I saw my father cry three times. Once when I was sent home from school with a migraine headache so violent it made the room spin and sent me running to the bathroom, my hands covering my mouth in a failed attempt to contain the contents of my stomach. My father picked me up from school in our red Mustang with white vinyl interior that my sister had named Sir Tomato. Once home, he tucked me into his bed, shades drawn, kissed me on my forehead and left me to rest. I woke up some time later to my father sitting on a chair next to his bed, there was just enough light coming in from the hallway for me to see my father’s face, he was gazing softly at me, rubbing my head, tears streaming down his daddy face. I sensed his tears were a fusion of love, sadness for not being around for the last seven years of my life, and worry over my mysterious vomit inducing headaches. These tears told me I had a daddy and he loved me more than just a little bit.
The second time I saw my father cry, he took my sister and me into the orange grove behind our doublewide and there it was that he said the strangest thing to us.
“I want you kids to know that no matter what happens, I will always love you. Please never forget that I will always love you.”
He was choking on his tears as he spoke, and he gave no explanation. My sister and I didn’t question him, we just shook our heads, and said something meant to comfort him, like, “Ok, dad, we won’t.” I was confused at this sight, my big strong tattooed daddy saying weird stuff and crying in the long cast shadows of the setting sun.
The last time I saw my father cry was when he took my brother and me to the Tampa airport on a Sunday afternoon. I had just graduated from the 6th grade a few days earlier where I was given a big orange satin ribbon awarding me the title of class clown. My father stood in line with us as we waited to get on the plane that would take us back to our mother in Phoenix. My sister had already been sent away a few months prior to this, and now it was our turn to be cast out of our prefabricated home for reasons that were never spoken, at least not to our faces. My father cried as he hugged us both hard and then he walked away.
As an adult, I recount the potent proof. Because I saw my father cry three times, I have held this as evidence that he loves me. He told me that no matter what happens, I must never forget that he loves me, and I believed him. There is a part of me who never gave up the hope that one day, my father would contact me and fix this mess once and for all. The mess that was made when I was eleven and he decided he didn’t want to be my father anymore.
I have a wicked talent for creative visualization. Using my uncommonly focused third eye, I can create texturized, techni-colored, and emotion-drenched imaginings. One that I replay often is a scene where I am sitting next to my father and holding his hand. I witness him cry a fourth time as he details the reasons for abandoning his children. I listen attentively as my father describes his abduction by malevolent aliens that came and stole his heart, put cruel words in his mouth, and didn’t allow him to do and say the things he really meant and wanted to. And then I forgive him.
I had recently written a poem for dear old dad, and since today was his birthday, my plan was to send it to him as a gift. I’m a very good daughter. I haven’t talked to my father since my mother died 10 years ago, and then it was just an email exchange where he basically told me to fuck-off, but I am not dissuaded. This poem is my attempt to remind my father that I am still in the game if he’s ready.
My intention is to send my poem to my father via a Facebook message that he may or may not get, since we aren’t friends. It will go into his “other” folder, a place where messages from non-friends end up. I sit down on the gray swivel chair in front of my computer on wheels. The doctor’s are done rounding and entering orders, so I think I have a few minutes before one of my patients presses their call light requesting I change a dressing or administer another hit of mind-numbing narcotic.
I go to my father’s Facebook page. The first thing I notice is that my father’s profile picture has been changed since my last visit, the little square above his name now displays Daffy Duck instead of Archie Bunker. While Archie Bunker is pretty straightforward, and a relatively accurate depiction of the archetype that is my father, I don’t have time in this incarnation to unwind what my father was trying to express with Daffy.
The weirdness amplifies as my eyes fall on this: A post that says, “Hi Jim, hope you are having a happy birthday in heaven.” My breath catches in my chest as I reread these words for clarity, because, am I missing something here-is my father dead? Oh, and just as strange and unbelievable, is my father in heaven?
My fingers type in the search box, “Demosthenes Gotsis.”
There it is.
I learn that my father died exactly one week before his birthday.
His obituary consists of one hundred and sixty-five characters. Fourteen of them numbers, seventeen of them used up in commas, periods, colons and semi-colons. The remaining one hundred and thirty two are made up of letters strung into words, none of which spell out my name. I am sort of mentioned if you count that I was named after my Aunt Kay, who is mentioned as a survivor, but I’m pretty sure that doesn’t count. Other survivors listed include “stepchildren, grands and greats.” My brother and sister didn’t rate a shout out either. Including us would have cost eleven more characters, and the author of my father’s obituary was obviously on a budget.
After I read those few lines, I say to the other nurses sitting at their computers, “Holy crap, my dad is dead. This is his obituary. I just found out on Facebook.” I have no idea what to do, so I get up and I go to the nurse’s lounge. My supervisor Lisa, is following me. She says in her sweet South Carolina drawl, “Kate, are you okay?” I don’t know if I’m okay. I don’t know at all how I feel. I respond, “Do I need to go home?”
I’m trying to get a pulse on how I’m feeling.
Do I cry? What does this mean he’s dead? Does it even matter that he’s dead? Hasn’t he been dead to me for thirty years? It’s not like I had a father before, it’s not like I could call him when I had a father question, I don’t even know what those would be. What do grown women call their fathers for anyhow? What an asshole to just go and die! So many selves screaming their opinions, there is no space to feel. My chest heaves and I hug Lisa, I cry, but not for long, because my mind is on the job, still trying to understand what it means that my father is dead.
I tell Lisa that I will stay and finish out my shift, because I think I’m fine. I’m actually fine. I find my breath under the piles of confusion and density in my body and will my mind to follow only this. I have to tell my brother and sister. I call my sister first. I don’t think to ask her if she’s sitting down, I just spit it out. “He’s dead.” She knows who I mean. She’s at dinner with her boyfriend and my niece. My sister and I have just mended fences again after yet another disagreement.
I call my brother, his reply: “The world is a better place without him.”
I go to my father’s Facebook page and look for people with my last name. I send messages to them, I hear nothing back. One day, I go to my other folder to look for messages from these people and I find a message from a man named Charlie Allegretto. I open it and there is only a link to my father’s obituary, nothing else. Charlie sent this message on August 6th, two days before I went to my father’s Facebook page. I send Charlie a message thanking him, and letting him know that I found out by accident, and also how did he know my father, and how did he die? I wait a day and hear nothing back. I am dangerously curious. I Google Charlie and guess what? You’ll never guess. Ok, try…
Charlie Allegretto is dead too. Charlie Allegretto died in 2009, six years ago. Charlie Allegretto’s Facebook page is a memorial. This mystery is still a mystery as I write this, and just to be clear, whatever it is you’re thinking, I’ve already thought of that and the answer is no. Because I have the capacity to think magically, I have allowed myself to consider the fact that this was my father’s chosen way of communicating from his disembodied state. Perhaps once he was loosed from his ego, his spirit took the lead and the energetics of spirit working to communicate to matter translated as me going to his Facebook page and so on and so forth. Told you I was adept at magical psychological contortioning.
I move through the next week the same as I ever was, except now, my father is actually dead, not just, he may as well be dead. I lied to him the one and only time I saw him after he abandoned us and told him that I wasn’t mad. There was a time when I didn’t know how to be mad. I did know how to shoplift, guzzle Mad Dog 20/20, smoke pot, hitchhike, huff paint, and drop LSD, but I couldn’t conjure mad.
Three days after my discovery, I get a bump of inspiration, or perhaps insanity, and I pay twenty-five bucks to some online investigative service for the phone number of Janie. My father married a woman named Barbara shortly after he gave my mother the boot. Janie is Barbara’s daughter. She’s twenty or so odd years my senior. She is the daughter who knew firsthand what a monster her mother was, who once told me of a time her mother encouraged her to go into her father’s wallet as he slept to get lunch money and then woke him up just as she was pulling out the money, yelling, “Wake up, your daughter is stealing from you!”
Janie followed this story up with a warning.
“If you repeat this story, I’ll deny it. She’s my momma. She’s my blood.”
Janie’s momma is dead, so I can’t call her to ask questions.
I dial the number and walk into the backyard, because I need lots of space for this confrontation, my feet are planted on the earth, my toes are digging into the grass as the phone rings. I feel calm in this moment. I am going to get answers. I am an adult. I am strong, Hello? Her voice hits me like a cold glass of water thrown in my face. Janie? This is Kate Gotsis. I no longer feel centered. I feel… Well, hello, Kate! Janie sounds just like her mother. The words are moving through the gravel-lined tube that is her throat, and her mouth sounds like it’s full of marbles, as her Tennessee roots spill into her voice.
I waste no time with pleasantries. I have business to discuss.
“You knew what your mother did to us, and you did nothing about it. What do you have to say for yourself? Are you going to defend her now? Your mother was a sick woman and she terrorized us, and you stood by and let this happen!” My feet are still on the earth. I am pacing back and forth in the grass, but my body is only a means by which to carry around my mouth, which is now spitting out words I hadn’t intended to speak. I meant to call her and ask how my father died, hadn’t I?
She is quiet.
I am a child throwing stones at the big bad wolf. “I’m writing a book, and I’m gojng to tell the world all about you and your CRAZY-ASSED mother!”
Janie actually asks, “Are you going to use names?”
She still wants to protect her.
“Yes! Of course I’m going to use names, I’m not going to lie! What in the hell is wrong with you?!?!?”
She says, “Hold on, I want to tell you something, but I need a witness.”
Huh? I snap out of my fit and I hear her mumbling something to someone in the background. Beneath my ribs I am aware of a tightening, a rising of something familiar and terrifying. Fear. Holy shit, what is she going to tell me that she needs a witness for? I become that child again. Silent and afraid, I need to survive. I hang up the phone before she comes back.
I find my feet on the earth again, but my face is tight and I can hear my heart beating like a kick drum in my head. So many times my life was in Barbara’s psoriasis-covered hands, and it was important to stay quiet. This was communicated on many levels, and it just happened again.
The threatening, the silencing, the abandonment, all of it just happened again. Except now, I’m a 41-year-old woman. At least I appear to be.