Father Figure

You remember your father’s fingers curling around the head of your new born baby. They are long, the nails rectangular and pared, clean pink and white, like the baby. Her head fills one of his hands and he uses the other to cradle her body neatly to him. He has his hands full, which is why, when the tears start to leak out of his eyes, he has to turn away, towards the window in the corner of the hospital room. He cries slowly into the light. You lie on the bed and watch them rocking from side to side in silhouette. And you drift to sleep as your father stands crying with your baby.

You don’t remember him passing the baby back. You don’t remember him going, but you think that  there has always been this feeling of leaving, and you wish that there wasn’t. 

*

You ask your therapist what is wrong with you. She doesn’t answer of course, but tells you that you it is good to ask questions. You aren’t interested in questions though, you’d really prefer some answers, but it’s like no one has any of those. 

You think about your new lover. He isn’t like your father in any way you can see. His voice turns you on. It’s like Tony Soprano on the other end of the phone, and you’re Jennifer Melfi, or you’re Carmella, or you’re Adrianna. When you close your eyes, you can feel the sensation of your cheek pressed into his chest, into the crease where, when he lies on his side, one pectoral muscle hangs horizontally above the other. You would like to put your head there every night. 

You want to offer your therapist a trigger warning, although you realise how silly that is, given her job.  You’re already questioning the way you are trying to moderate the story you tell her. It’s an urge that should probably be challenged. But she doesn’t say that. Maybe because you don’t tell her that you know you are doing it. 

Instead, you tell her how soft his hands are, as though the skin has been buffed clean of all lines and whorls. When you think hard, you remember how they feel when he slips his fingers up into your hair, pulling until you gasp. You are unsure if you are gasping for him, or for yourself. You try to explain to your therapist how relationships feel performative to you. You wonder if your urge to tell her a story means that you are as performative a patient as you are a lover. Your therapist just waits for you to get to the point.

So instead, you tell her that the roundness of his head surprises you, the perfect scalp, pink like your baby’s, deep in the crook of your father’s arm, dark blue around the edges where the hairs slide under the skin. It is the emptiest part of his whole body.

You tell your therapist that you don’t know why you are saying all of this, that the small physical details of this man are not what you came here to discuss. Shouldn’t you really be talking about the break up you’ve just had? Or the one before that? Or, if you really wanted to get into it, maybe your father and the way he left you holding the baby? 

*

You’re here because there was a moment when you were thinking of one lover while the one before contorted and twisted into something demonic on the sidewalk in front of your house. You’d thought this wouldn’t be possible for you. And yet, here you are.

You describe this to your therapist as though you saw it from a distance, as though you weren’t there, as though you weren’t the woman, her arms folded, her body soft in supplication, agreeing with the raging bull of a man who launched himself over the concrete, stopping just short of her.  That woman clutched her sweatshirt to her chest. She said ’I know,’ softly, to his allegations. She was aware of her transgressions, but admitting it was like blowing on a fire and his foot collided with her car, the panel crumpling where he slammed into it. That woman flinched and he turned towards her. She saw him as he always has been, but his face was a stranger’s. She would have cried if she could, but she was frozen. 

‘You fucking whore,’ her old lover screams. ‘I know,’ she says.

*

When you tell your therapist, you try to give her the facts as objectively as possible. You talk about yourself in third person, as though maybe that’s better than first.  She nods. She is patient. She doesn’t state the obvious. She lets silence grow between you, and you sit, with your heart breaking. Because you are still just you. And there still aren’t any answers.

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Laura Borrowdale a New Zealand author, teacher and mother, Her writing examines sex and relationships and one of her oldest friends described her as 'loving a public confessional'. Her writing has been published in VICE, numerous literary journals in New Zealand, and she is the founding editor of Aotearotica, a print journal expressly devoted to promoting conversation about sexuality and gender expression. 

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