Massachusetts Men

     I’m fifteen and my dad may or may not be moving back in. He’s been living in his own apartment for two years already and I’ve grown used to a house with just me and my mother. It’s California and it’s hot in December, but I pretend I’m in the north by closing my blinds and wrapping myself in a shrine of blankets and little candles. I sip tea with less than five calories per cup and binge watch TV shows in my room while my parents decide whether or not to stay married in the kitchen.
      It’s uncomfortable, playing house like this. He’s brought his flat screen TV from his apartment and is pouring too much wine into the cheese fondue in the kitchen. It smells like elementary school again — corks, salt, and liquor. It feels too staged, like we’ve moved away and someone else has come to repeat our old actions. We haven’t been a family in years and I can’t, for the life of me, figure out why we’re pretending to be one again.
    He has gained weight since he moved out, while my mom and I seem to have shrunken down a size or two. His beer belly is situated lower than I remember, ballooning out and protruding through his shirts. His spiky hair is thick with gel and at times I find myself wanting to touch it like I did when I was a child. He shaved his beard before he came over, something I would’ve been thankful for when I was young, because every time he kissed me on the cheek it would itch, so I pushed him away.
    My dad and I are too much alike to coexist. Too stubborn, too messy, too closed off. We suck back smoke like candy and pop pills to get to sleep. Our German skin matches, just like our young blonde hair and blue eyes used to. People always said I looked like my mother — until they met my father. We were always butting heads, constantly clashing even when I was a kid. When I was four my mom worked on Saturdays so I spent the day with him, but more often than not he’d wind up driving me to her work and dropping me off. We couldn't handle each other for that long without something blowing up.

    When I was sixteen my father told me he had a girlfriend the same day he told me she was pregnant. Of course, I already knew he had a secret girlfriend after seeing a text on his phone months earlier. But he never knew that. I considered bringing her up a few times but never found the right way to say it. Dad, you got a call from Abby. Who is she? Dad, why are you fucking one of your employees? Dad, does Abby mix drinks for you after work like Mom used to?
    We’re in the car when he tells me, though I can’t seem to remember who was driving. I remember the way he forced me into the car; I was so unwilling to enter.
    “Do you want to know if it’s a boy or a girl?” he asks me.
    “Sure,” I say, looking straight ahead towards the line of trees on the sidewalk.
    “Well, we’re having a girl,” he says.
    He’s expecting me to have some sort of reaction, I can tell. When I was little I always begged for a younger brother, so maybe he was expecting some sort of glee. I’m not sure. But I know that when he later told me that I could take my time to process everything he didn’t realize that meant I wouldn’t talk to him for the next seven months. I doubt he assumed I would barely see him, barely speak with him, for the next four years.

    December 13th, 2014 3:27 a.m.: Here’s some pictures of me Abby and Lily in Philippines!
    December 24th, 2015, 10:05 p.m.: Did you get the picture I sent you from Paris?
    December 31st, 2015, 10:40 p.m.: Happy almost New Years sweetie. Are you out at a party? I love you xoxo.      

    Usually I ignore his calls and texts, pushing the messages so deep into my subconscious that a few days later I forget they ever happened. It’s odd, the memories I’m so afraid of losing, and those I force myself to forget.
    I used to be terrified of getting dementia as I age. But I’m not bothered by it anymore. In old age, I won’t remember all the diet tricks and drug tips that I’ve picked up over the years. My anxieties will be gone, washed away with new rain. Maybe I’ll be happy when my mind goes that way, blissfully unaware of what’s really happening. I won’t remember that I don’t have enough faith to embrace any sort of end.
    I won’t remember that I need to smoke a bowl before I have sex so I don’t have a panic attack. I won’t remember the drug someone slipped me on the hill during my first week of college. I won’t remember how many calories are in an almond, a banana, a Ritz cracker. I’ll die happy, eating spoonfuls of Jell-O that I’ve forgotten aren’t vegan. I’ll die brushing my hair seven times a day like my mother, die in old pajamas and hand lotion. I’ll die a shell of the broken woman that I grew into.

    In college across the country I meet a boy from three towns away from where my father grew up. We’re friends first, his fingers finding their way to my thighs long after when I’m used to. He’s a college boy, the closest thing to a man I’ve ever been with, but altogether the same as every other man I’ve met before. I take things slower with him, allow myself to find a space in his world. I decide things will be different with this boy, this almost-man.
    In the beginning I took things slow. We were lemon drops. We didn’t kiss that first night when he popped popcorn in my room and held my waist until the timer went off. Instead, I told him to let go because the beeping reminded me just how real he was and I couldn’t handle it.
     We didn’t because he had a girlfriend, because it was the beginning of the year, and because we didn't know what we were getting into. He had a tan on the edges of his biceps from a summer mowing lawns and I had a line across my thigh from the time one of my campers cut me with a sewing needle. We didn’t the night I jumped off a building. We didn’t because he caught me, because we weren’t even high yet, because the moon was too bright.
    We didn’t by the fountains, where I sat looking out at the lights for hours on end. We didn’t because I was on a drug I knew was dangerous, and he was too drunk to realize I ran in the other direction. We didn’t because there was no time, because our roommates were home, because someone was too stoned and someone was too scared. Eventually, we did, but not without hesitation.

    March 27th, 2016, 6:29 p.m.: Hi sweetie. Tried calling you later but got voicemail. Happy Easter.
    March 28th, 2016, 7:21 p.m.: Good morning sweetie. Is there a day this week I can see you? Let me know.

    When he wants to come over to have sex in December I panic. Not because it’s sudden or spontaneous; I knew it was coming for months. But the thought of him seeing me, seeing my body, under any sort of light makes me want to shrivel into a dust mote. I’ve become the kind of girl I used to read about. I spend some days hidden in my room under piles of blankets, afraid to leave my bed for fear of the real world coming to slap me in the face. But other days I’m shipping drugs across state lines and showing up to class with a handful of prescription pills. I can’t seem to find a way to make myself regret any of it.
    That night I end up with a bandaged wrist and tell the closest thing I’ve ever had to a man that I’m not in a good place and he shouldn’t come over. I revert to my old trick, breaking up razors from my shower and scavenging for my Swiss Army knife. My eyes feel like they’re leaking formaldehyde, and everywhere I go the next day I’m reminded of the scars on my wrist.
    So instead, he comes over the next night, where he finds the scars hidden under beige wrappings once we’re lying naked in my bed. He says it’s not a big deal. I don’t tell him he’s the first almost-man to ever see my scars.        

    December 14th, 2016, 10:29 p.m.
    Him: If you need someone then I promise I’ll be someone who won’t freak out. Like seriously if you need anything I’ve got you.
    Me: I’m okay, I really appreciate that though. I think I just need to go to sleep.
    Him: Okay, I mean if that’s what you need. Would we still be able to find time later this week to hang out?
    Him: Like honestly I kinda just miss hanging out with you, like it doesn’t even necessarily need to be sexual.
    Him: Even though obviously I wouldn’t mind that lol sorry I’m pretty high right now please don’t take anything I say the wrong way. I hope you feel a little better later.
    Him: Text me tomorrow if you want?

     While we’re having sex that winter he keep asking me if I’m okay, if this is a good idea, if everything’s alright. While I appreciate this sudden awakening of consent, I know he’s not doing it because of that. We’ve fucked before, and we’ll fuck again. That is not why he’s asking. Maybe he’s asking because he can see the scars on my wrist from the week before. Maybe because of the pill bottles on my desk, maybe because of the pile of weed on my top shelf. My legs are spread apart and he says he hopes I’ll remember some of this in the morning— which I find odd, considering I don’t even think I’m that high anymore.

March 29th, 2016, 8:38 p.m.:
    Dad: Did you see my text yesterday?
    Me: Sorry, I didn’t see it. I don’t think I really have time this week.
    Dad: When are you flying back?
    Me: Saturday.
    Dad: Oh man, you really have no time?
    Me: Not really.

     The light in the room is soft, orange and sparkling against his pale chest in a way that blends together all his hues. Our pillow talk gets serious, all the while our limbs are wrapped around each other like a child’s fists deep in prayer. I say I’m better at opening up in my writing than in person because it feels like there’s some sort of barrier between me and my vulnerability.
    Out of the blue, he asks how long it’s been since I talked to my father. I hesitate before I respond honestly, “About two months.” I consider telling him that the longest I went was eight. I consider telling him that my dad lost his job last week, and I’m too afraid to call him and talk about it. But I don’t tell him any of this.
    He stops kissing me as his eyes trail down the curves of my side, tracing a protruding bone down to the valley of my waist and back to the arc of my hip. “What?” I say.
    “Nothing. I’m just taking it all in,” he says. “You’re so sexy.”
    I laugh.
    “Am I allowed to do that?” he asks.
    He asks it like it’s a real question, like he needs permission to view this body that I willingly undressed just for him. I smile and kiss his neck, allowing his eyes to find themselves on the small of my back.
    When he leaves that night I stay awake because I want to remember what this feels like for a little longer. What it felt like before I became this person with an all-black wardrobe and a look so sharp my friends call me “glass cutter.” I write down the feeling in my journal, but know I got it all wrong. It wasn’t the sex that made the night, wasn’t the nakedness of our skin pressed against each other, wasn’t even our conversation. It was how calm I was. It was a reminder that this feeling, this serenity, could still exist, even in the person I had become.

February 10th, 2017, 8:53 p.m.
    Him: Heyyyyy
    Me: What?
    Him: Are you okay?
    Me: Why would I not be okay
    Him: You looked sad.
    Him: You looked like you were crying.
    Him: I’m probably just drunk, sorry.

    On the night he sleeps with another woman I find myself, once again, caving inward. He fucked a woman who looks the way I did when I had brown hair and an eating disorder. I realize at this point that all the men I’ve ever been with have fallen back on girls who are skinnier than me. So I start to fall back on my skinny girl habits, stuffing energy bars in jacket pockets and avoiding meals during daylight hours. I never meant to become this person, this woman trading shiny silver flats of tinfoil wrapped around edibles for cash. This woman with a ribcage stuffed with a roped-off sense of vulnerability. I didn’t plan on bloodshot eyes and smeared eyeliner to become my trademark. I never intended to let him push me into feeling so helplessly I didn’t even see it coming.
    That night, a friend comes into my room to let me know that when she bought drugs there was a half-naked girl in the almost-man’s bed. This doesn’t come as a surprise, given I’d seen the hickies on his neck just hours before. We’re not in a relationship, I tell her, so I have no right to be upset.
    That night I stuff myself with nicotine and whiskey and marijuana before going out. In my mind, his arm is wrapped around her fragile shoulders and I can almost smell his breath against her cheek. I keep smoking, taking hits faster and faster as if the smoke will push away the picture of them. I can see her playing with his hair, laughing as his beard brushes against her face. I take another shot of Fireball, another hit from a joint. I can hear their pillow talk in the back of my mind and I try smoking another cigarette to make it go away. I tell myself the substances churning in my insides will put an end to the panic.
    I try to imagine what my father would say if I were to tell him that I self-harm every time I break up with my boyfriend. What he would say if he even knew I had a boyfriend. What he would say about the eating disorder, the depression, the anxiety. But I can’t even imagine words coming out of his mouth. He stopped taking care of me when I was twelve, and ever since, I have a hard time figuring out what he would think of my life if he knew what it really consisted of. If he would be proud of me, disappointed, or even scared.
    I can’t gather a solid memory after I get to the party. I remember walking upstairs to see all of his friends there without him. I figured he’s still with the girl, which I later find out is true. I remember the last joint I smoked, the hole in the wall that people kept crawling out of. I remember seeing his friends and picturing his lips on another woman’s breast and then the rest goes black.

March 22nd, 2016, 12:14 a.m.:
    Dad: Mom just told me you are home
    Me: Yeah I’m here
    Dad: Welcome home!
    Me: Thanks
    Dad: I texted you a few times and didn’t hear back. Didn’t realize you were coming home. Can we get together? I’d love to see you.
    Me: Yeah, sorry I didn’t see them until now.
    Dad: Would you like to get together while you are home? Maybe come see my house with Abby and Lily?
    Me: Yeah, maybe. I’ve got a lot of doctors appointments and some other plans with friends too.
    Dad: Ok. I don’t know what to think but hope your maybe turns into a yes. My hope is that someday you will let me back into your world. Life is complicated. I wish you would stop defining me by my worst moments. You can hate some things I’ve done, but can’t you still respect me for everything else I’ve done?
    Me: I don’t really know what to say to that.

    A few hours later, I find myself strapped onto the back of a friend as we go down stairs steeper than Hell, fading in and out of consciousness. I’m told I’ve been out for well over an hour. I feel bruises on my knees and my elbows and figure I fainted. I almost remember falling down, though I’m not sure how I missed the sea of people surrounding me.
    The rest is mostly blank. I see his face every once in a while, though I know he’s not actually there. I remember asking for a cigarette, remember a window and a breeze. Later my friend tells me I slapped her, but this doesn’t sound familiar at all. I guess this blankness comes with the territory, with becoming someone you don’t recognize.

     These are the things men took from me when I wasn’t paying enough attention. I’m not sure who: my father, a boyfriend, or, I suppose, my own aching for self-destruction. I went to a therapist once who definitively decided that everything I blamed men for I should really be blaming on myself. I didn’t see her again after that, but her sentiment hasn’t seemed to leave my head.

Missed Call: Dad. February 1st, 2017 at 10:12 p.m.
    Hi, it’s Daddy. I’m just calling to see how you’re doing. Are you okay? I’d like you to call me… tomorrow afternoon. And tell me that you’re okay. And that things are going well. And I saw that you ordered more Amazon stuff today and you sent it to my house again. So this is why I’m asking… are you okay? Are you stressed out? Are you busy? What’s going on? Give me a call. You can even call me tonight if you want. Okay? But I want to see how you’re doing. Let’s talk. Buh-bye honey.

S. Makai Andrews is a student at Ithaca College, born and raised in Los Angeles, California. She is currently furthering her studies in Writing and Psychology and coming to the conclusion that in order to write well, you have to live well. Her published work can be found in The Claremont Review, The Mighty, Jackelope, and Coal Magazine, among others.