my father’s house.
“You’re in Daddy’s house now.”
His grin was a small white crescent, a Cheshire Cat in the darkness. I leaned against the door frame of the master bedroom, trying not to slump. The weight of the past year was rumbling through me as I stood on the threshold, a freight train of muted stories, paper airplanes never thrown, my private, heavy heart.
“You can rest here, you’re back with me, baby.” His cheerful voice unnerved me. I said nothing, letting my weariness move through me, threading me like the needle I’ve become (he did notice that — but took it in good spirits: “hey, what happened? I guess I’ll have to put some meat on your bones, girl!”)
He plopped backwards onto his pillow, hiking up the blanket to his chin. “Just take it easy, honey.” I nodded, still slouching, the train of memories pulling away, taillights fading, shuddering ruby and steel in the shadows. He hadn’t heard its roar; soon he’d be snoring, and I’d be perching on the couch, feeling vivid in an unlit room, wanting to move but without the slightest inkling where. His house, this place, a loop around me, a fact of place, indifferent to context, deaf to the multitude of New crashing inside me.
“Welcome home,” he sang the words when we arrived from the airport. He repeated them as I took to the kitchen, cooking and cleaning like always — “Smells good — Sarah must be home!” I am blessed to know his delight, to have a father who comes to sit with me as I chop and fry and clean. Just to be together — this is the gift. Even so the dissonance of our hopes grates me; I hear his words and know his eyes carve around me a frame of memory, filtering for time-marks, hanging me over those cracks on the wall. For him, I am, I must be, always familiar, always enveloped in the accessible versions of knowing. He places his hand on my shoulder, on my arm, fatherly kindness, and/or perhaps a subconscious need to confirm my proximity. Yes, I’m his daughter, and I’m in his house. For him, it means we’ve both come home.
This year, the winter was long and grey. I was living not alone, but feeling my singularity profoundly, perhaps all the more so because I was ever pressed between so many snug-looking lives. For the holidays, I booked a ticket, fled to my Father’s House. He was thrilled. I stepped across the threshold, chuckling to find his tiny apartment in its usual, absurd disarray. “Welcome home,” Daddy said, and I rolled my eyes and smiled. The small rooms felt bright, full, unchanged after so many years. I found comfort in the dustiness, the particles overlaying the corners and boxes like a promise: the past is not gone. I glanced in his full-length mirror and thought, “I’m okay here.” I had climbed backwards into a place I once felt safe. Surely I’d find restoration in these faded walls.
The next morning did not open to embrace me. My father’s smile was bright, but the hours alone in his apartment were me, rattling in an empty place, the walls silence. Like a seance, my hunt for home only left me feeling haunted, reaching deeply into a time that must, like all time, roll and recede as we are stretched and pricked and pulled forward. A thin strip of glass, a rear-view mirror, and our wavering, strong-lipped hope for tomorrow. This is what we have.
As I perch and Daddy snores, I’ll be thinking of circles, how each time I cycle back here, I find the same puzzling sameness, and less of me. The set unchanging, mostly— kitchen table, yellowing photos, me barefoot, his workshirt untucked. I kiss my father and tell him tame stories or listen as he repeats his favorite memories. He has his anecdotes, inevitable, kitschy, his talismans against time. I chuckle with half of me. Inside are the other pieces, unintentional secrets, the last Russian doll in the set. Never opened, deferring to the bigger versions, their features clearer, their colors brighter.
Our banter is sincere, if refracted. My father stoking old embers, prodding at the last place he saw light. I have moved a little farther, off-center, and I no longer have an address. Nonetheless, we warm our hands over the flickering past, our shoulders touching, ever daughter-and-daddy, and our affection is fresh. We trade in the currency of what we share, and leave our unsaids in the ocean that churn quietly beyond.
If there is a poison to my father’s strong soul, its the knowledge that things can hurt me. I am realizing this. I see his need to draw circles around me, to believe that Home for me lies always in one direction, to sing the myth of Home and certainty, a realm of Knowing. Once, this was our map of the world, me Girl and him, Father. A child-heart always pointing north, the capital city of Family a fortress, unquestionable. I can understand why, when the world whipped me this year, my instincts drove me back to this old light, to his strong hands and quiet rooms.
Even so, gravity has shifted, and the center is no longer One Thing. I fall in and out of orbits, I reel in a colder, more brilliant space. I have been stunned and undone by the reality of this untamable expanse, the ferocious beauty of the Life’s wildness. There is no returning to the nest of certainty — I’ve nibbled the fruit, and I’ve bled on more than one mountain. I have the scars. Sometimes, in spite of himself, I know my father sees them.
I carry a new light in my eyes, a foreign strength in my bones, the spoils of my first, solitary battles. Wounds and victories he never witnessed. Parts of me strange, imperfect, painful for him to see. The smallest, most intricate doll. Locked away. Is she “home” inside her darkness? Is she safe?
Another mirror, midnight light. I am quiet, I am watching my eyebrows, my cheekbones, my lips, waiting to cohere. I see touches of my father’s strength, his firmness in my jaw, his smile tucked between my teeth. I recall moments of collapse, unseen by anyone, yet knowing it was, at least in part, his love that stirred my joints as I rose again. I am blessed above so many girls to have a father that loves, that looks, that listens. It is no tragedy to feel new spaces between us, to let the wind ring between our separate, meandering lives. I will always hope to make him proud. I will always be ready to sacrifice my very marrow for his happiness. He’s done the same for me all my life, defended walls for all those years so that I could walk out the door one day.
Perhaps we’ll always love these old songs of Home, dancing around a myth that the past was all polish and peace, and perhaps when I am a mother, I’ll teach this music to my daughters, too.