When I am 6, I lie on my back outside and look up at the sky. The whole world ahead of me is blue. My father stands on the deck he built with a Budweiser in his hand and asks me what I am doing. I tell him what I always tell him. Just pretending, I say. I imagine I can float all the way to China where I think the Buddha lives, rotund and jolly like my wooden figurine. My father says, I told you to stop pretending. It’ll get you nowhere in life. He crumples the aluminum can in his hand and tosses it aside before pulling another from the ice chest he keeps stocked. I believe the Buddha is a friendly fortune teller, that if I rub his belly hard enough he can change my future. At this age, the Buddha is the only man of whom I am not afraid.
When I am 9, I am asked to represent our school in a contest by writing and illustrating a children’s book. I leave my classroom and spend the afternoons in a quiet corridor writing a story about a faraway land with acrobats and unicorns. They live on the other side of the big blue ocean and I believe everyone is safe there. My father takes a swig of beer before he leaves for his job site and says, stop wasting your time.
When I am 17, I write terrible poems about unrequited love and suffering. My father falls from scaffolding and shatters the bones in his feet turning them a thousand shades of blue each deeper and more devastating than the one before. He stops drinking and starts dying. I am convinced that I am ok with this. He tries to tell me he’s sorry, but instead tells me to get my head out of the clouds and to get a business degree.
When I am 19, I decide I need to see Graceland. I leave California and head East. Afterward, I visit the Art Institute of Chicago where I see you for the first time. And though I know it sacrilegious to do it, I reach my finger up and gently lay it upon the shallow indent of your knee and I believe that we are the same, which both comforts and saddens me. I leave before I am thrown out and later, my father dies.
When I am 26, I move to New Orleans to write a novel. An editor reads the first chapter and asks me to send more, but I never do because I know I am not good enough. Instead, I take a job writing someone else’s story until he too dies. I have a medium to large scale mental breakdown and move in with my mother. I try to patch things up between us. I fail and move back to Portland where every morning I make believe I am a writer before waiting tables at night. From the deep, muted blues of my memories, I hear his whispers still. Softer and sadder than before. My father says, stop pretending. But that’s all I know how to do.
Lee lives in Portland, OR and is working on a novel.
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