That house was enormous. A front yard, and a back yard, and a hall, and a grapefruit tree, and a sky-high plank fence, and a curvy path, and a Long Beach alley, and my own room. The jacaranda petals were my favorite color — or maybe my favorite color was jacaranda — and I didn’t mind tripping over pavement cracked by overzealous roots.
“I want a divorce!” I sat on my bed, facing the yellow wall, the white door, my legs gently kicking themselves back and forth, my hands cupping the tiny bed’s angles. She walked in after — I’m not sure how long — “Kari, your father and I are getting divorced.” As if I hadn’t heard her say the same damn thing just a moment ago. Did she think I was deaf? Did she think she was mute?
Kirk was my Wilson. He was, now that I think about it, shockingly sweet and generous. He was in fourth grade, and I was a mere five. He’d pull his head over the fence to talk to me whenever I wanted, and he bade me to peer through the fence’s knots to see his robots. He gave me his bike.
Sometimes, Kirk disappeared for the weekend. He explained to me that his parents were divorced; I don’t remember if he said why. But whatever he said, I knew my parents would soon do the same. And when she broke, I heard those words like anything else in school, from them, from books, from TV. Just another obvious plot twist they’d taken their sweet time getting to.
In 2007, that house was shamefully small. It is a Long Beach cottage on the fringes of chainlink-fenced LA houses. If it were provided with better landscaping and more coffee, one might call it a “bungalow.” But this neighborhood isn’t gentrifying, and, if anything, has gotten a little less safe since I lived there. So you can call it a little house, if only because you’re too kind to call it a happy dingy shithole lovenest.
Front door to back yard is a straight twelve paces. Kirk was ten, so of course that fence isn’t so high, after all. That room fit a child’s bed and her maxed-out library spoils and two blankies. This is postwar California and it is stucco and it is cement and it could be deemed cozy or bland or cute or stifling or bohemian or just another little house dwarfed by its company of countless identical houses. But it is separate and it has a yard and two neighbors and it is the American Dream.
I understood all relevant points: you two were done, we were moving, that was that. And early one June morning, before it was light, we left. You were in bed, so I climbed on top of the sheets, on top of you, and wrapped my overgrown five-year-old arms around you and held you with my whole body. Maybe I gave you lots of kisses, and maybe you gave me some, too. I don’t remember. I do remember it was dark, and you were in bed. Now I wonder how long it was before you got out of bed.
So I’ve built myself in point and counterpoint. Strength, yes please; alcoholism, no thank you. Generosity, yes; cowardice, hopefully not. Love, yes; cattiness, god I’m trying so hard here.
A man sings, “somebody bring me the head of a love song.” This is heartbreaking, because you can empathize, but you also know he’s so damn wrong. Cynics don’t care enough to take vengeance against the song.
Maile Meloy writes, “There’s a look little girls have who are adored by their fathers. It’s that facial expression of being totally impervious to the badness of the world. If they can keep that look into their twenties, they’re pretty much okay, they’ve got a force field around them.” Despite Meloy’s usual skill, this sentiment seems trite, too closely paralleling the “daddy issues” trope to demand serious consideration. But because I consider myself one of those little girls, it feels true. I don’t know if I’ve kept that look into my twenties. You’d have no basis for judging that, either.
But to strip off old loves and go forth into the world, selfishly rejecting fear “because not that many would hurt anyway,” facilitates ceaseless myopic navel-gazing and continuously self-questioning arrogance regarding how to build this life.
Since I had been awake, you were man and ghost. Honestly, not much has changed after you’re dead. You abide, in your own way, because I want you to. But I always have wanted you to. And as I rarely sought your counsel after 1996 or so, barring rare circumstances such as sorority rush, I certainly don’t wish you were around so I could ask your advice. We all know I only want information, not fucking advice.
But just because I’ve rarely needed or been parented doesn’t mean I don’t miss you with every breath. And just because our caretaking roles switched over a dozen years ago doesn’t mean that you’re not still Dad. But I accepted that you’d go long before you’d gone, and it has been okay.
Despite my atheist’s morbidness, I had no contingency plan for loved ones leaving via choice. So, to be clear: counterpoint: I didn’t want to be a charming loner like you. I am no orphan; I have not been trampled upon; no family has spat on me; no hard life stole everything, everyone I could love. So, in this, counterpoint. But counterpoint failed to anticipate that anyone would ever choose to walk away; blinders on, I neglected the inevitability that someday, somebody, somewhere, could peace; that anyone wouldn’t want to hang out with me as much as I wanted to with him. It turns out that departure-by-choice bugs a lot more than departure-by-inevitability. So Meloy might have mistaken imbecilic myopia for imperviousness.
I’m still not asking you for advice. I just love you, that’s all. NBD.