, history, math. He knew everything, and I looked up to him. I didn’t really know him. I heard of him, listening to my mom gushing on the phone. But my mom had her own issues, was covering them up by bragging about things she’d later curse my dad about.
They’ve been married for 31 years. And now they barely talk. They live in a house together, and they barely talk. My dad reads a lot, I’m sure, comes home at 7, takes a seat and reads again. My mom cleans, dusts, watches television, cooks, looks out the same glass I do, sees things. Misses me. Then goes on with life, with me in her thoughts.
I hate the weekends. I hate it when we talk on the phone, and I’ve to pretend I’m doing great while I hear it in her voice that she’s miserable. I know that one day it will all be over, and we’ll be confronted with our big lie. But for now, we stand the weekends. I know she’s upset because she blames herself that we left and live on different continents. Whole worlds apart. People don’t know what that’s like. They think it’s OK because other than Thanksgivings and Christmases — and all those weekends here and there — they too are apart anyway. And it is OK, because you have work, movies and crossword puzzles to distract you.
But in the moments between these things, it’s there: They’re so far. They’ve always been so far, even when we lived in the same house. Mom taught me to be insecure about everything in life — at worst directly, when she’d tell me I knew nothing about nothing and hit me as if that was the way to learn it, at best when I watched her say things to people to cover up her own insecurity. Dad was never there. And when he was, he was either trying to save me from my mother’s claws or telling me that marriage was the biggest mistake in his life.
I shake my head as I talk about my childhood sometimes. I wonder how I came out so relatively “normal.” I guess normal isn’t crying on the train for no apparent reason, but you know what I mean. But there’s a lot of things they’ve damaged for me, and for my sisters too, thanks to their antics, and it didn’t have to be this way. For example, I will (most likely) never be that girl who’ll be able to have a full day of work without doubting herself. Neither that girl who’ll have plenty of friends or feel OK in a crowd of more than two. Not the girl without a million anxieties plaguing her all at once.
It didn’t have to be that way. Forgive your parents, Michael said once before he died. I have. But they’ve made me. You can forgive the potter’s hands, but the clay doesn’t change its texture. If he didn’t fire enough, or if he forgot the glaze or was remiss on days when he just wasn’t in the mood for art, the product remains misshapen. Love it and it can become the best in the world, the favorite piece in its uniqueness. But neglect it, and it’ll always be what it looks like: a misshapen, almost work of art. Almost. And if the pot could talk, sooner or later it would probably forgive the potter. But that wouldn’t change the fact that it’d continue living life fighting to convince itself that the reason it always got the lowest spot on the shelf and nobody ever wanted to look at it was not because it wasn’t beautiful.
Artists aren’t perfect and neither are parents. The cold hard truth? I don’t know my dad. I wanted to know him, and I wanted to impress him. But I’ve always felt that he wasn’t impressed. He said he was, but I feel that deep down he wasn’t because secretly, he was hoping that one of us would inherit his genes of greatness and nobody did. Or maybe he really just wants us to be happy as he says. In that case, he thinks I’m happy — which I am, most of the time. But even if I didn’t let him down, he let me down a little: I needed a father for guidance, the guidance I didn’t get from my mom. He said I didn’t get the guidance because she was crazy. Fine. But where was he? I pretended I had him, he was mine, I was like him, he was like me, but truth is, I didn’t have him. I still don’t know him. Today, I find out about the lemons. So I get a clue: He’s the guy who lets lemons rot on the floor every week and then lets mom clean the decaying marble while he returns to his reading.
And life goes on. To oil its wheel, turns out my sister chastised him about it — the benefits of getting to an age beyond grounding. And about an hour later, he’d cleaned the floor and juiced every single one of the 100 lemons. That’s my dad, my life’s “idol.”
And this, is our family. To round out the picture, my mom is depressed. My sister is angry deep down, and lonely, I’m sure, and that’s why she moved in so quickly with that new guy she’d been dating. Then there’s my little sister, growing up in that house — who knows in what condition. And then there’s me.
I like to think everything will be OK one day, and I believe it, I just don’t know how it’ll get there. I don’t see the path, but I feel at times the random, dispersed moments of comfort, like a collection of little stars lighting up the path to the moon. I guess that’s what keeps me going, fighting through the crap of daily life, trudging further and further into the darkness.