In my earliest memory, you’re a horizon we are chasing. Mom’s shoulder is my pillow as she carries me across the dark lawn to the passenger side of our Sunbird. I don’t remember a car seat. I don’t remember a moon, either, only the golden glow of the dome light and the flammable fabric of my Barbie nightgown. I know my father is on a plane, and it will land soon.
Where do you go when you’re not with us? It will be so long before I go anywhere at all.
YOUR MOTHER’S BASEMENT
At day camp I feign a stomachache, because I’d rather be home with you, inhaling SpaghettiOs and syndicated game shows. That’s called cryin’ wolf, you holler when you realize what I’ve done, but by that point I’ve already claimed the remote control. Later, when Love Connection comes on, I run Chuck Woolery’s name through “The Name Game.” You stop me at bonana-fana fo-Fuck and warn me to watch my language. I learn to tell more convincing lies, to relish the thrill of forbidden words. These lessons are among the best gifts anyone ever gave me.
There’s talk that the three of us might live together soon. Hiding behind a sycamore, I watch you take Mom’s hand between both of your own. I make a balance beam of the sycamore’s twisted root and tread so carefully.
You play eighteen holes. My legs, too short to reach the floor, dangle from a chair beside an unlit fireplace. Sometimes a woman with red lips comes to check on me, smelling like your cigarettes. On her third visit, I ask if she’s your girlfriend. She laughs but doesn’t answer, and when finally you come to claim me, you smell like the cigarettes, too.
YOUR FATHER’S BEDROOM
Before you lock me in, you point to an alarm clock on the bedside table. I’ll come back when the minute hand is on the forty. I’ve memorized almost every song I’ve ever heard, but I sing “Stormy Weather” in a whisper once, then again, because it’s the only song I can think of just now.
UNDER THE MOON
Or did I dream this?
You don’t belong here, in the front yard of the home we share with my stepfather and, on weekends, my new brother and sister. You’re lobbing snowballs at our red front door, our two-story columns. After a while, I return to bed. No one needs to tell me to look away.
You are in my caterpillar eyebrows. You are in my yellow wolf’s eyes. You are in my long second toe and the way my knees look dirty when I tan. Sometimes Mom points to other parts of me you inhabit, deep-down places, and I try not to notice you there.
Twenty years removed from you, and 2,200 miles. Anywhere else, you’re seldom on my mind. Strange that you should be now, here, but today this city is full of white men playing golf.
You’ve got a too-common name, so when I search for you online, I pair it with the name of our hometown. Someone else is searching for you, too, on a local message board: Anybody know what happened to J—? Plenty of folks have answers.
The one at the carwash who smokes crack?
Sounds about right. He always did party too much, had anger problems. Too bad. He was a sexy MFer back in the day.
He is happily married. Been that way for years. And I’ll have you know he’s NOT ON DRUGS WHATSOEVER!!!
Best golfer in the county.
You know he never took care of his daughter.
I don’t know enough to say which claim is true, not even the last. Maybe staying away is how you take care, a means of preserving what you’d otherwise break.