Breadcrumb #80


I try kissing you, as I normally do when I want you to remember I exist. You turn your head with a smile and place your hand on my thigh. Without words you say “not now,” which is a phrase, a concept, a feeling I have grown used to in loving you.

     But I am persistent.

     Feel my warmth. Feel my love. Remember me. Remember that I love you.

     I touch your face. Maybe you have a beard; maybe you’ve shaved it. I tend to remember you with a beard, because I love the way there’s a certain pain every time we kiss, a physical pain that mimics what happens inside me. A discomfort I am addicted to, like flossing until I see blood.

     My thumb traces the scar that runs through your right eyebrow.

     “Tell me the story again.”

     “It’s not much of a story.” You let out a sound somewhere between a scoff and a laugh. Without words, you say “not now.”

     “Oh, come on! It makes me smile.” I am persistent.

     “I was like 4 or 5. It was before my mom left and Mike stole one of my Nintendo controllers when I beat him at Street Fighter,” you begin with a smile, not a smile for me, but a smile for a simpler time, a happier time. “I always tripped over my own feet. I guess I hadn’t grown into them yet. Anyway, he was running off with the controller and I grabbed the wire that was dangling behind him. I wasn’t looking and I ran right into the doorframe. Blood was everywhere. And right as I fell on my ass, Mike shouted 'HADOUKEN!' like Ryu from Street Fighter. It was really funny and I wanted to laugh, but I couldn’t stop crying.”

     I smile, like I do every time you humor me. I like imagining you as a child. Your scrawny legs and tiny ankles that make your basketball shoes look so big. Your curly hair that grows upward, like the tall sculpted bushes that grow and shrink outside the gated communities neither of us grew up in. You — alone — the youngest of the children who your mother abandoned. You — the only product of your mother and father’s marriage — two people who never learned to love. Not one another, and not you.

     There you are, stepping off the school bus with your tall hair and your big shoes, at age 6, a latchkey kid. You are trying to make sense of why half of the stuff that once filled the empty space of your father’s home is now gone. You tell your neighbor you thought you had been robbed. She hugs you until you put the pieces together and realize your mother has left you. Left the brothers and sisters you grew to call family — the sons and daughters of a man who is not your father, a man you never met, but might as well love you the same as your own. Both men are absent in your life; it’s just that one manages to do so while sitting at the same dinner table. There you are — alone. How I fear you feel when you sit at the same dinner table with me. Afraid you’ll come home to one less toothbrush in your bathroom, to missing framed photos, to a half-empty top drawer where I keep my most comfortable T-shirts that always end up smelling like a strange combination of the two of us.

Both men are absent in your life; it’s just that one manages to do so while sitting at the same dinner table.

     “Why do like that story so much?” you say, shaking your head, in confusion or annoyance, I can never tell with you.

     “I like to imagine I was there,” I say, tracing the scar again. “Then maybe…”

     I think about how I could have helped you. I could have stopped the bleeding or held your hand while you cried. I could have ran and gotten your mother, and convinced her to care, to stay. To not just follow the steps a parent knows to follow when a child is hurt, but to really care — to stitch above your teddy bear’s eye so he had a scar just like you — you know, to really, really care. I could have stood by your side as you scanned the half-empty rooms of your father’s home, wondering where your mother’s hairbrush, throw pillows, and floral loveseat had gone. And I would have been the one to hold you until you realized she, too, was gone.

     “It’s OK.” You smile at me, knowing that I live in a constant state of guilt for never loving you enough to make up for the years you never knew love.

     I run my fingers through your hair, as I often do when I want you to remember that I’m still here. That my toothbrush, my most comfortable shirts, and my dark brown hair that clogs your shower drain are all still here.

     I pull my body close to yours, but you’ll only let me get so close.

     Feel my warmth. Feel my love. Remember me. Remember that I love you.

     You are sure to leave space between our bodies. Without words you say “not now."

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