The Women of My Father
Bridget is the first one after my mother. I am too young to know better when my father introduces her as “the friend.” Her hair reminds me of lemon-flavored cotton candy and she always smells of magnolias. The three of us eat macaroons in the backyard while watching the squirrels run through the walnut trees.
My father believes Margaret is good with kids, so when I use cramps as an excuse to get out of school for a day, Margaret is asked to watch me while my father goes to work. She comes over bringing ice cream, chips, soda and candy bars that we consume while watching Days of Our Lives and reruns of talk shows.
Even though my father's a diabetic, Kristin calls to say she's baked my father a cake. My father makes it a point to not be home when she comes over. I watch her from the window as she walks up the steps carrying the cake wrapped in foil.
She is not even up the steps before I open the door. “I've brought a gift for your father, for both of you,” she says. “It's just a little something I made.”
A little something, she says. I imagine she thinks she's quite the Betty Crocker. I tell her thank-you as she hands the cake over. It smells of chocolate icing.
Later, when my father comes home I tell him about Kristin and the cake. He goes into the kitchen and takes the foil off and cuts a tiny piece to taste. As soon as he puts it in his mouth he spits it back out into the sink.
“Box cake,” he says. “You would think a girl like that would take the time to learn how to make one from scratch.” Then he takes the cake, the whole thing, and dumps it into the trash.
Megan is bubbly and energetic. She looks like she could be my own sister and not my father's girlfriend. She wears sweatpants with words like, “hot stuff,” or “sexie” imprinted from behind. She is the type of girl who believes you should brush your hair a hundred times to keep it healthy.
She always wants to borrow my clothes.
I give my father credit when he decides to end things with her. I tell him it's the best decision he's made in a long while.
“Every woman should act like Audrey Hepburn,” my father says one evening. Home from college, we spend a weekend going through her movies. We watch Love in the Afternoon while eating unsalted popcorn and sipping Crystal Light lemonade from plastic cups. “Look at how beautiful she was, how graceful,” he says to me. “There aren't many women like this.”
“I bet,” I say, getting up from the couch to get some more to drink.
My father is not the most attractive man. Most of the time he smells like Cuban cigars and musty sweaters. At restaurants, he eats off my plate without asking. He always talks during movies.
Yet at a dinner party he keeps everyone entertained with stories of Army life. He talks about the endless training, the camping in the woods, the dangerous things he had to learn. He describes the smells of the other men's sweat and earth, the feel of wind sting as he looked down at the world from a helicopter. He says it and they all listen, so entertained with his stories, with him.
My father says things like how his world changed the day he met my mother, and then again the day I was born
“My Angie,” he says, looking at me. “Angela.”
I tell him he should settle down. This kind of thing can't go on forever. “It's not like you're Sean Connery or something,” I say.
“You're right, I'm lacking the British accent.” He smiles at me and reaches over to pats my head. Like I'm still a little girl in a sundress with pigtails. As if I'm just a little girl whose only concern is to love her father.
“Do you miss her?” I ask him one afternoon. We are sitting on the porch drinking the powdered-mix lemonade Beattie had made. She had gone back inside to get the new Swivel sticks she bought half-off at Big Lots. “Did you ever miss her?”
My father takes an ice cube from his drink and puts it in his mouth. He sucks for a minute before deciding to chew it. I can hear the crunching sounds from across the patio table.
“I miss the way things had been,” he says.
I am the last, the only one to come to the hospital after the second stroke. This time, the doctors offer no consolation, no hope that he will ever be again the way he was. They all refuse to meet my eyes when I ask questions.
My father does not recognize my face when he's awake. I try to meet his eyes but he just stares. He looks at me as if I am not there, as if I never was.
He closes his eyes and I sit with him until I hear his heavy breathing that lets me know he's asleep. I get up from the bed and walk over to the window. I can see outside there are cherry trees. The white flowers are beginning to show and I know spring is almost here. In a couple of weeks the flowers will be in full bloom.
words: LaTanya McQueen, North Carolina (more)
picture: Jeff Crouch, Texas (more)