And yet, in spite of my recent obsession with loss, the feeling of being abandoned is not a new sensation. Taking up from where we left off, he might say, and I would agree.
He stayed away for a whole year, or that is what I remember. So his brazenness in dying, in leaving me once more, is hard to forgive. Last time he came back at least, not fully, not steadily, but enough to give me faith in his presence in the blank face of absence.
I remember a version of the night he went away. Me breathless with running, coming in the back door, him in the living room with my brother, crying. Saying, I’m moving out. Saying, I’ll be here for lunch every day. Glued to the spot, I stared at the carpet beneath my feet, trying to trace its swirly pattern. My mother the next day, furious. He won’t be here for lunch every day. And he wasn’t.
He was too busy being himself to be a father. I know now that I wouldn’t be any different. It has taken me a long time, but I recognise myself in the things he did, in the things that demanded his attention so much that he couldn’t consider what he did to us: I get sucked up in day-dreams, I don’t know the measure of myself, I need to see my myself reflected in others to know that I exist. So you go looking for affirmation elsewhere, only to return meekly, sheepishly, after having found nothing but drink-inspired word-warped tin-cheap attention. After you have defiled yourself, and them, for the gaze of others.
And there was I, gazing all the time. And while I was all attention, he did his disappearing trick, vanishing without his things or an address for his mail. Only to return a sick man, yellow in the face, and without the beard or booming voice. And he so thin, and we so fat. The man that disappeared had been a big, loud man, full of shit and laughter and mischief, capable of being happy – infectiously so. Back came this strange man, earnest and sober, who ate rye bread and diet jam, who got a dog for exercise and set about being a father with great dedication. He still smoked like a chimney. And went back to his old ways, in his own good time.
Seeing him was fireworks and balloons and multi-coloured sponge cake every time, heart beating in my stomach, throat and knees. (My beating body, how I feel for it now.) Such was the kind of gaze he needed, and he got the fix whenever he came. What he did in the meantime, I do not know.