Daddy, gone — a chapter from my feminist memoir “whitegirrrl” #amwriting #feminism #70’s #divorces

Mom and Dad.  That’s what you wanted isn’t it?  You wanted a perfect family didn’t you?

It takes years to face the hidden skeletons in the closet.  It takes years before you will be able to admit how much you loved Daddy.  It takes years for you to work through your mother’s narcissism.  Therapy helps you, but writing helps you more.

“I carried you in a little basket,” she says.  She’s all Balboa Beach but she meets him at a party and he surfs and he goes to Art Center and he’s thirty one and you grow up believing he’s your father.  He is actually.

After he’s gone, and she’s gone, you manage to write the hardest places.  You didn’t have a father.  Not like other girls had fathers.  Their fathers pinned on the corsages.  Their fathers screened the boyfriends, didn’t they?

Their father’s were there.

You lost him at age nine, because she had an affair when he was over in Hawaii shooting surfing films.  She wasn’t thinking about you and your little brother when she bedded James was she?  Not that year that you were eight, not that year you told daddy when he asked you who painted the house.  A year later he’s leaving her.  Off and on it goes until you are fourteen.  They keep trying to patch it up.  The keep trying to work things out.  You’re eight when you read his love letters to her.  You found them in her lingerie drawer.

She only thought about herself.

“I helped him,” she says.  “At the Civic.”

He’s making surfing films, and he’s traveling all over the world like your uncle does with his movie cameras. She must have loved those early years on the beach with the sun blaring down on her like a hot jazz trumpet.  She was always tan in those years.  The tannest thing on the shore.

You’re nine and they are breaking up, and he tells you years later that you were so brave.

So brave you had to ask him for the child support, didn’t you?

She ruins your childhood because she is having hers in perpetua.  Somebody has to be the big girl, and that’s you.  Years later you learn that the word for this is “parentified.”

Over at your best friend’s house her mother is slicing cantaloupes and making pancakes and everyone is sitting at the long teak table all Danish and moderne and her dad built the house for his wife.  But that isn’t going to stop what happens the year the two of you are fourteen.  Not the year your best friend lost everything and she became like some little blond beanbag that got tossed around between her parents.  It’s painful looking back.  It’s painful thinking about what girls have to go through, sometimes.

Your mother has forbidden you to have a father.  She decries her own.

“He was weak.”

She tells you she is the strong one in the family.

Years later you realize she was the weakest one.  She was the one that needed everything until she sucked the strength from everybody around her like some violent black hole.

“I’m such a rotten mother.  You two kids are the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Your mother’s in the kitchen making french toast for your little brother in the big expanse of burnt orange Formica at your house on the hill overlooking the city.  He’s smiling at her, loving her fiercely, running off to skateboard down the hill later, ripping around curves on his little board, riffing down the hill his hair flying in the wind, airborne, backlit, suncurved, suncarved, wavecurled.  Little son of the sea, already onboard.

Neither you nor your brother get to have real childhoods.  It’s not that you blame her exactly, later.  It’s just that you wish it would have been different.  You wish your dad could have met the boy at the door.  The boy that would have asked you to the prom you never went to.  The boy that had the corsage in his hand.  That cute boy that you eyed from afar all through Junior High and into high school.  The handsomest boy in the whole class.

A pornographer’s daughter.  That’s what you are.  And that’s why she left him, too.  It takes years to admit it, even to yourself.

Galio’s father is leaving her too.  He’s moving to a little bachelor pad in Montecito.  She’s trying to grow houseplants.  She’s trying to sew velvet.  Her whole family is collapsing before your very eyes.  It’s like some kind of earthquake that is opening up a fissure that will never heal.  Her brother is moving out on his own, that year.  He’s taking his Santana and his teasing smiles and heading for the waves with his friends.  Your brother will do this too, later.  The sea swallows them at seventeen.  It gives them peace.

Her mother is buying a new house because theirs is being sold.  It’s a yellow Victorian on the other side of town from yours, tiny, and Galio takes the attic for a bedroom.  She’s up in the eaves and the two of you are whispering in that secret language that you had, and she’s showing you how her mother had designed the carpet in all kinds of different swatches they’d glued down as if it were  a giant mosaic of color like a river.  You’re only fourteen that year.  The last year of slumber parties.  That last real night you will ever be a little girl, or two little girls together, because that summer everything changed for Galio.  You knew she was leaving you behind because you were too shy for boys.  It’s the men who came for you anyway, isn’t it?  It would be five years longer until you gave yourself to the first one you fell in love with.

There aren’t any daddies in the 1970’s, are there?  At least not for the two of you.  Not after your mothers broke things up with their love affairs.

“I’m so hungry,” she says.  There isn’t any food at her house because her mother is drunk out of her mind and she is having an affair with somebody who is in his early twenties and the two of them are off together leaving Galio to sit in a slim shaft of sunlight simmering through the old lace curtains on the kind of windows that never really open correctly on old Victorian houses painted yellow on the wrong side of the tracks.

“I’ll make Jasmine tea.”

You will always think of her as these flowers, this flowered tea, forever.

You will think of her as the two of you gathered bindweed in the mountains like wild white morning glories and the two of you made them into crowns together and she embroidered them running all down the front of her beige leotard for the Faire that year.  The last year she still had a family.  It was the last year you had a family, too…


“Daddy, gone” — copyright 2011 — all rights reserved

*author note music

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