June 15th, 2008
I had a better Father’s Day post planned, but I can’t find The Picture. The one taken five years before my birth, in which either my son or I appear to be about two years old. It’s hard to tell the gender of the child in the Hawaiian shorts and white t-shirt, but s/he is definitely one of us — one of the dark-eyed, olive skinned ones in a sea of green eyes and pale skin. A brother? A sister? I don’t know.
That picture has always been a curiosity. I like to imagine that one day, someone else will see it and be able to connect all the scattered dots and fill in all the blanks. If they couldn’t do that, maybe they’d just be kind enough to tell me his name. As long as it’s not Warren Beatty or Rod McKuen. My mother tried to pass those two off on me at the height of my pubescent naivete, the era of Shampoo, (my favorite movie at the time), and a poetry album I played until there were no more grooves. At ten years old, I filled my mind with lines like I will fly into your belly like a plane flying into Rome. I had no idea, really, what it meant, but I loved the visual of that line, the romance of it, and the way the words rolled off my tongue.
Later, MJ brushed off my who’s-my-father inquiries with stunted lines like “some guy in a bar”, “some sailor”, and my personal favorite, “what does it matter anyway?” Sometimes the chill of her mind was just stunning. MJ was full of high-drama and bittersweet illusions. Her magic was in the way she could sometimes make her wild and fluid self appear to be stable and solid. Her solid self appeared to be promising — it tantalized and teased a moment of reality — a sliver of truth that was just out of reach. I’d struggle across the brutal desert of my mother’s psyche only to discover mirages, like nightmarish funhouse mirrors that scoffed at my efforts, and sent me crawling back to the starting gate. It took me years to un-love her enough to abandon my perpetual place at that gate, and years more to quit torturing myself trying to make sense of her kind of crazy.
Anyway, I was sure I’d get the answer before she died, because that’s what she told me in 1996. “I’ll tell you before I die.” Except that she didn’t. The two months between the cancer diagnosis and her death in 1999 were full of opportunities for mother-daughter moments. Truthful moments. Ones that might have had led to some sort of redemption or understanding. Yet MJ chose, even while dying, to keep her illusions, particularly the grand ones in which she was superior, infallible, and invincible — and not the bulimic-anorexic, violent, narcissistic, and callous woman she really was.
So I have no idea who he was, that dark-eyed and olive skinned, long lost, and never known father of mine. The pauper who left me with an imperious Queen and her soulless stand-in husband. Maybe he, too, stood perpetually outside the gate and tried to pluck the thorns from the roses. Maybe he was just a bastard, a one-night stand, or a really bad poet. Maybe he just wasn’t that memorable.
Except that I live, part pauper, part Queen, and no small part a dark-eyed Alice who can’t stop wishing there was something of substance on the other side of this looking glass.