She held on to her shame for an age, long past the moment where they could smile about her foolishness, long past the point where it might come up in conversation organically. She holds it beneath the surface, pressing it down into the recesses of her mind.
When it, the shame, comes again she picks at it like a scab. Perhaps it will flake off and heal over and she might be free of it.
There was nothing particularly remarkable about Jonathan save for him being there and her being here, and there being preferable to here no matter the circumstances. She tries to rifle through her brain, pinpointing the moment that she told herself the lie large enough to believe—he will be there, he will come—but she can’t. He held the title Daddy (noun, not to be confused with Father, bearer of discipline and occasional smiles but mostly apathy and Ask Your Mothers; Daddy, ever present bearer of love and presence) without earning it, but she did not consider.
She considered with childlike naiveté Terence in the spaces made large by Daddy’s absence; bringer of piggyback rides and games, bicycles and endless slides in the park.
But Daddy was taken and she couldn’t place him and he was Terence, the all encompassing being.
Daddy was the shadow.
Still she waited with her childlike innocence, remembering the smile in his voice as he promised her for the third year, “I sent your cake. It’s in the mail.”
A lump forms in her throat in the space of the years—not for want of the cake. No. It would have likely spoiled and he wouldn’t know her favorite besides.
No, the lump forms because of the perfect nature of hindsight and she was eight that last time and she wonders how many birthdays and moments by the mailbox she could have saved if she had only known to look past unearned titles.
She waited in the heat of the day for the cake. Not the cake. But the being that sent the cake. Perhaps he would be. . .what?
Piggyback rides and games, bicycles and endless slides, sound discipline that sent her to bed crying forgotten in the morning with tickles—those were taken.
But the title, Daddy, it was taken also.
She waited for an age.
In her memory it was winter when she discovered more than the cake’s absence.
Daddy felt thick and sickly on her tongue and she tried but she could not make it fit.
He became “you.”
How are You? I called You.
Daddy was ruined, made into shadows and lost things and promises not kept.
She tried Daddy on Terence once, but it was an ill-fitting suit and already destroyed.
Dad was too soft and distant, and late.
She doesn’t remember now where it came from, Pops, only the way it felt. A warm sweater. Safety. Home.
Pops (noun. unconditional. love.)
Long after Daddy dies she considers revealing its death. She wants to apologize for the time wasted. She wants to explain but the words do not exist. Pops did not fill the space that Jonathan left.
It was not Jonathan’s to leave.
But she does not have the words and so she says nothing, remembering now and again her shame, the time she wasted.
They are surrounded by family that she doesn’t care to know when it sloughs off and leaves her, in the midst of unfamiliar relatives and the scent of Alabama.
“You look like your dad,” unremarkable relative remarks, forgetting for a moment, or perhaps relative never knew. She smiles gratefully and her shame is released.
“Pops, and I know,” she replies.