She calls you Daddy.
A word that only leaves her mouth when she really needs something that only you can provide. Otherwise, if she can find it somewhere else, she’d rather look somewhere else. Because as much as she calls you Daddy, she also calls you Fear.
Now she plays with flowers and butterflies. She mixes mud with water to make magic, and the earth is her closest friend most of the time. Possibly because of her proximity to it and mostly because at her age, she doesn’t know friendships any other way. The grass is the mutual friend that came with the earth. When not fraternizing with earth, she’s watching cartoons and dreaming of the day her kinky black hair will turn blonde and grow soft and long just like that of the white girls she sees on TV.
She doesn’t get to see you much, but she doesn’t fault you for nothing. You are not there or you are not there. It’s not a big deal. She’ll only see you when you’re around. Not many words will be exchanged between you anyway. And she’ll only miss you when you’re not around. She won’t fault you for anything.
Not the nights you come home staggering. Not when you raise your voice to Mother. She’ll not hold it against you. “Daddy is upset,” is all she’ll think.
Now, you’re okay.
She does not think to ask why Mother holds on to her tightly as she snuggles close to her heaving chest during the night. She doesn’t wonder why Mother is not sleeping in her own bed tonight. “Daddy is upset,” makes all the sense in the world. Sometimes she wonders what mother does to upset you that much. Sometimes she even wonders if it’s her fault that you yell all the time.
Now she looks on as you yell at Mother, pointing a finger at her, and Mother almost goes on her knees, hands clasped together as if in prayer, begging you to forgive her. She feels an ache in her gut. Something tells her that there is something wrong with the images playing out in front of her. She hears Mother plead with you. She sees Mother’s pleas yield the same results that adding oil to a fire would. Louder yelling. Fervent finger-pointing.
Later, when she tries to sleep, her ears refuse to unhear the blows and subsequent screams that waft in from your room to hers.
The sound of Mother screaming, long after the blows have stopped, refuse to leave her for the rest of the night. That sound is accompanied by other sounds now. Mother is creeping into bed with her. Mother’s heaving bosom is demanding for more air. Mother’s beating heart is threatening to jump out of her chest. Once in a while, the snotting is punctuated with sighs.
Big girls cry too, she learns at a tender age.
When she wakes up, if there is no more yelling and no more blows and no more screaming, then there is only flowers and butterflies and grass and earth and beautiful mud waiting to become a plate or a cup or a thing. If you were to ask her what happened last night, she’ll only tell you what she knows now. That, “Daddy was upset.”
Over the years, she’ll see you not see her. Not be bothered about the child in your midst. She’ll see you refuse to acknowledge that children are people too. She’ll feel your anger. She’ll see the punches that you throw generously. She will feel the punches. Each one of them. Though they land on Mother, they’ll hit her just as hard. As painfully. And then she’ll see you throw both of them out – her and Mother – to the cold. To find somewhere they could belong, she’ll guess. Because they don’t deserve you, she’ll figure.
Over the years, she’ll see Mother go back and plead to be forgiven and taken back. Sometimes, Mother will ask that she does the pleading on Mother’s behalf. Forgiveness will be granted. Mother will go back. Mother will be punched some more. Mother will keep screaming. And, “Daddy was upset,” will be an added item to her breakfast menu.
But one day she’ll turn 40. She’ll look in the mirror and see the woman she has become. “Who am I?” Is a question she’ll seek to answer.
She will know who she is. She will see you for who you are. At 40, she’ll have no doubts about who she is. She’ll also have no delusions about who you are.
Though many years will be behind her, she will still love the earth but not in the touchy-feely way that she does now. Grass will still be the mutual friend. She’ll gain another friend in trees and will grab the chance to inhale their scent any chance she gets. She will still love butterflies. Her soft blonde hair will still not have made an appearance, but she’ll not want them anymore. She’ll be more than content with her black kinky strands. She’ll be taller, thicker, hairier, older, and wiser.
Finally, she will be ready to face her feelings.
Feelings that will have been suppressed for so many years that at some point, she will almost convince herself that they already left her system.
After years of carrying on with life like it was perfect, the feeling in her gut will demand release. “Daddy was upset” will not make sense anymore.
She’ll have it in her to look you in the eye and tell you what she thinks about you. She’ll have questions. Top on the list of questions will be why, after so many years of putting every woman you fancied before her and Mother, after the many years of yelling, the punches, and the elicited screams, after years of not bothering to form a relationship with her, after years of denying her your presence – and the presence of Mother – in her life, why, after all that, you deserve her.
This why will need an answer, and, “Because I’m your father,” will not cut it.