Do I make the long distance call? Do I have a father to call? Would it matter either way?
“How was the doctor’s?” my mom wanted to know as I walked in the door. I took a moment to steady myself, trying not to jump. I had not expected to run into her right away, nor did I particularly want to speak with her. I was pretty stuck in my head, and my feelings, and wanted to sleep.
“It was unnecessary,” I told her. In a half second I decided to stick with blunt honesty. Her feelings would be okay, and I’d be able to speak as I went to my room. “They used the same website I’d used myself to check my shots, so all they did was write a prescription for malaria pills I won’t be needing. They don’t take insurance, though, and because my father would rather sit in a car under the sun for an hour and forty minutes than be in the same room as me, I had to put it on my card.” I was on the stairs.
“That’s not true,” my mother started to protest.
“It is,” I told her. “He hasn’t spoken to me since you told him, and he won’t take the chance of having to speak to me now.” She hadn’t even told him the entire truth. He thought I was ‘only’ assaulted. I wondered if he would have stopped talking to me years ago, had he known the first time I’d been introduced to sexual assault. I wondered if knowing that a rape had taken place would be enough to have me kicked out of the home.
“He loves you,” my mom was saying. It was true. My dad loved me. He still does. But,
“That doesn’t matter.” This was more importantly true. I knew that he loved me so much that it pained him to think of anyone violating my body. I knew that the pain was so intense that he didn’t know how to deal with it, let alone how to comfort me. I knew that he felt personally ashamed of what had happened to me, and of his inability to protect me. I knew he loved me so much that all he could do now was reject me, and hide from my presence. I could understand all of this. I am my father’s daughter. I love him, too. I will continue to love him as I resent him for loving me the wrong way, and abandoning me in my time of need.
“You just need to talk to him,” my mother, another person who was not loving correctly, pressed.
“Actually, he needs to talk to me. This is not my job.”
This is a father’s day post. We can skip the ensuing argument with my mother on his behalf; the tears she shed over my situation; the yelling accusations she made, calling me selfish when I opted to sleep instead of comforting her until her tears stopped. We can talk about mothers, or parents who suddenly no longer parent, another day.
She’s knocking on my bedroom door. She’s at my bedroom door, knocking.
“Dinner is almost ready,” she calls to me.
“I’m not hungry,” I say. My mother has different types of silence. I can tell from this one that she’s upset. She thinks I’m purposefully trying to hurt the family by refusing food. I’m not stupid. I’m also not hungry.
“Please, don’t be difficult,” she says, coming into the room. She’s in the room. It’s unnerving how much tension she brings in with her, nearly all on account of my father, who is downstairs and still not speaking to me.
“I’m being difficult.” It’s a question, posed as a statement. “All I want to do is sleep.”
“This family has been hurt,” she tells me, coming closer, “And we need to make it right. Please come eat.” We need to make it better. Who is the we here? And how has This Family suddenly become the victim of the situation?
“I was raped,” I say, tired. I see that she shrinks back from the words, so I repeat them, louder. “I was raped,” I decide to shout. “I WAS RAPED. And you two have only had to hear about it. So why are you asking me to do all the work to fix the two of you before I can begin even to fix myself?”
“He cooked, Khalilah.” She is going to cry again. “That means something.”
Actually, I think, I think it means that he’s tired of American food, just like he’s growing tired of America. I don’t say anything out loud, though. I just roll over and stay still until after she has left the room.
It isn’t fair. I could laugh at those words. How often did I say them as a child about nonsense matters? And here, staring a fully unfair situation in the face, they have lost their power. Of course it isn’t fair.
What will happen if I go downstairs? I’ll eat, my mother will eat, my father will eat. We will not speak to each other. I’ll get up, wash the dishes, and go back to my room. My father will continue to ghost me. It is unlikely that things will change.
What will happen if I stay here? My mother will eat, my father will eat. I will sleep. My father, who loves me, will notice my absence. He will think I am spiting him, will fail to see his own actions and will assume that I am rejecting him. By doing what is best for me in the moment, I sever completely all possibilities of any reconciliation. It will be certain that nothing will change.
I get out of bed. I go to eat. Nobody really turns down fufu, anyway.
Now, it’s Fathers’ Day. I am in another country, an ocean away from him. We still have not spoken. What do I owe this man? Does he want a reminder that he has a daughter? Will his love for me make that too painful?
If I am being perfectly honest, I do not want him to be happy. Not for this. Not now that he has contributed to my pain by failing to fulfill his title. The situation is painfully ironic. If I say something, he might think I’m being mean.
Not saying anything would be akin to refusing his food, though. Nothing really means anything anymore. I can do this. Take a deep breath, smile. Even if he can’t see you. It’ll sound less fake.
Happy Fathers’ Day!