I Am Not Interested
I wasn’t quite sure how I had ended up alone in Chelsea on my fourteenth birthday. It seemed as though everyone that had been with me earlier had just disappeared, faded into the brick buildings lining Manhattan’s streets. I was alone in a sticky summer thunderstorm and I desperately needed to find my way home. I edged my way towards the buzzing traffic running along 6th Avenue and stuck my hand out to hail a cab.
A yellow taxi swerved and stopped a few feet in front of me. I swung open the door to the backseat and slid inside. The man behind the wheel had a rotund and greasy face punctuated by an overlarge nose and endless crater-like indentations. His hair, such that it was, seemed to have been mobbed with hair gel on the balding top and brushed one-hundred strokes around his neck; it looked oddly silky, as though it should belong to a kindergartner. I could see his spherical stomach bulging upward and outward, grazing the steering wheel. I gave the driver my address and settled into the worn down leather seat and the sickening stench of stale cigarette smoke and used car. He brought us back into the line of cars and began heading northeast.
He coughed heartily, a guttural mucusy cough. His lungs were filled with tar.
“What is the point to all this?” he asked me angrily, not even turning around in his seat to address me.
“The point to all this?” I asked.
“When I call to say hi, I get: ‘We’re eating,’ or ‘We’re watching our favorite show’ or ‘We’re doing...’ Call back later.” We halted at a stoplight on 3rd Avenue.I stared into the three-eyed strip until the red infiltrated my brain. “You always call at the worst times. But we also have nothing to say to you. How about, ‘Hi, will I ever see you again?’ Or, ‘Hey, how’s it going, oh wait, you don’t actually care what I have to say, you just wanted an excuse to admonish me for not calling you?’ Or, ‘Hello, I want to be an artist, but you don’t have an ounce of encouragement for me in your sedentary body?’ Right. Of course.” Pause, bristling. “I just don’t know what to say to you,” I said.
The car jerked forward, transforming the window-lit buildings into amorphous blobs trapped behind bulbous raindrops. I didn’t recognize where we were. I could only hope he was taking me home and not leading me astray.
“Invited or not invited, at both bat mitzvahs, none even mentioned the existence of the father. None! That is never heard of.”
I stared straight ahead of me, irises glued to the driver’s license in front of me. I glared at his face, through and behind it, to the back of his head. “What the hell are you saying? I dedicated a whole candle to you in my candle-lighting ceremony. Do you know how hard I tried to write those eight lines about you? How could you say that no one mentioned the ‘existence’ of a father? You were at the fucking service and the party. ” A deep inhale of the muggy clouded air inside the cab. I wanted to roll down the window but I knew he would yell at me for letting the rain in. “You crashed my sister’s bat mitzvah and forced her into another bout of anorexia. You know, you’re lucky we even invited you to mine. And you only stayed for the candle-lighting, long enough to be recalled to everyone’s memory for a brief moment, then you left.”
I waited impatiently for his response. I knew I had stung him, but I refused to let myself to identify and sympathize with him. I tried to ignore our shared blood and looked down at my sunburned feet.
We began heading north. And then he spoke. “Your sister wrote her bio for a thing, and there again, everybody mentioned, the father...does not exist.”
I laughed audibly. I couldn’t believe the ambiguity obscuring his false accusation. Rather, I could believe it. It was exactly like him to pull a fabrication out of a puff of tobacco smoke while he grasped unsuccessfully for bricks and mortar to rebuild the wall surrounding him. “A bio for a thing. Very articulate. She didn’t mention you in whatever thing you’re talking about because you do not deserve any recognition. The only thing you have ever done to her, or to us, for that matter, is complicate our lives and disrupt any sense of normalcy we could have had. Why did you do that?”
I waited for him to fight back and tell me I was wrong, but he just kept driving.“How the fuck do you think we think you don’t exist? Your presence emerges everyday, lurking in front of the Empire Hotel, showing up on my Gchat list, in photographs on the mantlepiece. You’re a joke of who you could have been to us. One time my sister sat on a bench in Paris that was graffitied with the words “J’aime mon papa” and I took a picture of her because that was the most ironic thing we had ever seen.”
I needed to cut through his density and make sure he got it. “You’re not our dad, you’re just our father.”
The driver honked his horn violently, causing a chorus of nasal blares to echo his. We paused at a pedestrian crosswalk somewhere up in the 40s. I couldn’t read the sign from my seat. Then he said, “You, I came to see your play, you found it hard to even say hi to your dad. Let alone your sister, who accidentally meets me in the street after two months of no communication, and she rushes off: ‘I got to go,’ she says.”
Switching the focus. Attempting to strengthen his case. My left hand jumped up to rub my temples and I ended up squeezing some tears out of my eyes. From the humidity, I supposed. That was it. The humidity. “I would like to remind you that mom and I went to dinner with you after the show. It was only two months ago, I don’t know how you could have possibly forgotten. At the end of the meal mom got up to go to the bathroom, leaving the two of us alone, and we were entrenched in disjointed smalltalk. But what did you expect? That having dinner with you would reconcile fourteen years of sporadic neglect and abandonment? Is that what you thought?”
I suddenly felt my pocket vibrate. I pulled out my phone and was greeted by an orange screen alerting me that I had a new text message from my sister. “It was a firedrill,” it read. I shoved my phone back into my shorts. “When my sister ran into you on the street, she was doing a fire drill at school. She couldn’t just leave and go hang out with you, or whatever the hell you expected to happen. Not only was she still in school, but the administrators and faculty were responsible for her life at that moment. She had no choice but to go back inside.”
I was terrified that he would explode. Make the vehicle swerve and send us careening to our deaths. I was enraging him. In that moment, he was merely an object at which I was hurling years of pent-up rage and rejection. I didn’t know him.
“I asked for my CDs five months ago, and still never got them. But the list goes on and on. What is the point?”
My skull dropped forward onto the plastic-encased license in front of me as we jerked aggressively to a stop. It made a hollow noise. I wondered what I could possibly extract from inside my drained head to make him understand.
My voice shivered, “Your CDs.” I laughed quietly, more of a physical reaction than a vocal one. “You want your CDs. You can have your goddamn CDs, if you want them so fucking badly.”I sank back in my seat and let my head roll to the side to look out at the moving buildings and moving bodies.
He rebutted, “All my efforts available to me in my schedule and time to revive the relationship with you kids always were confronted by your mother’s underlying poisoning and long term attitude. Needless to explain, it is a complete waste of time.”
My eyes flooded, swimming with stifled exasperation that I was unable to express due to my current location. The size of the car crowded me with claustrophobia. I overflowed, the necessity of my expression pouring out of my mouth at high volumes and in bitter tones, “Sending us harshly worded and terribly misspelled emails? Is that your idea of an effort? Do not bring mom into this, this is all you.” I paused to press the heels of my hands into my face. I couldn’t bear to look at the smug expression facing me in that small picture. “You’re always the victim in your eyes. You do nothing but smoke and smolder.”
We were already crossing the bridge. We were about halfway home now. “I blame you kids for the portion, that you have grown enough to be aware and make your choice to have a consistent relationship with your father, but you choose otherwise.”
I let out a maddened cry, piercing through the thickened air inside the vehicle. “What did you want us to do?” I vociferated, “We tried to keep in touch with you. But we have our own lives. It’s not all about you anymore. Having children is a give and take, and all you’ve ever done is take. You took our dad, and our childhoods, and our innocence, and a whole lot of other things.We never wiped your slate clean, but we let you try again. And each time you failed us. There is nothing left for me to do.” Shaking fingers clawing at my overgrown bangs. Wrenching them upward and back off of my forehead. I didn’t want them to touch me. I wanted to cut them off. I was suffocating. “Fan you with palm leaves, or something, maybe that’s what you wanted. Yeah, that sounds about right.”
I almost didn’t hear what he was about to say because of his foreign accent, but I caught him muttering, “She wanted sole custody of my only kids, well, you see the consequences of a very selfish consideration...”
My fist jumped up and threw itself at the window. The glass was cold, shockingly so, considering how hot it was outside, and the side of my hand bore the brunt of the impact. “You couldn’t have taken care of us. You can barely take care of yourself. You’re in awful health and you live in filth and you can’t keep a steady job. You could never have managed joint custody. You made that decision for her when you proved yourself unable to fulfill your duties as a father.”
He ignored me. He kept driving, blocking out everything I was firing at him. He’d found his bricks, and the wall was up. He was unreachable. “Therefore, do not call me—”
“You think I want this? I want a father. I need one. Everybody does. There have been countless studies on all of this. When you abandon your children, you ruin everything. I don’t know how to interact with men because of you. I don’t understand what a father-daughter relationship is. I don’t even understand what a male-female relationship is. You need to help me. You need to correct all of this. You’re making a huge mistake, you don’t know what you’re doing—”
“—Do not keep me posted—”
“I’ve thought about this a million times! What happens if you die? It could very well happen from all the smoking and your poor diet and lack of exercise and weird sleeping habits. What happens if you die, and I haven’t spoken to you in years? What do you think that will do to—”
“—Or email me about anything.”
“What are you saying? What are you doing? Why are you doing this?” My lungs vibrated from my heavy breathing. The ceiling of the cab threatened to fall in from the force of my anger. “Why are you doing this?” I asked again. And again. And again. And again.
“I AM NOT INTERESTED!” He stopped at a street corner somewhere in Long Island City and the door nearest me opened. I tumbled out onto the sidewalk. I stood up, my bangs gravitating towards the stars and my calves barely able to keep me from following them.
The door fell back into place, clicking and locking. He rolled his window down. “Just send me my damn CDs or I will have to report them as stolen.” And he drove away.
I started running. I ran for miles and miles away from him. At times, my feet gave out and I tripped, scraping my knees and my palms. At other times, I became out of breath and I had to stop, panting. But I kept running. I ran for two years, and when I finally showed up at the doorstep of my home, I let the truth spill out of my body.