Please do not mistake this story for an investigation, though at times you may find yourself squinting at words in the white glare of a flashlight, tapping names into a search bar, pinning dates and descriptions to a map on the wall.
Do not hold these pages up to a bathroom mirror flickering with candlelight at midnight; do not whisper my father’s name and turn circles, expecting him to appear.
You may at first think this story is about a father, a daughter, a wandering, a search, a reckoning.
This is a tale of apparition, approximation, aporia, aperture, apperception, apposition, apostrophe, and apology, among other words that separate, remove, approach, and bring together.
If at times you become disoriented, uncertain about the bounds of reality and relationship; if you find yourself disappearing between the pages; if you aren’t sure you can go on without losing something of yourself, please remember that nothing lasts forever, take a deep breath, and go on.
You are tired. After so many chapters, you want to know how, precisely, my father got lost. You want to know what, exactly, he did to me in his bed. Did he go to jail? Did I go crazy? What happened before, during, and after the abuse and his disappearance?
“Where is her mother?” you mutter as you pick your way through paragraphs devoid of her presence. You think I’ve forgotten to put her on the page or have purposely excised her from the story. You think I’m refusing to tell you what you want to know. You suspect…what? That I want to control the narrative, wield the power I didn’t have as a child? That I’m still trying to protect my father, my mother?
You want a linear tale—a chronological trauma—because you think that’s how time works or that it would help the story to make sense.
Look, it took me
to speak about it
don’t you think
you can wait
a little longer
(you do not want
a sudden poem—
can’t decide if
I’m holding you
you want a happy ending
(but not the kind my father maybe wanted)
you want me
to tell you
if that’s what he wanted
if that’s what he got
why shouldn’t I too
be a ghost, my story
appear & d
like a light burning down the hall
five minutes after click-off
door knob rattling, picture frames turned
like a hand between two legs is that all
you want to know
is that all he did?
You want rape1
you tear your nails
you want my pulse
beneath your fingers
like he wanted me
to be haunted
If you are doing the math, yes, my father walked into Yosemite National Park when I was nineteen and vanished for seven years, one less than I spent with him before he took more from me than I had to give, his touch forever after a negative remainder.
Now you know he didn’t rape me.
(Is your interest diminished? Should my father’s betrayal be ranked like the bases teenagers round in the back seats of theaters? Is one of his hands in my non-existent bush not worth an assault or two behind the bleachers?)
You wonder how I can miss a man already missing. (I’ve never understood why you can’t divide by zero.)
You might disagree that this isn’t a story about a father, a daughter, a wandering, a search, a reckoning.
(Is a daughter still a daughter if her father’s not a father?)
If wandering means prowling, maybe you’re right. But if searching requires knowing for what or whom you’re seeking, if reckoning means reward or punishment but not neither or both?
When they found his bones at the base of that mountain and declared his death an accident, how should I have felt?
Like a daughter who lost her father? Or a woman who no longer had to hope what was missing could be found?
When they swabbed my cheek to see if the same material in his marrow resided in me, how should I have pleaded?
“Daddy, I have had to kill you,” Sylvia Plath wrote two decades after her father’s abrupt death. “I used to pray to recover you,” she confessed. Still, the poem closes with a stake through Daddy’s “fat black heart.”
(It is easier to bury a monster than a man.)
I loved my father. Then, for many years, I imagined I didn’t. When he disappeared, I lost nothing. Long after he was gone, I realized I’d fooled myself. I did love him. I do love him. Even though he never apologized.
(Love, it turns out, is indivisible.) Imagine my horror, my grief, my need.
Reader, we are left wanting.
1 You do not want a footnote about rape. You might even say you don’t want rape. But some niggling part of you might want it on the page. Incest survivor Lidia Yuknavitch attests, “In America, it’s tricky to describe violence without it turning into entertainment.”
2 from Greek apologia “a speech in defense,” from apologos “an account, story”
Carol Claassen has been nominated, notable, and finalist-ed, as well as nominal, unremarkable, and unlisted. She couldn’t write a straight narrative if her life depended on it. (For proof, visit www.CarolRoseClaassen.
Photography by: Vince Fleming