This is losing your father and virginity within a month of each other. A sweaty back sticking to the fogged up window of my 16 year old boyfriend’s car. The smell. Musty and sweet, and clinical, like running a marathon and having a check up at the doctors office all at once. The pungent latex from the condom, the ammonia-bleach-like semen, and all these things I wasn’t really supposed to be smelling in the midst of grief.
I liked it. It smelled like escapism. It smelled like pain and pleasure, and never having to leave. I was already too busy hiding from other smells. Those of depression: a skeletal woman who once resembled my mother and her newfound inability to get out of bed. Piles of molding clothes in the corner, unwashed, still stained from the final days of a person. The half empty bottle of my father’s cologne, a blue striped torso with a French name I can’t remember. Wooden desks and chairs. Wooden trinkets from our trip to Vermont in 2002. The wooden ladle in the sink, encrusted with week old tomato sauce. The wooden box sitting unassumingly in our living room. The box that contained my father. Ash and dust and dirt. That’s all he was now. This is losing your father and virginity within a month of each other.
I was hiding with a boy, who touched me and said he loved me. I was convinced enough fucking could erase any other throbbing. I had this searing pain in the spot right between my eyebrows, the same spot that my boyfriend said wrinkled when I felt furious about something.
Half the time, I was just convincing myself this pain was an impending aneurism. I thought it might be easier that way, something to pin a diagnosis on instead of the hurt simply being a symptom of loss. The constant pounding regret of things I wish I’d said to my father. The birthday I chose to sit with my friends and asked that he and my mom sit at a different table. The April afternoon I didn’t correct the well-intentioned stranger who thought my dad was my grandfather. The furiousness of irrationality that he wasn’t fighting hard enough.
“Why aren’t you fighting?” I spat, his frame disappearing each second it hung in the hospital. I wanted to take it back instantly, but he just shut his eyes. My soldier on the front lines, but I was too blind and frightened to see it. The lines on the electrocardiograph dancing against a black backdrop, I couldn’t stomach the place any longer. I wanted him to be like those disgustingly chipper women being interviewed in The Secret DVDs my yoga teacher would play on the occasional Friday after we did a thousand sun salutations (yes, my school offered yoga as a P.E. elective).
One woman, Susan, who looked like a strange Stepford and Woodstock hybrid, claimed she wished her cancer away. Her words spilled out with such enthusiasm, I wondered if the bitch even had cancer to begin with. I hated Susan. I wanted to cut off all that jet black hair of hers that she never lost. She beamed at the camera, sipping chamomile tea from a porcelain cup with little hearts adorning it. I thought about my dad unable to digest anything, and I felt like throwing up. She never did chemotherapy, instead, she thanked her body each day for healing.
I told my dad about Susan and her tricks for kicking cancer’s ass. Curled up in his arms, we were watching American Idol in the ICU, but I could never quite settle. I was afraid I would sit on his IV or various other wires connected to his body, the ones that enabled his breath and food. He was becoming more machine than man. I made a joke about Susan looking like a woman he dated in college and he laughed this loud, hearty bellow that I can now compare to a glass of wine. It filled my whole body with such warmth, and he said maybe Susan had it all figured out. Maybe she knew better than his team of oncologists. I asked if he would try. He kissed my forehead and agreed. Chemotherapy and wishing, maybe that would be the formula. But it wasn’t. Susan haunted me during bouts of insomnia. I was never a pious girl, but once, I prayed that Susan was dying instead of my dad. Fuck Susan, I thought.
When he was diagnosed, my first thought was a stream of selfishness. I thought of all the things I would now do alone, the moments a girl is supposed to have her father. Blissfully unaware children not knowing they have Grandpa’s nose. Pictures and scrapbooks to force memories in minds that never even had them. The first time I would feel rejection from a man, feel my body bend backwards and insecurities tearing my flesh, and he would not be there to hug me. I would not cry into the comfort of my daddy, and hear his cough syrup voice reassuring my worth. Smooth. Soothing. Teary-eyed and tossing my cap with my peers at graduation, refusing to look in the crowd and see an empty seat. I would be the brave bride, gliding towards my future alone, glowing, but still desperately sad. There was too much empty.
I was sick with all of this, burying it deeper each time my boyfriend fucked me. I thought the softness could save me. The softness became my addiction, thinking this mess actually made me some cool, vaguely nymphomaniac-like girlfriend. I wanted him to fuck me all the time, because any danger of this codependency was nothing compared to the danger of my solitude. Alone, I had time to think. I thought what it would feel like to be ash. And dirt. And dust. I thought about sitting in a box next to my father.
I still like this smell. The smell of longing and wanting. I have found myself in arms that helped fulfill an ache. I have spent years writing and rewriting the same story, the man who serves some purpose. I guess I just keep trying to feel that hole. This is losing your father and virginity within a month of each other.