Saturday, June 18, 2005

A Mostly True Tale For Father's Day

"I want you to mow the grass this weekend. No excuses." My father had his back to me, engrossed in something on his computer. When he wanted something, he tended to talk in short, declarative sentences through the back of his head. It worked.

Normally. "You know what, I am tired of you riding me. I’ll get to it when I’ll get to it. Ok?"

My naked insolence seemed to paralyze him at first. Eventually, the swivel chair slowly spun 180 degrees around until he was facing me. Like his parents and peers, my father had used corporal punishment when we were growing up. He stopped when I was 10 or so, but you knew it might resurface under the right circumstances. Even though I was 19 at the time, this kind of insolence probably qualified as the right circumstance.

Of course, being 19 gave me advantages if he suddenly went down that path. First, he was almost three times my age. Second, my father and I are the same height, but when it comes to builds, I had more muscle mass and outweighed him by about 15 pounds. I had no doubt that I was significantly stronger than him. Third, I was faster than him. Fourth, I knew Uechi Ryn karate, a non-competition form of karate that involves a lot of debilitating kidney punching and kneecap kicking. All facts pointed to me destroying him in a normal fight. Yet, he possessed one key advantage: I utterly incapable of actually striking my father. This tended to make any potential fight between us decidedly one-sided.

"Look, wait," I said holding up my hand. "I can explain. Things have been really stressful."
Silence.

"Did you say ‘shit?’" my father finally asked. When he got really mad at me, he had this habit of imagining me doing or saying something even worse. I once pushed my sister when I was eight. He saw it and spent the next hour chasing me around the house yelling, "Stop running and take your punishment for calling your sister a bitch!" Surprisingly, my sister – my arch-nemesis at the time – actually chased him as he chased me saying, "Daddy, he didn’t call me a bitch!" It didn’t stop him.

"What? No. Wait. Let me explain."

***

The weight came down on me one day earlier. I was back from college for the summer in between my sophomore and junior years. My days consisted of screwing around for a month after the spring semester ended before heading to Europe and Africa for a couple of months. It was a hard life I led back then.

Spent most of my time with my girlfriend at the time, Moona. Despite her better judgment, she loved me. Loved me so much that she used to write me a letter or call every day. Loved me so much she wrote poetry about me. Loved me so much that she got a tattoo on her ankle of some sort of Chinese letter that approximated my name. Loved me so much that she was clearly mad.

I met her the previous semester at a party, and we spent that first night together. The next morning, she told me it had been a magical evening. I thought it might have been more magical if she had actually slept with me that first night. Call me a sentimentalist. She was going to college in Baltimore, I was at a school in the South; we began a long distance relationship.

After that night, the letters came. They were heartfelt, rambling missives about how she was doing, how she felt about me, how she dreamt about a future together with me. It was sweet. I used to think about those letters sometimes as I laid in my bed at night. They made for lovely thoughts. Except when those thoughts would be ruined by the loud snoring of Sarah, a woman I slept with from time to time that semester.

Moona and I had two radically different understandings of what a long distance relationship was. She thought that we were soulmates drawn together by kismet, tragically separated by space. That’s what one card she sent me said anyway. The card had puppies on it, so I thought that surely she wasn’t being serious. On the other hand, I thought a long distance relationship meant I talked to her on the phone every so often and slept with when she was in town.

Despite this wide gulf between our perceptions of what we had, it all worked because of the distance. She spent her evenings writing me long missives about how she felt about me. I spent most evenings reading, writing, drinking, talking rubbish with my friends and occasionally sleeping with other women. We had our separate, yet together lives. There was a nice symmetry to it so long as it stayed the same.

But, it didn’t stay the same. The semester ended, and I moved back to D.C. for at least part of the summer. Baltimore is only an hour drive from D.C., and suddenly she was everywhere. She expected me to spend all my free time with her. And so she did. She asked me to love her, and then it was no longer a voice on the phone or a fleeting presence on a spring weekend.

The night before the incident with my father, Moona and I had been kissing on the Georgetown waterfront. Kissing wasn’t quite what it was. We were mashing out lips together in a slow burn. I never told women how I wanted them to kiss me. It was better to be easy and go along with it. The only bad kisses you had were the ones you had with your fist as your daydream away your loneliness.

"You know why I love you so much," she said caressing the back of my head.

"Its gotta be the shoes." I was wearing some kickass Pumas.

She shook her head.

"Is it the fact that I was the class grammarian in 9th grade?"

She punched me lightly on the arm. "No, silly. It’s because you remind me so much of my father."

I don’t think I have ever met anyone who loved her father as much as Moona did. She had told me about the tender, close relationship they had many times before, and it made you feel like you were basking in the sunny side of the human condition. I always admired men as wonderful as her father, in the same way that I – who can’t draw stick figures consistently – admire Dali.

Her father died two years before. I don’t even know how, but it didn’t matter. The loss of him had ravaged her. She had only a year before begun to piece herself together. Building around the void left by his death. She spoke to me late into many an evening about her longing to feel whole again. Not wanting just to build around the void, but to fill it in.

She thought I could fill the void.

It was tragic really. I was shallow, fickle, two-dimensional existentialist. I knew it. I actually reveled in it. Why? Not enough time in the world to ponder that. I was just not ready for expectations.

And here she was thinking she saw echoes of a great man in me.

I kissed her on the forehead and held her close to me. I owed her the truth. Free on the riddles and nuances of life. Just say it. Whatever "it" was. That it was all overwhelming to me? That I wasn’t ready or probably capable of giving her what she was looking for? What do people say when they want to tell people the truth of how they feel? Do people really do that?

We started walking back to my car. We passed a homeless person who has a sign that read "Homeless. Hungry. God Bless. Diabetic!!!"

I scratched my chin with my free hand and said, "I wonder why or how he decided in what order to list the things on his sign. Or that three exclamation points made more sense than one."

"Let’s go to your brother’s apartment and fuck," she said, her huge eyes shining, blinding.

Brother was out touring with his band, and we had his place to ourselves. She implored me to touch her in the car on the way over to his place. I touched her face; she pressed her face against my hand.

A couple of hours later. "Why are you stopping? You can’t stop. No, you can’t now." We were both sweating profusely from every pore, all exposed in the heavy air of the air-cooled bedroom.
If she was right, in some way, to her, I was her father. Who is doing, well, this. "I’m just taking a break. Want to slow it down, you know."

"You can’t stop right now. It’s ok. We’ll both get there. That’s it," she cooed, pressing her hips forward.

I laid on my back a few hours later, awake and staring at the ceiling. Her arm was draped over my chest, and clearly everything was fucked.

Over time, my annoyed ambivalence would seep out, and the pain and disappointment would end us. The question was whether I should let it bleed or cut it out. Someone else’s heavy heart.

***

So I explained the weight, my father problems, to my father. Actually, the story I told my father left out a lot of the details.

"Look, there’s been a lot weighing on my mind. I’ve been having some issues with my girlfriend. And I am going to have to break up with her. But, it’s going to hurt her psychologically. I don’t know what to do."

My father stared at me as if I had taking a shit on the living room rug. Then, he stroked his chin and got up. I thought, ok, I can’t punch back, but I can block. If I remember correctly, he’s got a good left cross.

Then he smiled. He thought I was asking for help.

My father hadn’t exactly given me stellar advice about women. I remember once, when I was 12, asking him when he’d tell me about sex. He said he’d tell me when I was 18. I lost my virginity before then. When someone told me I sucked in bed, I’d just shrug my shoulders and say that I’m still waiting to get the word on sex from my father. When I finally turned 18, I jokingly said to my father, "So, now I’m 18. You said you were going to tell me about sex." "Get your mind out of the gutter and pick up some mulch for the garden."

He walked behind me and over to his bookshelf. He perused the shelves. He finally pulled out a volume.

"This may help your friend," he said, handing the book to me and sitting down.

I looked down at it. "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People?"

"Yes, perhaps if she changed her habits, she might be happier."

"And more effective," I added.

"Yes, and more effective."

"Thanks, Dad."

"Ok."

5 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is hilarious. I truly enjoyed this story.

10:45 AM  
Blogger Henry Baum said...

I agree. Highly effective.

1:19 PM  
Blogger TheUnknownBlogger said...

Probably your funniest post. More Dad and Moona, please...

2:21 PM  
Blogger Joseph K said...

Thanks. Dad would probably kick my ass if he knew I was telling this story. If he could catch me.

8:19 PM  
Blogger Chemical Billy said...

Damn funny, joseph k.

BTW - I grew up in the same neighborhood as the "Seven Habits..." guy. Went to school with his kids. They were happy. And effective. And the most annoying people you will ever meet.

4:26 PM  

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