They must keep them somewhere, these fathers of sad girls. They are locked Mr.-Murray-tight in a column somewhere, on dark distant planets far away à la Wrinkle in Time. Or perhaps we hope they are. They are trapped somewhere, maybe under falling debris from earthquakes, maybe under the weight of their freedom.
They’ll need three kids at least to rescue them, these fathers, like Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin. These fathers who are often missing need us, we are sure of it. If they could live with us day in and day out they’d see how much fun we are, how we could take such good care of them. We could make them like being in a family; we just know it.
We don’t want to need them. That would just drive them away, in their old beat up cars, with their newer girlfriends at their sides and her child from a previous marriage unseatbelted in the back.
To speak of these fathers would betray our mothers. Our mothers knew, our mothers know, what’s best, what’s best, what’s best. It’s far less melancholy, they think, just to let them be gone. But what’s with the Help Wanted sign, we ask our mothers? How do we keep from attracting the wrong kind of help?
They are trapped inside opportunities. They are trapped inside colleges, inside military uniforms, inside their one chance to do something. They are trapped inside beer cans and the tiny models with toxic glue their own fathers made for them. They won’t be like that. They can’t be like that. They were meant for better. They are twenty minutes away. They live on other sides of other freeways. It takes two hours to get across Los Angeles as the car rides—and that’s with freeways and a good sense of direction. It could take longer. It could be too hot. The air conditioner is busted in the car, and then what kind of mood would they be in? It’s better this way, this land without fathers. It’s better this way, less confusing.
Once they came and took us to the beach. We’d seen the boardwalk photos in the movies, the dense bodies of Venice, the muscle of Santa Monica, the tan of Huntington Beach. They drove us in borrowed cars on a day that was too hot and too full of potential burning. They took us to Bolsa Chica State Park, the one everyone calls Tin Can Beach. Scraggly men comb the beaches with metal detectors. They stagger along the beaches family-free. It was easy to find parking, cost next to nothing at that beach. They unwrapped our waxed paper sandwiches that our grandmothers had made for them to give us and pushed in the tabs of our Shasta colas and offered to make us sand castles and hunt for sand crabs with us. We are careful with our speech. We are overdone with our smiles, our gratitude. We try to be easy for them. Will ‘easy’ make you stay?
They’ve taken us to Disneyland, though they are quick to remind us that this is not their thing. What is your thing, daddy? The metaphors make us cry. You cannot cry in the happiest place on Earth, can you? Did they have to call it Fantasyland? Most of the Disney heroines have missing mothers, dead and gone. The Disney fathers of heroines are lovingly weak and ineffectual. They want what they think is best for their daughters. They mean well. They bring their daughters stepmothers, wicked stepsisters, faerie curses. A princess’s fate is to fight her way out of the fumbling of her father. We would give anything for such fumbling.
Our mothers are omnipresent. Our mothers’ struggles are even more so. We wait in long lines in Fantasyland. They make note of their discomfort, these fathers. We do not mention that we want to stay for the Electrical Parade. We do not mention we’d rather be in New Orleans Square among the ghosts and the pirates and the mint juleps we’ll learn to spike when we’re older. We hear the fireworks at 9 pm as we are taking our final ride on the parking lot tram instead. He cannot find the borrowed car parked under the faded pale blue and white image of Donald Duck. We know we parked in Bambi but we keep quiet. The search means more time.
We make excuses and invent great jobs you must have and scenarios where you cannot remember our addresses because of some crazy alien abduction amnesia. We try to savor those wrinkles in time those moments where fathers remembered that we are theirs. We can recall that one day, the one afternoon, that passing through our towns, down our streets, they came, an army of what might have been. Our mothers make arrangements against their better judgement. Just this once. I don’t want the kids getting confused. I don’t want them thinking you’ll be here. Daddy, you are the American girl experience. You are the 1970s. Where’s our Ken Burn documentary?
We know their real secrets. They have offices in far away lands and they are doing important work, perhaps for the government, perhaps they are spies, Nobel prize winners. Smart those daddies are. They are friends with Santa Claus; they paid extra for a list of what we’ve done that’s good, they will ignore what we’ve done that’s bad.
Their offices are lined with our photographs matted well and framed. They are tacked up to bulletin boards too. They are the work of stalkers, of lovers, of shrine makers. They have I love yous wetting their bottom lips. They tell their new women, they need to be alone in these rooms, in these columns. They close their eyes and say our names over and over again; they see us on the insides of their eyelids, their children. They do this in the dark. Their version of embrace.
Margaret Elysia Garcia lives in exile from her urban roots in the far northeastern corner of California where she’s learning to live a survivalist existence without water or fast Internet. She’s the author of Sad Girls & Other Stories, as well as many chapbooks of poetry. She’s a contributing editor for Hip Mama, and writes the comic zine The Adventures of Sad Girl with her 10-year-old daughter, Paloma. Follow her on Twitter @maggiewells.
Header Image: Creative Commons, photo by Adam Jones, modified.