The Sadness We Demand

Personal Essay

Some men love me. Some love me like a daughter. Some love me because I am their daughter. Some love me when I wear denim, call me blue jean baby like I’m on a bar crawl in downtown Nashville. 

Reduce me to my roots. Call me baby or kitty or pumpkin. Judge me by how soft my skin is compared to yours. Daddy used to rub my back before bed and I hated it. His dry palm left scrapes along my spine. His chapped fingers tore me apart. You can’t put bandages on your own back and prayer doesn’t rush the healing. I wonder how much Daddy’s heart cracked when his little girl told him not to touch her. Daddy’s heart always cracks. He cries a lot. I wonder if Daddy ever cried after I yelled at him for not washing my underwear. I feared Daddy’s house for this reason. I hated washing my clothes in the bathroom sink and waiting for them to dry. I wanted Daddy to get rich in quarters just so baby brother and I would always have clean clothes. In the summertime, Daddy hung our bed sheets from the ceiling to save on air conditioning. He moved our mattresses to the living room so that we could all sleep comfortably. 

Whenever I use a staircase, I look over my shoulder to see what’s behind me. It’s muscle memory. I am looking for eyes that follow me up each step. I am waiting to feel gross. I hate it. To avoid his eyes, I started sprinting up the staircase, not giving him a chance. My thigh muscles tightened and became strong. My bare feet stamped the carpet. My body adapted to the exercise. Then my chest started growing and he noticed. I wanted to hide from his eyes forever. His eyes taught me how a man looks at a woman. His eyes taught me to wear baggy jeans and sweatpants. His eyes taught me to run.

I ran up the staircase and back into my Daddy’s dry hands. He rubs my back at night and I no longer complain. Daddy looks at me and I look at Daddy. I would never run from his eyes. In the summertime, Daddy used to take baby brother and I to the swimming pool right outside the apartment’s screen door. Daddy only had one bathing suit. It was red. I wore a light pink two piece that criss crossed several times along my back. Daddy helped me tie it. I didn’t care how much Daddy looked at me. To him I was a girl, not a woman. 

We used to wrestle on my mother’s golden framed bed. He tossed me on top of the covers and I laughed the whole time. He tickled and poked me. He wrapped me in his arms. I knew Daddy would be upset if he saw us. I didn’t want to betray him. But Daddy, you never have clean underwear for me and I don’t like sharing a room with baby brother. I have my own room here and we don’t need quarters to do laundry. I’m going to stay here until it no longer feels like a family. I wonder how much Daddy’s heart cracked when his little girl told him he doesn’t feel like family. 

Now my Daddy holds me and all I feel is family. I want to curl up on the couch next to him and let his dry hands stroke my hair. When baby brother and I went went to Daddy’s house for Thanksgiving I clung to Daddy the whole time. I couldn’t let go. We danced in the living room together. Our bony hips knocked. We cleaned the dishes standing side by side. Daddy’s eyes are harmless and lonely. And maybe I am lonely too.

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