All my lovers haunt me, especially my father’s. They loom in the scents of strangers walking by: a passing male with strong body odor, another who uses the same cologne. Even the moist smell that warns rain brings me back to first kisses and the flail of my naive heart.
Their images burn behind my retinas as certain songs- our songs-play on the radio. Teen-aged boys in Summer; careless youth, soft skinned faces and bright eyes looking out for the prettiest girl tanning. The Winter evenings turning early morning in bars, alcohol lacing an ugly scene. The worst though, the place they came without disguise was through my dreams. In there they prodded, pleaded and flirted, hounding me, all the while I knew better, yet nothing had changed. They remained fancy thorns, puckering towards my innocence. I still had no control.
I’m older now. I’ve been seasoned within the subject of boys and men. I no longer flirt to float nor return a gaze to later falter.
Like most women, I have my line of firsts, the ones who set the bar, and the others who I wished I’d never let go, and the ones who stained me, changed me, made me question myself.
There was Thom one night in my college dorm alone: “Don’t make me rape you,” he whispered as seductively as if he’d just revealed his love to me. I didn’t let him rape me. Instead I turned it into my own idea and learned to play the seductress. I hate myself for this.
The boy with one eye. Vaughn. He who pushed me into a bathroom stall as the music in the bar blared so loud, I knew no one would hear me anyway. He wanted to keep flirting after that, but I was too far gone, hiding within a crowd who believed I was something I was not.
My first love turned crazy, landing himself in a mental institution. He didn’t know how safe he was as I tried to make my way down streets in a small town that whispered condemnatory phrases in my direction. “Witch,” or was it bitch?
To be cheated, lied to or treated wrongly should have only happened once. Too many of these beguiling lovers embedded themselves quite close to my heart. They lay grinning under this category. I blame my father for this.
Before I’d grown breasts, noticed the opposite sex or even felt the tug of attraction, he came knocking on my bedroom door. My mother did dishes. Folded laundry. She went out with her girlfriends for appetizers and bubbly drinks that glazed her pretty eyes and made her laugh in a way that was faraway. In the meantime, her husband taught me how to roll over and numb myself dead. His lessons became my blueprint for how I’d feel for someone, especially a man.
This morning I spoke to a girl almost two decades younger than I. She hadn’t birthed, survived nor racked up her experiences just yet to a ripe time of contemplation. She had years to go before she would come to understand tight smiles, resting frowns or the consequences of decisions, seemingly meaningless in their moment. She said to me, “I write down all these things so that I don’t screw something up. My boyfriend thinks it’s weird.”
I remembered doing much the same, yet it hadn’t prepared me for shit.
She had chosen me for whatever reason and I tried my best to pick my words to precisely convey a truth I had learned. A truth I struggled within. First I smiled, hoping it came off as kind. Then I looked out into the distance of my past.
“You gotta feel good about you and follow what your heart feels it wants to find home in. Then it’s near impossible to screw up.”
She started to cry. I asked her why. She only shook her head, leaving the space between us, one woman and one girl; a convoluted mix of knowing and naivety up for debate. I spoke again, maybe a poor decision, yet how can there be a filter when tears have already surfaced? “Every decision I’ve made has stemmed into what I feel.” I looked down to her boots, studying their small silver clasps, and at the same time not really seeing them at all. “If I could go back, I would have done everything I wanted to: education, lovers, friends, my relationship with myself. No one can tell you what’s right for you. They don’t know or feel what your experience is from your perspective.”
We parted some time after. I saw her twice more. She said she’d been writing about me and wanted to know how I spell my name. I drove away each time, wondering how I could hold so much wisdom for another, yet none for myself. My sweet husband was home and I failed to see what he saw of me. All my lovers crowded my sight and I found myself fearing a man my heart loved. After so many situations, adorning roles to make the scene less depleting, I no longer trusted who I was.
I wish to rest my lovers, slay my father’s being. Sometimes more than I want to live contently.
The girl, two decades years younger, ceased to exist. My words to her were just words to myself. Similar to looking back through old photographs, being able to recognize the beautiful elements of that time to realize they were over. I sit up. My hands stop shaking and begin to grasp a tangible reality. I close the ghosts of my past, tired versions of myself as well, the bodies I folded myself into, between covers of an old story I’m finished reading.
S. WINTERS, pulled by the motion still symbols evoke, can usually be found among the old growth giants of Vancouver Island working on her novel. Her work can be found in The Portal, Vancouver Island University’s literary magazine.