Writing About My Father, Day 7
What does it mean to know someone? For my father to say he knows me, what facts about me does he have to have at the ready? He knows my birthday (sort of), but does he know I always hyphenate my name (Paulette-Ann) and my mother never does though she’s the one who taught it to me with a hyphen? Does he know I’m five feet and one-quarter inch, and does it say anything about our relationship if he does or he doesn’t? I know he doesn’t know the names of any of my friends. He knew the names of the kids on our block before he moved out, but I don’t think he’s ever known anyone I met through school or work or the rest of my life. He knows I’ve published one chapbook, but I don’t know for sure if he knows about the second, and to be fair, I’m not sure I even sent him a copy. He knows I like to watch TV, but he doesn’t know I am collecting FSG paperback editions of Colette, or that a few years ago I fell in love with Mrs. Woolf, or that I reread May Sarton’s Journal of a Solitude at least once a year. He doesn’t know that all through college I was in major unrequited love with a boy named Christophe, or that I spent my last two years in Boston eating Dunkin Donuts coffee rolls with a large coffee for dinner because I didn’t know how to cook and that’s all I could afford. He knows I struggle with my weight, which I know he knows because he always brings it up. He knows I almost died from pneumonia but I’m not sure he knows my mother and sister went into debt buying all new furniture for the new apartment they found for me while I was mostly unconscious hooked up to a ventilator. He knows that I had several fibroids removed from my uterus, but he doesn’t know that getting diagnosed in the first place taught me that my lifetime of indifference toward having children was just my way of hiding from the pain that marriage and kids just didn’t seem to be happening for me.
We have a lot to talk about: politics, television shows, what knew paid content he’s figured out how to get for free on the Interwebs. We have a lot in common: we both like sweets and hard liquor. And somehow we’ve developed twin abilities to talk about a lot without ever saying much of anything. Not anything that matters. I know my father from observation, from the stories of others, and from what I fill in with my imagination. Perhaps he knows me the same way, though I’m not convinced that he’s interested in looking all that closely. He could pick me out in a line-up, or identify my dead body, but I’m not sure he’d know me by my music collection, or magazine subscriptions, or from a snapshot of my bookshelves. And I suppose the real question isn’t how well he knows me, or what he knows of me. I think the real question is does he even want to know me? And that I know I don’t really want to know the answer to.