Chunks of Skin
Originally published in Feels Zine, The Loss Issue. Purchase here.
There are chunks of skin hanging from my face, but I don't want to scratch though they itch, because I'm afraid they'll leave scars that people will see.
There is a dad and a daughter on the platform and she's a bit younger than me, but not by much, and way hipper than me by a lot. They're joking and joshing while we're all waiting for the subway. She punches him playfully and he punches her while holding their bags and their take out. They start sparring. Suddenly, she stops, her smile gone.
"Ow, that hurt! I'm wearing a ring!"
And he says, "Sorry, didn't mean ta-"
In his pause of concern and bending over to take a look at her hand, she sneaks in a jab and he laughs. She says, "When you're dead in a casket I'm gonna get the last punch in, save up all my strength and wham!"
He laughs. She laughs. I smile.
I open my phone to my email and there's nothing new. There's an old one at the top from a family member; as our nuclear unit dissolved we've
taken up communicating solely through text. In that email filed with extra periods and emojis between "hoping you're well" and "Happy Easter" is the sentence, "Your dad is slowing." Slowing.
I got this rash on my face from picking my skin. Standing in front a mirror, staring into my reflection, looking for the imperfections. A bad
habit learned in high school. Maybe earlier. Turning over thoughts, digging into flesh. The pinch brings some release, the swelling some shame.
I haven't seen my dad in years. Maybe eight; maybe ten. I don't remember his face, only his bumbling presence. He got sick when I was little
and at some point, my mind was older than his. I realized this in high school. Maybe earlier.
Noticing dads and daughters is a talent of mine. They stand out in crowds. I watch them with intensity when I'm tired, not minding to stare. Rarely do they notice. I wonder if this is where we'd be if he hadn't gotten sick. I take off their heads and replace them with ours. Or, I take off their heads and replace them with mine and the composite sketch of what I think he'd look like. It's like one of those wood-painted panels at an amusement park, smiling faces poking out. I sort of remember the picture of us doing one, at his work's Christmas party. That photo must've been taken a few months before he got sick.
The train breezes into the station and the dad and the daughter and I shuffle on, pushed in on all sides. They luck out on a two-seat facing
backwards and he sits on the inside and she sits on the outside, and I am standing, holding the rubber lasso trying to hear what they're saying and trying not to touch my face. They're not saying anything. Just smiling and looking out the window.
I have no memories from before he got sick, only photographs. I can see the night it began, the ambulance flashing lights into the living room, the grand mal seizure that rattled his brain. Or maybe I made that up to fit the story. I do remember the years of getting off the bus to a cold house. His presence a horizontal mass in the upstairs bedroom. Scrounging for something to eat. Stealing money out of the little bowl above the sink to buy hot lunch. My mother yelling, "We were supposed to be partners!" A beige Tim Hortons travel mug ricocheting off the wall and into my face. Practicing our lines: "If anyone asks who you want to live with, what do you say?" "With Grandma!"
I'd been in and out of therapy for years, I just didn't know it. Pulled out of lessons to talk about home, slightly oblivious to the chaplain's intentions. Part of me wonders if this is why I still struggle with math - the compound result of too many missed classes. In college, I saw a new counsellor, though this time I found her, she didn't come looking for me. Her suggestion of mourning him, of reframing my upbringing as one with an absentee father, brought a flurry of emotions I could not handle. The blood rushed to my ears. Suddenly, I was up, out of the armchair, out of her office and onto a rooftop patio, racked and sobbing.
How do we grieve the things not dead? Learn to accept life with its flaws. Stop picking.
The subway sways from side to side and I hold on and try not to bump anyone. The daughter and the dad get off a few stops before mine and
I sink into her chair, still impressed with her warmth. I push my fingers under my thighs to keep from scratching. In a few days, I will go to see the doctor and she will prescribe a white tube marked with the image of a lion. The salve will have a cool sting.