I have a photo of my father and me, together.
A black and white snapshot of a moment in time.
My father is younger here than I ever remember him being. His hair too-short and unevenly cut, his shirt too loose around his frame. He was not a young man when I was born, but in this photo?
He is just a boy.
He looks so much like my brothers that my breath is caught for a moment.
He is a man in this photo, but there is a boyish vulnerability. I do not remember that vulnerability. I gently run my finger over his face in the photo, as though there might be a way to connect with the fragile emotions I see in my father.
My fingertips feel nothing, but my throat is clenched.
An uncertain boy holding his first-born child. Me.
I am tucked up against his cheek, my face to his. His eyes are cast downward into me. My eyes are closed by the force of what I believe is a yawn. My mouth is open wide, but there is too much peace in the photo for this to be screaming.
This father loves this child. The child is held close, adored.
His hand around my waist. My hand stretched mid-yawn to explore the scratchy surface of his chin.
That this was ever me. Ever him. Ever us.
I caress the photograph again . . . that this moment was . . . ever.
The last time I ever spoke to my father, I was 18 years old.
I had not spoken to him in several years by this point. My choice.
I was at my mother’s house. Visiting. And the phone rang.
Was it a holiday? Why was I at my mother’s house? I cannot recall.
Let me think.
OK, this was just before I moved in with my first serious boyfriend. And so I am thinking it was Christmas. Pretty sure.
The phone rang. And the phone was passed around and various people spoke. I wasn’t paying that much attention, as this was no longer my house, and there was no reason for this phone call to include me.
But then the phone was thrust into my hand, my mother urging me to talk, “Kris? Your Dad wants to say hello.”
And because my mother spoke those words so that he could hear them? I could not back away, as much as I wanted to back away.
And so I took the phone.
Happy people swirled around me, happy people who had all spoken with this man without being harmed.
Held the phone up against my ear, “Hello?”
“So now you’ll talk to me, you fucking cunt? Trap you at your fucking mother’s house and now you’ll talk to me? You whore, you fucking whore.”
And I died a little inside, but I said, “Please . . . “
“Fucking useless cunt whore. You bitch! You think you can ignore me? Refuse to speak with me? I hear you’re moving in with some boy. Fucking him. Is it good, the fucking? Tell me it’s good.”
“I can’t do this.”
He is screaming into the phone now, “I just want to know. I just want to be updated on your life, sweetheart. I just want to know what’s going on with you. So is it good? Does he fuck you like you want to be fucked? Tell me about his cock, baby.”
I let the phone drop, held just the cord in my fingers as his voice swung back and forth around my knees.
No tears. Rigid. I was rigid.
But no tears.
I stood rigid for a moment.
And then pulled the phone back up into my hand.
Held it against my cheek.
His voice raged against my cheek.
I said, “Goodbye, Dad.”
And I hung up.
I brush my fingertips against my cheek, remembering the acid of that voice against my face.
And I brush my fingertips again over the face of this young awkward man in the photo, who in that moment loved me.
His cheek against my cheek.
My father and I.