Sins of the Daughter: Lust IV
Once, when I was sixteen or seventeen, my father found a story I’d written. No, it was a list. I just told him it was a story, after. But first it was a list. A real list. My first memoir.
My list was written not in my hard-backed journal—that was for romantic poems and scary ghost stories and things that rhymed and had nothing to do with my real life. No, this list was written in a spiral-bound notebook, one that looked like something I’d use for class, but that had never left my bedroom. The things in it were too scary for the world, too scary for the daytime, so scary to even write that I always, always did them in erasable ink, just in case.
This list, it was in the middle of that notebook. A whole page in blue, erasable ink. My careful bubble script. The empty dots on the is, like zeros.
The list said:
A couple of other names I can’t remember.
To the side of the list, scribbled kind of sideways, triple-underlined with a lot of exclamation points: Daniel is the best I’ve ever had!!!!!!
My father found the notebook. And more importantly, he found the list. How? Did I leave it on the bed? On the desk? Did he go through my things? I had no idea.
As an adult, now I know the answer. My father went through my things. Of course he did. I know this because I go through other people’s things. Mostly the things of my partners. Not without reason, not without that little nagging intuition that something was… off. An off-hand glance at a desk drawer. A paper crumpled tight before landing in the garbage. A cell phone locked tight against intrusion.
Liars know other liars. The truth-snags sing in our blood like a tune that no one else can hear. We cock our heads, listen, follow the singing back to the love letter hidden in the drawer, the receipt from the restaurant date, the texts of rampant lust on speed dial.
We know that if you say, “I found this! How could you?!” with enough conviction, the other person will not think to question how we got our knowledge. At least not right then. They will face our anger and they will tell us what we need to hear. “So long ago.” “Just a friend.” “It’s over this time.”
So what intuition led my father to cock his head, listen to that lie-song and follow it to my bedroom? That part, I still don’t know.
My father’s anger over the list was different than his anger when I’d gotten busted shoplifting. Shoplifting anger was ice cold and white freeze. It was the car-silence for a hundred miles home and the snow too afraid to melt in your cheap-ass boots and the night-crack of a flat palm against your frozen cheek.
This new anger was an undercurrent. It was the mold-in-the-basement smell and the dying cycle of the washing machine and the crush of notebook pages between his fingers. It was a bare-bulb light making everything too yellow and the taste of my own hair in my mouth, sweat and hairspray. It was listening to my stepmother cross the kitchen floor above us, refrigerator to stove to sink. Building dinner.
“Do you know what this means?” Angry. Tired. The lenses of his glasses yellowed his eyes. “Everyone’s going to think you’re slut.”
Standing in that basement was the first time I really wanted to take something back that I’d written, wanting to undo the words on the page, wanted to stuff them back inside like that paper he held. Chew its dirty, shameful contents until it was buried back in my guts, back between my legs. Hidden back where it came from.
In the basement, under the bare bulbs, with the ever-encroaching, ankle-deep puddle in the corner from the spring floods, staring at my father.
It wasn’t enough to tell him the truth, that the list was only about kissing, that I’d only kissed these boys, nothing more. Somehow, I knew that wouldn’t be enough. How could he believe me?
Because in truth, I wanted those things. I looked at the boys in my classes—their mouths like wet, pink frosting—and the river of heat between my legs made me want to change my underwear four, five, six times a day. I watched the boys I played soccer with, wanted to lick the fuzz off their legs, wanted to press my nose against the dark, moist places where sweat gathered, to roll against them like fresh-rained earth.
And the girls, not the popular ones, but the cool ones, the ones who smoked cigarettes in the senior lounge even though they weren’t seniors, the ones who wore black leather belts with silver studs and pierced the tops of their ears with needles and a ice cubes. Those girls made me sweat behind my knees, in the webs of my fingers. Their black eyeliner in curlicues at the corners of their blue and brown and green gazes drew a direct line to the place in my chest where my breath stopped and wouldn’t start again. I didn’t know if I wanted them or wanted to be them. All I knew was that they made me so nervous and clenched that I couldn’t look at them, that I spent four years walking by the senior lounge just to get a whiff of smoke and perfume, my gaze planted on the toes of my shoes.
I wanted to be a slut. Even if I didn’t know how, I did. Even if no one would have me. Even if I hadn’t, until that day, even known I’d known the word slut.
So I had to say to my father that, no, it was all fiction. That the list was just character names. That I was just writing stories. I said so, crying, blubbering the way I did then. The way I still do now. Choked up, snot in rivers down my to my lip.
Just fiction. Make-believe. Do-believe.
Did my father believe? I don’t know. I didn’t know anything about adults then, least of all about my father. Who he was, what he wanted. That his heart could be broken over and over, a hundred new ways.
Snot dripped on my lip, into my mouth. I didn’t lift a hand to wipe it away.
The washing machine thumped, round and round, sighed to a stop. My stepmother’s footsteps left the kitchen and went down the hall. Upstairs, the phone rang, and I knew it was the world calling, to remind my father that his daughter was everything he feared she was. Everything and more.
My father crumpled the pages in his fist.
“Never again,” he said.
Then he went upstairs.
I stood there and swallowed snot and smelled mold-beneath-hairspray-beneath-fabric-softener.
Secrets come in layers. Like smells. Like lessons.
Hide who we are. Care what others think. Hold your desires under your tongue until they gag you and then run the water in the bathroom so no one can hear you retch.
Down in the basement. Where dead things go to die and the mold multiplies freely. Where we make our dirty laundry clean before we bring it back up for the world to see. Where the father’s fear cannot be heard through the floors of hardwood rage. Where the water seeps in, inch by inch, its wet presence ruining everything we want to believe.
This is where we learn to be liars.