Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Ass Turned Toward Fire

That was hard.

That last semester and that Christmas vacation, both were excruciatingly hard. I won't bore you with the specifics because they bore even me. Let's just summarize: I worked my ass off; (most) of my students did not. It made me sad.

Then I packed my car, said goodbye to The Lady-Killer and Abbey, and I drove home for Christmas. I looked forward to the trip home. I'd been craving Buffalo for a while. I kept having dreams about pierogi.

At home, I thought, I could rest. Relax. Decompress. But what happened was this: I ran. I ran a lot. I had a billion things to do, a billion places to be. And I also had to meet and mingle with my father's new girlfriend.

And here's where I utter something that makes me extremely guilty: I spent the entire two weeks being really, really annoyed at my father.

I don't know what it was exactly, but I spent two weeks grouching my way around Western New York.

"WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?" I asked the girls, who I was not grumpy at. (It's hard to be grumpy at people who keep me well-supplied with vodka and M&Ms and chicken wing dip.) "WHY AM I SO PISSED AT MY FATHER?"

Everything he did infuriated me. If he asked me where I'd been, if I'd had fun, if I'd seen this person or that person, I wanted to punch him. I kept thinking about that scene in My So-Called Life, the one where Angela admits that lately she can't even look at her mother without wanting to stab her. I just wanted to call up fifteen-year old Angela Chase and say, I feel you, sister.

My father wanted me to do this with his girlfriend, do that with his girlfriend, attend his girlfriend's family's party, go to a movie with his girlfriend, eat breakfast with his girlfriend... and every time he requested these things, I felt my shoulders involuntarily rising until my ears were crammed down into them, making permanent shell-like indentations in the skin.

"I can't do it," I told the girls. "I just can't do it. I'm exhausted. I'm just so tired. I don't have it in me. I don't think I can go to a party filled with strangers and answer questions about myself. And I don't want to ask them questions either."

The mere thought of that made my eyelids go heavy. And then I felt guilty because I was being a brat. I was being selfish. I was being a nasty thirteen year-old version of my self, but worse because I'd never been that nasty when I was thirteen years-old. So I spent the entirety of my Christmas break breast-stroking through vast oceans of exhaustion, tantrum, and guilt.

And then came the incident with the fire.

It was a morning after my father had spent the night with his new girlfriend. I had the house to myself, and I spent the morning lounging in bed. But my lounging was interrupted when my father called at 10:15. "Hey!" he said. "Come to breakfast. We'll be there at 10:30. Join us!"

That last phrase--join us!--made my fingers clench into fists. I wanted to chuck my phone across the room. Why? WHY? I do not fucking know.

I declined breakfast; after all, a lady cannot get ready in three minutes to make it to the restaurant in time. But my father and his girlfriend made an appearance at the house after breakfast. I puttered around in the living room while my father collected things he needed for their New Year's party. I talked to the girlfriend, who is--it must be noted--very nice. And in the middle of the small talk, my father breezed in and said to me, "Okay, well, we're ready to go. I just threw some logs on the fire. Do you know how to use the stove?"

Okay. Okay. Now let's be clear: I am twenty-nine years old. I lived for more than eighteen years in that house, and for all those years that house was heated by a wood stove. When I was young, I was taught to respect the fire--to stay away, to warm myself from a distance--and I took to that warming idea with much glee: there are many pictures of a young me with my bare ass turned toward the stove, the white moon shining in the glare from the orange flame.

Later, when I was old enough, my father took me aside and taught me how to build a fire, how to teepee the kindling and feed the building flames. He taught me how to use the flue. He taught me how hot the stove needed to get before I cut off the oxygen and let it do a slow burn to last through the day.

Let's be even clearer: I have been making and tending fires for, like, fifteen years.

My father knows this. And even if my father had fallen and hit his head and that fall had erased his prior knowledge of me--his only daughter, his firstborn!--and my fire-making abilities, it wouldn't matter because two days prior to his asking me if I knew how to use the stove, he arrived home just as I, who had also just arrived home, finished building a fire to warm the icy house. He even complimented me on my fire.

So when he stood at his girlfriend's side and asked me if I knew how to tend the fire and use the stove, I almost committed a murder. I wanted to run to the family picture albums, pluck out any of the pictures of me warming my butt near the wood stove. I wanted to shove it in his face and say, "DOES THIS LOOK LIKE THE BUTT OF SOMEONE WHO DOES NOT KNOW HOW TO USE A WOOD STOVE, MAN?!"

I don't know what happened to me. I don't know what split open in my brain and let all that rage leak into my bloodstream, but it was awful. And I feel guilty still--worse, actually, now that I've admitted it here, to you.

I need therapy.

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