Her father was the last person she expected to be knocking on her dorm room door at 8:30 on Sunday morning, but there he was, propped against the doorframe, the neck of a Jack Daniels bottle clutched in his left fist, her yellow fleece in his right.
“It’s snowing,” he slurred. “Thought you might be cold, so I brought something to keep you warm.” He held up both the bottle and her fleece and laughed, but it wasn’t a laugh she recognized.
It wasn’t the laugh of the man who had taken her jogging in the park whenever her mother had a migraine, she four-years-old and bouncing on his shoulders, he weaving from side to side on the bike path and making airplane noises while she giggled and grabbed fistfuls of his then-thick brown hair to keep her balance. It wasn’t the laugh of the man who’d taught her to ice skate on the pond in that same park and worked overtime for seven years to keep her in new skates and $800 sequined outfits so she could compete on the junior circuit. Or the laugh of the man who’d told her she could go to any college she wanted if she worked hard enough and threw her a surprise party at Outback Steakhouse when she got into Yale; who’d single-handedly moved all of her boxes, her TV, her suitcases, up to the fourth floor of Trumbull College when she broke her arm and her mother was far too sick to make the forty-five minute trip to New Haven. It wasn’t the laugh of the man who’d sobbed uncontrollably into her shoulder after her mother passed, the years of chemo and catheters and blood-soaked sheets and sleepless nights finally over.
No, this was the laugh of the man who’d shown up ten minutes before her statistics midterm with two non-refundable air tickets to Las Vegas and joked that she should put all that “book-learnin’” to practical use. The man who’d asked her to dinner one Friday night to tell her he had quit his job of twenty-five years at the paper company and decided to take a film directing class at the community center; who’d drunk-dialed her at three a.m. two weeks later and admitted that he hadn’t really quit, he’d been laid off in a company overhaul, but he hadn’t wanted his Pickle to be disappointed in her old man.
This was the man she had gone to for advice for nineteen years, and she had no advice to give him, only to tell him to stop. To stop behaving like a drunken frat guy. To stop trying to be her friend. And before she realized it, she’d said that last part aloud, I don’t want to be your friend, Dad, and she watched lines of confusion wrinkle his forehead as he tried to interpret the what and the why of her words.
The bottle of Jack slipped from his fingers and landed on her bare pinky toe. It didn’t shatter, but it hurt worse than if it had. Her eyes watered instantly, and she wanted to tell him how much pain he had caused her, emotionally and now physically, and that she wouldn’t see him anymore as long as he acted this way. But instead she yanked her yellow fleece from his extended hand, backed inside her room, and shut the door. And only then did she realize that, without opening her mouth, she had said it after all.
Lacy Marschalk is a PhD candidate in English at Auburn University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Blue Crow Magazine, The Citron Review, Thoughtsmith, and The Prose-Poem Project. You can find her online at lacymarschalk.blogspot.com.