Daddy's Little Girl
I remember you coming in through the door
With a whistle at the end of your shift
While we played on the floor, our hands would explore
Through your pockets for our chocolate gift
Then you'd lift me up upon your knee
And your smile lit up my whole young world
Anyone with eyes could see
I was daddy's little girl.
And I remember you taking us in the car for a ride
One day through the Harlem streets
How you cried when the little girl's dog had died
Because you turned your eyes toward the back seat
To see what was wrong when you heard me yell
As Jo tugged at my ribboned curls
The guilt and pain you felt, none understood as well
As daddy's little girl
Somewhere down the line, the Thunderbird wine
Forced your face into an abject disquise
What was left behind was a malicious mind
Evil eyes I couldn't recognize
When the room was entombed by the stench of the vine
Scurrilous slurs from your lips he'd hurl
But next day you were fine, and for forgiveness came crying
To daddy's little girl
And I remember too well, the stale smell of death
As I entered your hospital room
The priest sat by the bed, as the last rites were read
Doctors sure that the end would come soon
And I watched in despair, the unfolding nightmare
While the four walls around me swirled
Though the drink took its toll, the Lord answered the prayers
Of daddy's little girl
Both our suns nearing west, who would ever have guessed
By His grace your wine's been turned to water
Saints and sinners, we're no less unflawed than the rest
Through it all I was blessed as your daughter
Though you're far from my gaze, as life's vestment decays
And the pages of time do unfurl
As it was from the start, in my heart I will always
Be daddy's little girl
I wrote that poem while my dad was still alive but I never did show it to him...actually I've never shown anyone my poetry until now. I'm a bit glad I didn't. It dwelt a little too much on the alcoholism that, thank God, he eventually recovered from. That's actually pretty understandable since it was a major part of my childhood and young adult life. As kids, I and my younger sister and brother would dread birthdays and holidays. Not that my dad needed an excuse to drink, but he went all out on special occasions. I will never forget how the blood would run out of my sister and brother's faces when he walked through the door and the terror in their eyes. You see, all he had to do was walk in. It wasn't him at all anymore. I swear his entire face changed. And then it began. The fighting and screaming and throwing things. He would call my mom the most disgusting name when he drank...you know, the 'c' word for describing a part of a woman's anatomy...to this day, nothing will send me into a fiery rage quicker than that word (the term 'collateral damage' comes real close - but that's another story). Don't ask me why, maybe because I was the oldest, but every time this scene replayed itself I'd come to my mom's defense, screaming at this monster to shut up and leave her alone. For some reason, it eventually worked and he'd go pass out and sleep it off. The next day, this grotesque alien had vanished. It was my daddy again, crying, and hugging and apologizing to everyone. Things were fine again...until next time. And there were lots and lots of next times.
Until one day I came home from school and found my dad laying on the bed, his skin an ungodly yellowish color and in a lot of pain. My mom called the ambulance, and luckily they caught his perforated ulcer before it killed him....and it came very, very close. My dad started AA and for a few years our family was the happiest we had ever been. You see, my dad truly was just the sweetest, nicest, softest mush of a man. Everyone loved him. When he'd call me at work, (which he did every day when we all lived in Florida) he'd spend 15 minutes talking to the switchboard operator before she connected me. No one in the world would have guessed how drastically his personality changed when he drank. Well, he was a Gemini. Those twins turned out to be more like Jekyll and Hyde than anyone outside the family ever knew.
As I said, he was basically a mush, and didn't handle problems very well. I'll never forget how upset he got when I told him over the phone that I had a cold..."Jeez, dad, it's only a cold!" I learned real quick to just tell him 'Oh everything's fine, dad'. You just didn't go to him with life's big problems. My mom was the strong one. Dad? He just wanted the world to be simple and happy. Well, the world got complicated when our family was moving to Florida. The second day out our car caught fire. Thank God everyone was fine, but we lost pretty much all the belongings we had left. Two dogs and a cat were sent by plane to my grandmother waiting for us there, and we took what money was left and spent 4 agonizing days on a Greyhound bus. That little episode is a book in itself...for another time. When we got to Florida my dad ended up in a job that paid much less than he was used to, my mom was complaining about money problems and before you knew it, one day the old monster walked into our lives again. Eventually my parents separated and when my sister got married, he actually showed up drunk for the dress rehearsal in church. He caused such a scene at the party after the wedding, I had to pull him aside so my poor sister could go off without it ruining her special day. Years went by and eventually his drinking slowed. One day his doctor told him his blood pressure was up and he just quit drinking. Now mind you, after he'd almost died from his perforated ulcer, the doctors told him if he drank again it would kill him. That didn't stop him. Raised blood pressure did!(lol!)
Reading all this, you probably think I must hate my dad for all the heartache growing up. Nothing could be further from the truth. That monster who took over his body when he drank? Him I hated with a passion. I adored my daddy. I'd always felt a special bond with him. One day when I was in high school I'd heard my dad moan in pain. It sounded like it was coming from the den and I looked up and asked my mom, 'what's wrong with daddy?' She looked at me quizzically and said, "What are you talking about? Daddy's at work." A few hours later we got a phone call. At the moment I 'heard' my dad moan in pain, he had gotten his arm caught in a printing press at work(he was a printer) and nearly lost his arm. His brother had actually lost an arm the very same way. Luckily the roller jammed and, though bruised really badly, his arm eventually healed.
When I moved back to Brooklyn, dad slowed his calls to once a week. Every Sunday at 6:45pm. You could set your clock to it. It was never very long, just checking to make sure I was ok (and of course I always told him I was no matter what my actual life was like). "Don't worry dad, I'm ok. I love you, too." A year after my mother passed, dad was diagnosed with lung cancer. I was trying to get some time off to go see him, but he said he was feeling good and the chemotherapy seemed to be going well, though he hated having to quit work. I always said if my dad ever stopped working it would kill him. In the end, I think that more than the cancer is what actually did it. What seemed to be out of the blue, when everything seemed to be going fine, I got the call at work that my dad had died. That Sunday, at 6:45pm sharp, my phone rang. I sat frozen, tears running down my face, waiting for the answering machine to pick up. There was no voice at the other end. "Don't worry, daddy, I'm ok. I love you, too."
The poem, if I wrote it today, would talk about so much more that I remember. Dancing with him while standing on his feet as a little girl, watching him hold my sister's children and play carousel with them the way he did with us (he'd sit the babies on one arm, hold their hand with the other and hum "the amazing young men in their flying machines" while giving them a 'carousel ride up and down in a circle), the piece of shrapnel he carried around in his arm since WWII, calling me out of the blue in the middle of the day during the Gulf War all teary-eyed because he was thinking about all his old war buddies, him picking me up from school in our old beat-up Plymouth that you heard the minute it turned up the block, him singing Italian songs and dancing with my mom during the happy times, him secretly telling all the relatives that I got my first bra, calling me into the house so that they could all grin staring at my blouse and telling me how pretty it was, and embarassing the hell out of me ---yeah, you didn't think I'd forget THAT one, did ya dad? (lol!) Mostly I remember the light in his eyes when his children walked in the room, being called 'baby' no matter how old I got, the huge, warm hugs and the tremendous love that gushed from the sweetest, gentlest mush of a man that ever walked this earth.
Dad was born on June 16th so he always kind of got screwed for gifts coming so close to Father's Day. Of course, there's just so many shirts and ties you can get a man. Still, I'd give everything to buy you just one more, daddy. Just one more. This'll have to do for now.
I love you, daddy. And at the ripe old age of 51, I am now and will forever be your little girl!