We’re in the basement of all places, tearing up old Christmas cards sent by relatives I’d never known. Red, green and gold envelopes lay in pieces at our feet. Auntie Edna, who’s that? Pass it here, my mother says. She is frowning, like she doesn’t have time. Like going through old shit makes her angrier than anything. It is my father’s fault, because he never threw anything away, and because now we have to.
So we’re underground. In January. In mittens, mufflers and rag socks. Waist high in glitter and grime. The furnace is broken, and it’s freezing. I wonder why we don’t just torch the place. I can’t imagine a single thing my father had that I’d want. But my mother is opening every box, every folder, every piece of garbage my father collected for over forty years. I am beginning to think she is as crazy as he was.
After hours of decomposing in the basement of my father’s house I get drunk at a slimy bar across town. I’m seeing a man named Art who asks me lots of questions. When did you lose your virginity? Have you ever been in love? Do you want children? Just when I think that phase has passed, he throws me another. What was your dad like? It irritates me that I have to break my New Year’s resolution so soon, but I lie and say he was a great guy.
In the car, I suddenly feel generous and tell Art to take me to his place. Call it a pity fuck, but the guy has been a sweetheart this whole time. He even accompanied me to the funeral, as a third date no less. I feel I owe it to him, and I’m just hammered enough to think it might be fun.
Art has exactly twelve hairs sewn into a patch of freckles that dot the circumference of his left nipple. I know this because I am counting them as he is on top of me. Turns out it isn’t that much fun.
When he is finished I slip out of his grip, throw on my clothes and leave. Art trips into his jeans and follows me to the steps outside. Did I do something wrong? I could punch him now for making me assure him that no, it isn’t you, it’s me. I leave him at 1:42 AM, standing barefoot and unzipped in front of his apartment.
My father was unhappy. I know this now that I see a therapist weekly who tells me so. I am paying for this, really. I am giving money to a man who is letting me know in a very kind voice that the person who beat his liver to death with a whiskey bottle was not overcome with joy. Today I am 10 minutes early and, without knowing, I turn the knob and barge in.
Dr. Crawford is sitting at his desk eating a turkey sandwich out of a wad of brown butcher paper. I wonder if my expression looks anything like it feels. It must because he stands up so fast that shreds of wet tomato and lettuce fall to the carpet.
Witnessing my therapist devour turkey on rye is probably one of the most obscene things I’ve ever seen in my entire life. I equate the experience to the time I ran into my fourth grade teacher in the bathroom at the movie theater, post flush. These people are not supposed to be real. They are not supposed to have holes in their bodies from which they eat and shit.
Maybe in an interest to get our session over with, the doctor wipes his mouth and motions me to the couch. I tell him about my evening with Art. He nods his head and says nothing, which is PhD for Keep Paying Me.
As always the hour flies by, and in the last two minutes of our session the doctor finally speaks. Are you punishing him? Him, who? The doctor looks at me like I already know. I fucking hate when he does that. That’s why I keep coming back.
I call Art when I return home and he drives me to my father’s house. I open the door and apologize for the smell. He holds my hand like he has understood the whole time, like he can read me. For the first time since my father died I cry, hot sobs that soak into Art’s white T-shirt, leaving it soggy and stretched. It’s going to be okay, he says. I know, we can just wash it. He laughs at my joke. And I believe him.