Sailing Round Cape Fear: Dad


Fuck, I am scared. I know fear well, we are old friends. I have known Fear from the start. If Bob has his Desolation Row, I have my Cape Fear, just round the Dire Straits of Crushed Hope, and south from the Point of No Return.

I can almost smell the roasting meat and gravy browning scent of my childhood weekends: the overly boiled vegetables and the thick cloying scent of butter being used in everything. The black pepper which was the only spice in the house, and the deserts of oozing meringue and overwhipped cream, everything smothered in fat and sugar, in the stodgy reality of life in a semi-detached house on a hill with a fake swiss chalet panelling and ever faker moral superiority that wallpapered over the reality. The days when my father came to visit me, with his fat cigars and his pipe of sweet tobacco, when the spice of Havana and the oily unguent of his myrrh and frankincense Arabian hair oil overrode the smell of obesity and impending diabetes amongst the people that I grew up around, a cuckoo in the nest. The air was thick with him, his presence filled rooms, he was loud and intense, crazy and wild and a little out of control. He was a genius.

One day I looked him in the eye and begged him to take me with him, I didn’t care what country, I didn’t care what he was up to. I had no fear of anything except staying put in that fake little Swiss Chalet on the hill. It was on one of our little jaunts out to the countryside to visit his girlfriend who had the horses, or his best friend who looked after the draught horses at a brewery, or to go hunting together, me dressed in sensible cords and waxed jacket, a boy’s peaked cap and fingerless gloves, walking over a piece of scrubland, a bird of prey sitting talons dug into the falconer’s mitt my father had slid onto my hand, hooded and quiet now, but only just stopped hanging upside down and screaming in a predatory temper tantrum while I tried not to be such a little twit about the whole affair. I loved spending time with him. He talked about Kahil Gibran and Led Zepplin, he talked about his trips around the globe, and his strange friends with their strange little hobbies and their sly mouthed murmurings I would ignore partially, but sit there wondering about. When my father was arrested in some foreign land, and the people I lived with, hysterical on the end of the phone, I knew he would be ok. He was a tiny little superhero. A miniature James Bond. A stocky little shit with a bad attitude. An escape artist.

We rarely spoke for years on end. One humid evening in Tokyo I got a message to call him, and a number that should work. I had no foreign card and not really any money spare to buy one. I stole 1000 yen from the kid’s otoshidama new years gift envelopes from their grandfather, and ran with them to Lawson on the corner, where I knew there would be a pay phone that could handle foreign calls. Pig had cut off our landline and I had no cell phone. I would only have a few minutes. I could smell those huge Cuban cigars with their little collars of red and gold as I dialed the number scrawled on a scrap of paper. If I could have anything of my father it would be that smell of safety and freedom. I heard his thick accent, tinged with the middle east drifting down the line. “Dee? Dee? That you, girl?” I always called him by his first name. We didn’t have a traditional or equal respect. He had dumped me and he knew it. “Dee. Where are you?”

“Tokyo. Center of Tokyo.” This pleased him immensely. “You are like me, we love around, we travel, can’t tie us to suburbia” he noted. I was certainly not living in the suburban Elysian green manicured lawns and white picket fences of my junk dreams, and told him so. In return, he muttered about not being able to tie us down to contain us, about wanderers and drifters. He didn’t want to know if I was safe, nor if I was happy. He just wanted to know I was different. That was enough for him. After dispensing his paternal blessings, he put down the phone. I never heard from him again. I never even told him I loved him. It would have been a lie anyway. I didn’t love him, I needed him. I liked him. We were somewhat alike, though not the same. I am stronger than he ever was with his little foot-stamping temper tantrums, his lack of responsibility, his frittering of fortunes and his self-centered pursuit of whatever dirty little games made him happy. No matter. That fear I felt when he would hug me goodbye, leave me with shed snake skins, and falcon hoods, golden palm tree charms and heavy gold necklaces from some souk he had been exploring. Leave me with the reassurance smell of wood and leather and oil and leaves and wax and the cordite scorching burn of acrid hunting smoke and the blood on my cheek and the blood on my hands, and the dead crows in piles, and the wrens dashing away from his predators that spiraled up to the heavens and knocked them out the sky while I would stand there with binoculars and watched awed. I became a vegetarian, terrified of blood and gore and ripped apart rabbits with a huge turkey-like hawk pulling at the viscera and sinew, the eyes and the scream, the scream. I ran up, ahead of the men and broke the rabbit’s neck. The men were pleased. I couldn’t stand the screaming.

The fear had me early. The fear had me from the explosiveness of the people who cared for me, and their mean ways. Fear of their dramas and their hatred of me, a cuckoo in their nest, not wanted but who could say no. My ‘mother’s’ snide little comments about how you ‘never knew what you were going to get’ with adoption, thinking that it didn’t hurt. I wish she had thrown me onto the sidewalk and had done with it. I was scared of the bullies at school, scared of the people who didn’t want me but were stuck with me, scared of failing, scared of the future, scared of the shouting and the screaming, the viciousness of their disapproval. I was scared, so scared. So scared of the little night time invasions and the hunting dogs, and the vastness of the universe that could give me Kahil Gibran, give me The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and give me prozac, aged 14, that left me feeling breathless and panicked. I took back the control and used to spit it away. I wasn’t depressed, I was hounded. From the racetracks my father’s horses ran on to the lack of quiet space to hide in, from the books and songs that haunted my dreams, the feeling of de ja vu biting at my heels. I was scared of the man of the house’s shotgun that he used to hold against my fake-mother’s head, ripping her blouse, and pulling her hair out, and making her lip swell with a sharp right hander to the jaw. I was scared of her teeth in a jar, all knocked out of her head, and her wizened hungry little mouth and sharp tongue, and her cowardice rocking against the wall her clothes ripped off her body in shreds, pulling a torn blouse over her grey sateen bra and wrinkled breasts that sagged and bulged obscenely, pathetically, rocking and singing to the tune of Kum Ba Ya, some grotesque ditty, “fuck my cunt and fuck it well” she sang lustily and croakily, as I sat there shaking wondering if the Man was going to pull the trigger and blow her head off in front of me. I was plenty scared. I am exasperated at Fear. I am scared of the possibility of drive bys, of cab drivers that give you the creeps and lock the doors. I am scared of being scared. Scared of fear. I am scared of not being scared enough Fear has kept me alive.

I am not brave, I am simply used to fear. Life threw me fear and demanded to know what my response would be. I never saw any other option than ploughing on forwards. My reaction to fear became anger. What now! What else! Don’t you see I am tired of this! What, More!?” Damnit all to hell.’ I don’t much care what others think of my anger. I don’t much care if they think it is unwarranted or unnecessary, or ugly or unpleasant. I am too tired to edit myself for others. People who demand niceness of me as well as survival are on a hiding to nothing. I have no energy for it. Thinking the best of people? Fuck that. I trust no one.

I am kind to old people, children, dogs and those who are kind to me. I defend those who are being torn apart by The Man. I will take any blow to protect those I love and who love me in return. I am not trying to be an angel. I have no interest in being acceptable or palatable. If Bukowski was allowed to swing his big hairy balls at the world without closing his bathrobe, vomiting and pissing across the page, and was lauded for it too, why is sweetness and light expected of me? I am hardly breaking into women’s rooms and forcing myself on them, or throwing myself drunkenly at zen masters or smashing the cacti in a LA garden after drinking more scotch and water than is strictly advisable for any social occasion. Heck, I don’t even drink anymore. Look at me, all la di da, nose in the air, sneering at booze. I might reserve that halo after all.

Fear. I am scared of ICE, I am scared of the Republican Party and their followers. I am terrified of inhumanity, of a system that makes escaping violence into an illegal act that wants 25 years of my life for not allowing my husband to kill me. I am scared of the future. I am scared of the past. I am scared of losing my son. I am scared I won’t be able to give him a chance at a future he deserves. I am scared he won’t get a baseball game this summer. I am scared he will lose hope. I am scared he won’t cope with me, or without me.

I am scared of losing the imprint of the memory of faces of people that I love and who have gone. I am scared I will be forgotten too. I am scared of failure, I’m terrified of success. I am scared of writing openly, but I know that any else is doomed to failure. I am scared you will like me. I am scared that you won’t I am nonplussed at praise, I am scared of rejection.

I am scared of being arrested. I am scared of not having enough money to carry on. I am scared I won’t find a place to live, I am scared of having to go on the streets with the kid, or else giving myself up and him going to a father that treats him like shit at best, that is dangerous to him at worst.

I am scared of dying quietly. I am scared of going out with a bang. I am terrified of the dark, but the light is too exposing. I am scared of the shelter and terrified of being thrown out of it.

I am scared that I will never get to ride down the highway again, I know I will never ride it with my old friend, not now. His legs don’t work, he is dying in slithers, excruciatingly slowly. We will never ride down the 101 again, never head out to Minnesota flying through Montana and it’s big skies. I am scared no one will ever hold me again.

I am scared of pain.

I’m terrified of numbness.

Love disgusts me.

Hatred repulses me.

Human touch leaves me shaking.

Yet I sit here crying feeling alone in this world, rounding Cape Fear, away from the Point of No Return with nothing ahead of me but open sea, wide blue yonder that has no where to hide and no where to run, and everything behind me, and Fear hitching a ride, strapping itself across the bow of my clipper ship.

There has to be a way to the next whiskey bar, a table in the dark, complaining to some young man that the songs he punches into the jukebox are too full of love and hope, and when he asks me my name, all I will have to offer is the ruined city, some 8 smile stretch of depression, with its rock and roll credentials but no reliable spark of electricity, no paid fire department to put out the flames of discontent, or workmen to fill in the potholes that upset the trucks that load up yesterdays old news and recycle it into tomorrows entertainment.

The woman in the pink sweatshirt who has done too much meth is screaming down Eddy. She tosses free newspapers into the road, sprinkles sidewalks with bags of shit, dirty teeshirts and a man’s left shoe missing the laces. She has The Fear, but she doesn’t have to swim the Cape, just hold on until the drugs wear off and she comes down. She don’t scare me. She don’t even impress me, but then again not much does nowadays.

I guess no one promised this was going to be plain sailing and clear skies.

Alcatraz sits there silently. It looks so close to shore from this point of freedom. It must have looked so far away from a cell looking out towards the San Francisco Bay.


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