“I mean, I kinda assumed we were just gonna not talk about it.”
The rental Kia idled in the driveway he could no longer call his. His back fought the un-reclined seat, his fingers nervous against the steering wheel. We’d started saying goodbye an hour and fifty-five minutes ago. He was completing the final dropping-kid-back-home step of our bi-yearly Red Bowl reunions, only this time it had lasted far beyond what either of us had bargained for. My foot propped itself against the open passenger door. The AC fought to keep the obstinate summer air at bay. I prayed he wouldn’t ask me to close it, because then I’d be forced to admit to him that no amount of cologne could cover the smell of his freshly smoked Camels – and to admit to myself that conversations with my father now made me feel trapped.
Twelve-step program, he wanted to apologize to the people he had hurt, etcetera etcetera. He was worried about my sister. Worried that he hadn’t been hard enough on her. Worried by her concerning (read: normal teenage) choices and nervous about the fact that she wasn’t following in my footsteps (read: spending Friday nights alone organizing her eraser collection). I assured him she had her head on straight. He asked me how I could be so sure. I told him she made smart decisions, using her approach to relationships as an example. Told him that she and I had been talking “just the other night” about our boyfriend-less existences. How we had only somewhat jokingly agreed to blame it on our unfortunate height and the intimidating I-don’t-need-no-man vibe it gave rise to.
“Wait, so … you are … interested in boys, then?”
We sat in awkward silence until I broke it with a snort. Genuine, unforced laughter shook my shoulders. It wasn’t until later that I realized how sad that question was.
“I mean, you do understand why I would think that, right? Like, that’s an understandable assumption?”
Sure, dad, I said. I understood. I understood every time the word frumpy was used to describe my clothing choices. I understood every time mom warned me that people would “make assumptions” if I continued to shop in the men’s section of Goodwill. I understood every time Susu told me I’d be “so pretty if only” I’d “put on some lip-n-stick.” I understood every time she tried to commandeer my shirts and sew them into something “just a little more form-fitting.” Every time she lamented the infrequency with which I wore my hair down. Sure, dad, it was an understandable assumption. I was the token tomboy of every neighborhood street soccer game. I avoided dresses like the plague. Yes, dad, I, too, remembered that phase in middle school during which I pretended that pink physically burned my skin to the touch. It was an understandable assumption. Understandable to assume that my reluctance to talk about my romantic feelings meant that I didn’t have any. Understandable to attribute my decision not to go to prom to a stifled sexuality rather than an aversion to public dancing and large groups of people. I understood.
“Come on. You did all that stuff with the homeless shelter … I just kind of … I mean I thought that was you sending a pretty obvious message.”
Lost-N-Found, sure. Because volunteering to help homeless LGBT youth tell their stories through art must have meant that I was gay too.
“And I thought you picked Emory because of that. You talked about how it had such a large GLB – what is it?”
LGBT. LGBT population, dad. Yup, he’d gotten it. Because fleeing to a gay safe-haven for my undergraduate experience was more plausible than valuing diversity and tolerance.
“But you know that I’m open to like … I mean, I’d want you to feel like you could …”
Could internalize the moment forever? Could later use it to fuel my fear that I’d never move past my 20-year-old-virgin-who’s-never-been-on-a-date-and-has-only-ever-kissed-her-gay-best-friend reputation? Could find myself agonizing over what my disproportionately male friend group would look like from the outside? Could wilt with frustration when one of them would tell me that I was “easier to talk to than most girls?” Could fear that my exhaustion while in the company of girls would come off an attempt to be “one of the dudes?” Could use this to more easily assimilate my “daddy issues” into the rest of my identity? Could blame it on the lesbianism – not him telling seventeen-year-old me that he was “completely detached at this point” and that I was “lucky” he was even still around before admitting, two months later, that he had been a “horrible dad” and a “bad example” and announcing his decision to “fix” it by walking out of our front door forever in the lime green shirt I’d given him for his birthday. Of course, dad. I felt like I could do that. No worries.
“I’m glad we cleared that one up.”
Honestly, though, I was too. I was taken aback by his candor. After finally securing the door and waving goodbye as he crawled away, I burst into the house to tell my mom she wouldn’t believe “the crazy thing dad just said.” Confusion tickled my fingertips at the sadness she responded with, and my nails bit into my palms when she said that my sister and I deserved better. I defended him, bragging about how much he’d opened up and not-so-subtly implying that I wished she’d do the same. Because he told me that he was getting his life together, and this was back when I believed him. Back when the phrase “I’m not an alcoholic, I’m an abuser” didn’t raise any red flags. At the time, I was happy for the frank conversation. Amazed by what honesty could do.
Bria Goeller is a junior in the college, double majoring in Interdisciplinary Studies and English/Creative Writing.