This piece is a chapter in The Moment Before, a hybrid failure memoir that tackles issues of self-discovery as the text is being written, as the narrative worries over the fate of itself (i.e. will the book ever get finished).
1I met Dr. Frank when my father pulled me out of my fourth grade history class. Suddenly there was this thing that was so important that he felt the need to walk into my class and drag me out to see a quack. He was the crazy one, not me.2
My father, the allergist who lost karaoke contests once a month, crept up behind my teacher in his velvet jogging outfit and loosely swooping fanny pack to inform Mrs. Ehlert that he was taking me out of class. My temperature increased as I glanced at his hair that was mostly all gray and thinning, flipped to the wrong side – a sure sign that he had been rushed in the morning. Disheveled was his middle name, but today he must have taken extra care to look especially spastic for my classmates, I thought, looking to the ground as we shuffled about my teacher’s desk like beggars.3 I could feel sweat creep down my armpits as I followed him into his newly leased light blue Lexus. He refused to buy a new car because cars bored him after a year, and it made him feel like he was saving money to lease a car, even if he really wasn’t.4 I squirmed into the car’s leather seats and Dad turned up the volume of some flowery Mozart CD that was chanting nauseous birds.
“I’m nauseous dad.”
“When you can afford your own car, you can pick the music.”
“At least turn it down?”
He swerved onto the expressway, passing two cars ahead of him on the entrance ramp, nearly killing me in the death-trap passenger seat.5
“Where do all these God damned people come from? This place has so many fuckin’ people,” he said. “What the hell are you wearing?”
I was draped in my usual shredded short jean shorts and tight tank top, wearing no makeup with my greasy brown hair slicked into an erratic ponytail.
“When you pull your hair back like that, it makes your nose look big,” he said grinning. Although my stomach dropped a few notches, I did not react.6
“Where the hell are we going?” I asked.
He didn’t respond. It was his little game ever since I had turned eleven, pretending not to hear. His excuse for ignoring me was having children to perform like toys– something to play with.7 “Teenagers are difficult,” he would say when I was a teen, shrug his shoulders, and walk into a different room. He still walks into the other room when annoyed or distracted sometimes.8
“Mom is going to kill you when she finds out you pulled me out of school. I had a math test that I studied really hard for,” I said.
He was unfazed.9 He never knew when I had a test and hadn’t attended a single conference.10 It was surprising he knew where the school was.11 Like a maniac, he rode on the highway’s shoulder all the way to Frank’s office, a mere twenty minutes that felt like eternity. It was only in the last five years that I learned driving on the shoulder was illegal when stopped by a police officer; I thought it was a lane for being in a hurry.
“Sydney charges three dollars a minute. Can’t be late,” he said.
In the eighties that was a lot of money.
If an officer stopped him, he would talk his way out of a ticket by claiming he was heading to the emergency room to see a patient.12 As I pondered if it was possible for him to be a bigger putz, he turned up the Mozart another notch and let out a loud, curt fart. I tried to open the window, and as if in anticipation, he immediately turned on the childproof locks. I thought it better not to mention the stench for fear of retribution and held my breath and glared.13 He smiled, pleased with himself.14 We stopped, and I followed him into a small, brown medical building. I halted at the door.
“Tell me why we’re here or I’m not going in. You’re being a dick.”
The situation called for rude language, I think.15
My parents had talked of Dr. Frank for years, but I had never met him. Whatever he did to them, I didn’t want to know.16 My mother was always yelling at my dad for not doing something and he continued not doing things, like helping in the house or picking me up from ballet class.17 Dad squinted his already slivery eyes, which made him look like a face with only lips and a nose. He looked at me with those hard, tiny pupils of his, as if I could give him an explanation for what had gone wrong with us. Was he confused? It was a rare moment when we made prolonged eye contact. Maybe he had indigestion. (I had observed a jumbo sized empty bag of potato chips in the back seat).18
“Your mom wants us to work on getting along. You’re causing problems in our marriage.”
Frankly, I don’t give a damn, I thought. Besides, I knew if this Frank guy was as good as his reputation, he’d be onto my father’s game in no time.
We buzzed into the square brown building and were invited to sit on a nasty grey couch. Instinctively, we chose to sit on the farthest corners of the couch, away from each other. Frank spoke first.
“Hi,” said Frank.
“You’re my parent’s shrink?” I asked.
“Does she know why she’s here?” he asked my father.
“I’m here because my dad felt it was appropriate to take me out of school without telling me why,” I answered.
“Is this true?” he asked.
Dad wiped his glasses with a torn dirty Kleenex from his pocket until they squeaked.
“Oy, Dan, you’re such a turkey. Why do you do this crap? How do you feel about your father?” asked Frank.
“I don’t know. He never talks to me.”
“Do you know why he brought you here today?”
Dad shifted his legs into a pretzel.
“I guess because my mom will divorce him if he doesn’t treat me better.”19
“Do you hear that your daughter doesn’t think you care about her?”
“I care,” he mumbled.20
1 My mother recently found this chapter in the attic (why I left it there is possibly some form of cognitive dissonance), and said my father would be very upset. I promised to look over the chapters and be more reflective, potentially rewrite them so they were not in the voice of a caustic thirteen-year-old girl, but it seems when it comes to my parents, and especially my father, I am still a thirteen-year-old girl. Do these footnotes help? I don’t know what will change the way I remember the past. It is critical, cartoon-like, and not very loving. I realize this, but if memory is a stain, I have not found the right detergent to erase – or at least – to scrape parts of the gumminess stuck onto everything to reduce my teenaged self-serving memory. It is sticky, gross, ugly.
2 Thirteen-year-old voice, loud and clear.
3 I’m not sure why I am obsessively footnoting this chapter, but it’s probably transparent that I don’t want to be hated by my family, and also, that I am striving and failing at painting a fair portrayal of the way this day occurred. And if I was self-conscious about the way my father looked, I was also deeply dissatisfied with my own appearance. Brace faced, a few pimples, a very thin nose and face, and a bone structure so small it forced an overtly angular, almost metallic presence; these are not the features of a beauty queen but instead, closer to an underfed bird with large, seeking eyes, a long neck, and a certain awareness that the problem of a particular female sharpness would stay with me for a long, long time, a threat to young boys and men.
4 He probably did save money and time by leasing, but at the time, I thought it was foolish. Now possessing an older Honda Civic and recently having to put $1600 into the darned thing, I understand why leasing is ideal.
5 I’m sure I thought, “It’s possible I could die.” Mom, you know you don’t like it when he drives aggressively either.
6 He did say this phrase to me at some point; I’m not certain it occurred that day in the car and most likely, he did not say it then. But somehow, it fits here. The memory wants what the memory wants.
7 My sister runs with him, bikes, plays tennis, and hikes. I have danced and biked with him. Was it enough?
8 And I do annoy him. Sometimes I say, “Dad, do you think the shape of your head has changed? It looks like a peanut today.” Or, “Dad, something is hanging from your nose.” Or, “Dad!” and then when he responds, I don’t say anything. Sometimes I say, “Dad, what’s the water temperature?” because I know he knows the water temperature on most days. I should say, “Dad, why don’t you call more? Dad, are you listening to me? Dad, why don’t you read fiction? Dad, why didn’t you understand my interview on Bookslut? Dad, did you ever envision your life as a single man? Dad, how much money have you saved exactly? Dad, how do you motivate to stay in shape like you do? Dad, why do you spend so much time alone these days? Dad, have people let you down to such a degree that the only solace you can take is in mom and reading history and nature and biking and gospel music? Dad, what is the real reason behind your quitting so many synagogue choruses? Dad, this footnote became so long that it merged onto the next page and now I don’t like the way it looks anymore because I have oh so many questions, so many questions. Dad, how do you remember all the constellations and the names of planets? Dad, why did you stop paying attention to me when I turned twelve? Dad, do you think I’m a failure or a success? Dad, do you really think all of my boyfriends have been weasels or just plain scared of life? Dad, how is it that you’re not scared of life the way I’ve observed every other man? Dad, how is it that you face responsibility over and over again? Dad, is there any chance of you reading this book and not ignoring it or reading it too hard so that the words stick to your ribs like cholesterol, the bad kind that you take Lipitor for? Dad, this is my love letter to you but it’s just so mangled and unkempt like a wiry birds nest in an musty urban setting that it will probably read wrong to you and blow away, broken yolks and sticks and all because I have probably read you all wrong. This footnote is dedicated to you dad. Because I don’t ever tell you and you rarely tell me, I love you.
9 I don’t know this.
10 Another exaggeration. Sometimes he struggled with remembering the names of my teachers and friends.
11 This one might be true.
12 My father speaks officially to official people to get his way. It works.
13 My mother seriously objects to mention of my father farting, but I don’t think it dehumanizes him. Farting performs the aftermath of eating, a normal human function.
14 Thinking on it, my father rarely seems pleased with himself.
15 I’m not sure any situation calls for rudeness. Confrontation, a work in progress.
16 Total hyperbole. I did want to know, actually, but I didn’t think I’d find out.
17 He was probably working.
18 This still happens.
19 I don’t remember if I said that, but I was thinking it.
20 I don’t know what words to choose that will fill in the space between my father and me.
Lyndee Yamshon has been previously published in Wreckage of Reason 2: An Anthology of Contemporary XXperimental Writers and The Chicago Tribune. As of the fall of 2014, her work is forthcoming in China Grove Literary Journal and Prague Review. She is currently writing the book and lyrics for Bob, the Musical, based on the life of jazz musician Bob Mamet, and a humor-based collection called The Yoga Stories.