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The other night I dreamed my father died and I was devastated.  But I wasn’t devastated for the reasons that most people are when they lose a parent.  I wasn’t sad that I’d lost someone that I had been close to for years, because we never have been.  And I wasn’t mourning the loss of the one man a girl can always count on to cry on his shoulder, because he’s never been that to me either.  Instead, I was wrecked because I would no longer be able to hear his stories about Hot Springs, Arkansas, where I spent my summers growing up.

When my grandfather passed away he left a condominium building to my father and his brother.  The building was one of ten lakeside structures that form a circle around the small pool where I learned to swim.  I learned a lot of things during my summers in Arkansas:  I learned to drive a boat when I wasn’t tall enough to see over the dash unless I was standing up, to water ski when my legs were barely strong enough to hold the wooden skis parallel, to illegally drive an old Fleetwood Cadillac at the young age of eleven, and to fish with nothing but line wrapped around my hand baited with a small ball of bread.  But the most significant thing I learned while vacationing in the Ozarks was that my dad could actually be cool.  And so that’s what Arkansas came to represent to me:  a sweet six-week respite from the usual insanity when instead of being an asshole, my dad was actually nice to his family.  I guess the nostalgia of it all got the best of him or something?  Regardless, he laughed and told stories and didn’t even lose his temper when we accidentally left the vibrating chair on for too long in the living room, causing it to catch fire and almost burn the house down.

Unfortunately, the remaining forty-six weeks of the year were not so sweet.  My father has a terrible temper; the kind of temper that is completely unpredictable and disproportionate to the infraction.  The kind where the cops drop you at home after issuing you a minor in possession ticket and he gives you permission to go back out again ten minutes later, but leave a light on in a room that you are no longer occupying, and he’d ground you for a month.  Consequently, I was an uptight kid who started having anxiety attacks at the ripe old age of eight.

Thirty years later, my relationship with my father has changed significantly (albeit a result of geography as opposed to actually communicating in an attempt to work through things of the past).  When he rings me in California from the Texas house I grew up in, he often tells me he misses me and that he loves me, which is something he’s never really done before in the past.  Still, at times I think about actually trying to have a conversation with him about where we went wrong and the negative impact that our dynamic has had on my life, particularly where romantic relationships with men are concerned. But then I quickly remember that it’s really up to me to work out on my own, at this point, because he did what he could.  Just like I’m doing what I can.  And the notion that a conversation could change everything and “fix” me is just a dream anyway.

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