So now you're dead. I've often wondered how I would feel. I've seen those television ads for funeral parlors. There's one, with a daughter talking about her father, while an old home movie shows a grinning man standing in front of a classic convertible. He was the best father a little girl could have, the daughter says.
I flinch whenever I see it.
I used to imagine you dead, and I would picture the freedom. I would picture how I would suddenly become smart, and lovely, and how I would grow strong.
You're dead now, but I'm still waiting.
I remember loving you. Even after the whippings. You were my father, and you were large, and your voice rang in a baritone. I would listen to your voice, and it would make my back shiver.
I was a naughty little girl. That's what you told me. I remember one of the first times that Mom was in the hospital. I knocked over a plant, her favorite. I was throwing a ball in the living room, just up and down, catching it in what I thought were steady hands. And then it bounced off my fingers, went into the plant and knocked it over. There was dirt on the floor, and Mom hated dirt. We both knew it. I began scooping it up, trying to put it back into the pot, and you came into the room. I remember crouching, huddling my body over my knees, and closing my grimy hands into fists. You talked to me in that voice and you removed your special belt. Everything goes dark after that. But I do remember how the sun coming in the window made your eyes and teeth shine, and I remember the way your hair fell forward as you leaned over me.
I can remember loving you.
I remember another time, when Mom was in the hospital again. You gave me a bath. Even though Mom was letting me take baths by myself, because I was eight, and I was old enough. You said you had to make sure I was really clean, or Mom would worry in the hospital. I stood up in the tub, and you took the washcloth. And you washed me. You cleaned me good. You touched me there, there, and there. I felt something, I didn't know what it was. It was sharp and clear, and it rocked my whole body. I grabbed your shoulders and spread my legs, and you cleaned me until I sank to my knees in the tub.
We looked at each other then. You pressed your hand against me, and you smiled.
Then you took a plastic cup and dumped water over me. The water had grown cold and I began to shiver. You told me to get out, to go straight to bed. I wanted my snack, the snack I had every night at nine o'clock . Three cookies and a glass of milk. But I toweled myself dry, and I went to my room.
When I was in bed that night, I thought about that bath, and I thought about your hand and the washcloth, and how it had felt. I wondered if you would come into my room, if you would make me feel that way again.
I hoped you would.
Then I reached under my pajama bottoms and I felt there, to see if I could make that feeling all by myself. And I discovered that I could.
I was only eight years old, Dad.
It was so much better than the whippings.
Later, you told me that you would never touch me again. You told me that no one would love me, that I would always be all alone, and that no man would ever want to touch me. You told me about how fathers sometimes touch their daughters, to teach them, to show them the right way to be with a husband. It was like getting a daughter ready for her first dance, you said. But then you told me that not even you, my father, could bring yourself to touch me. Not after that one time.
And if you couldn't touch me, you said, then no one else would either.
I wondered about that one time in the tub. I wondered what I'd done wrong. I was so alone. And I was so scared. At eight, being alone is a frightening thing. It's frightening now, too.
I tried to get you to love me. You said you liked long hair, so I ran away the day Mom was taking me to get my summer pixie. You liked music, so I tried to sing, even though my voice was never as special as yours. And sometimes, on nights when you laughed and smiled, I would straddle myself on your lap, and try to give you a hug, while I pressed my body into your thighs.
You would shove me off.
Somewhere in there, I stopped loving you. Or I tried to.
I guess I showed you, didn't I? Losing my virginity at thirteen. You found me reading those dirty books you kept in a paper bag by the kitty litter, in that cabinet where you also hid your magazines. You picked up the whole bag and dumped the books in my lap. Read them, you shouted at me. Then you'll learn what goes on between men and women. It's your only chance.
My only chance.
So I read those books, and I took that knowledge, and I went out and found a boy, and fucked him. He was seventeen.
And it hurt.
It wasn't like what went on in those books. I haven't found anything yet like what went on in those books. Though I've looked. Because you were wrong, Dad. Men do touch me. Whenever I want them to. It's not that hard.
But you were right about my being alone. I am alone, and I don't like it much.
Sometimes, at night, when I'm home from work and the news is over, I still reach under my pajamas, and I think, there's got to be more than this.
And I think about being held. I think about being warm, and about being whispered to, and about fingers pushing my hair away from my forehead.
It doesn't have to be like in those books, Dad. I don't want it to be.
So now you're dead. Mom told me that you'd gone peacefully, sitting in your favorite orange chair, listening to music, with a crossword puzzle on your lap. Your hands were folded, and your pen was capped, and your head had fallen back. When Mom came in, she thought you were looking at the ceiling.
You went without any pain, she said. And I thought, too bad.
At your funeral, I thought about that night in the bathtub, spreading my legs for you, and that slow sink into the cold water. I thought, this is not what a daughter should be remembering about her father. And I thought about that television ad, where the daughter says, He was the best father a little girl could have.
I shouldn't be thinking that either.
So now you're dead.
And even though I'm crying, I'm so glad.