Iím nineteen, watching bruises crawl across my fatherís face like
theyíre long cockroaches under his skin. My four fingers are drawn
perfectly across his forehead and down to the top of his cheek. Weíre in
the garage, the side room that he built with a door and a lock to keep my
mother and me out. Iím on the outside of the doorframe, and heís sitting
in a chair, holding his face together. The Phoenix winter night slides
under the garage door, and my bare feet ache against cooled concrete. I
donít notice how the blood under my nose clumps into maroon pebbles or how
the knot on my head wants to break through the skin. My uncleís with my
dadóhis brother, the paramedicópatching him up. While he checks my
fatherís eyes, he asks me to look at what Iíve done and tells me that heíd
leave too if I were his son. And Iím listening, captivated, breathing
steam out of a throat striped with red finger marks. I try to explain that
he came at me first, and my fist clenches, knuckles drawn white, a
negative of my fatherís face. My hand is as numb as my feet, and neither
of the two men is listening to me.
This was the night he told us heíd found someone else and was moving in
with her. That heíd paid for a new house with my college money. That the
girl he was going to live with was still in college. I can still hear all
of that, but I donít remember hitting him. I told him what I thought, and
he moved his hand from the doorknob to my neck. The only thing felt was
the scrape of Spanish tile grout when I dropped back on it. From that
floor that was worth second mortgage, I watched my mother beg him to stay
Iím eight, on the back patio with my father. Itís a still summer night,
after monsoon rain, smelling like a last leg air conditioner. My fatherís
telling me how he and I are mathematically perfect. He was born in
nineteen forty-seven and I was born in nineteen seventy-four. While Iím
eight, heís thirty-five; our digits always add up to the same single
number. Zero plus eight and three plus five, perfect math. We watch a
cicada hatch from its shell and force the blood into its wings. Iím too
young to know that my fatherís high.
Iím twenty-five and heís fifty-two, and my fiancťe has just left me for
someone else. Iíve elevated seven thousand feet by train to Flagstaff, and
Iím breathing rice paper air. I call my parents and tell them whatís
happened. Dad thinks Iím going to kill myself because I used to listen to
Kurt Cobain. He sends me an e-mail that just says, "Love you Jake," but I
canít stop crying after I read it. The message took less than a minute to
write and less than a second to get to me. Itís not even real, just a DNA
string of ones and zeros, but I wait more than three months to delete it.
Iím nineteen and heís forty-six; itís two months before we fight. My
father drove to California with the window down and got Bellís palsy. His
face runs like syrup off his skull. Heís ashamed of himself. I feel
horrible for him. He wears large rimmed, out of style hats, hoping theyíll
steal attention from the soup underneath. After he heals, Iíll put my fist
across the same area, peeling it back again. Heís meeting the girl heís
going to leave us for. Sheís telling him that heís still handsome. Sheís
giving him crystal meth for the nostril thatís still round. Heís giving
her the money to get that medicine.
Iím ten and heís thirty-seven. Iím standing on one leg in a gym,
punching my karate instructor in the stomach. The instructor is smiling
and telling me that itís all about discipline. When Iím done, I sweat
footprints across the safety mats to where Iím supposed to meet my father.
He wanted us to both get gym passes so we could work out together, but
heís not there. Itís an hour later when he finally pulls up outside.
Days later, in my kitchen, my mother is having coffee with a blond
woman Iíve never seen before. Theyíre both crying and holding their heads
in their hands, neither one saying anything. After the woman leaves, my
mother tells me that theyíre both in love with my father, and that he met
her at the gym.
Dad comes home that night with presents for me, and my parents fight
while I play with Star Wars figures and spin board game spinners, sliding
plastic pieces past GO.
Iím three and heís thirty. Heís running to the hospital with me in his
arms. Itís the first clear memory I have. Iím watching palm trees go by
overhead. Iíve fallen down some stairs, and heís too frightened to get in
a car. The hospital is more than five miles away. I know; Iíve driven the
route since then.
Iím twenty and heís forty-seven. The math still works; you just have to
add his numbers one more time. Iím telling my first serious girlfriend
that I cheated on her. Weíre parked outside of my parentsí house, and
while I tell her, I get distracted by a bush across the street that looks
like a face when the wind blows. Sheís yelling at me, but still calling me
babe, and it sounds so stupid. Hunched over at the wheel of her car, she
reaches and tries to touch my chest, but twists her fingers into my shirt.
I get out of her car. The bush outside still looks like a person, but
blurry now under dust-colored streetlights. The desert makes us all look
Iím twenty-six and heís fifty-three. I sit in a psychologistís office
and tell her about how afraid I am of people leaving me. Watching her
computerís screensaver connect lines across the monitor, I tell her that
Iím an abusive person.
Dadís written me another e-mail, and I canít delete it this time. He
tells me how he gets awkward when Iím around, and how Iím too smart for
him. But, thereís another letter in the regular mail with ink that didnít
have time to dry before the paper was folded. And through
Rorschach-smeared type, I learn Iíve been rejected from the University in
California. I tear that one up and read my fatherís instead.
Yesterday, while I was waiting to turn right in my car, I started
Iím four and heís thirty one. Weíve moved to the north edge of Phoenix.
We donít build a backyard fence because we donít have neighbors yet. Past
our grocery store, thereís a cactus and an abandoned car wrecked with rust
and bee-bee holes. My father and I walk to where my elementary school is
being built. He writes my name in drying cement with his finger, wiping
his hand on his jeans afterwards. He takes me back there to see my name
every week until school starts.
When weíre not exploring the desert, heís drawing a picture of my
family opening our new front door to the heat outside. He leaves the space
beyond our figures blank, bleached by the summer. He frames the drawing,
but the city grows up around us.
- Jake Burdick lives with his wife, dog, and six cats in Chandler,
Arizona, where he teaches and designs curriculum for online education.
Currently, he is working on several other pieces in various genres and
planning a human family. This is his first publication.