I think there is a reason my father left us. No, I do not seek to justify his leaving. I think it was immature but I also think he left because he had seen what I had to offer and it was not good enough. I don’t suppose it was ever about mother and how she stopped going to her therapy sessions only to end up filthy drunk on the couch. I think he snapped the day I destroyed a bird’s nest. It was never quite the sure thing. I think I put the bird out of his misery but my father thought otherwise. He thought it was the beginning of a selfish life and perhaps he was right.
In the weeks after he left, I found that my mother stopped drinking. But she reduced herself to crying when the rain fell. She became more sensitive, more apologetic. I would watch her in that distant, withdrawn way people watched the sun: melting in its wildness but not really melting. She would catch me staring at her but she would say nothing. We did not talk about his leaving until I saw him again.
He was standing in the mirror and he was watching me and he was doing the things I did. I pushed my hands in my hair. He did the same, his grey curls bouncing in rhythm. I wriggled my hands. He did the same. He was a reflection of me and I of him. I was looking in the mirror and I was not seeing myself. I was seeing the face of the man who told me that people do not come into the world naked. I was seeing him as he was on the day he was leaving. I suppose the reason he left was that when he looked at me, he was seeing himself. And it was not a good thing.
My father, well, he was not an overly great person. He told me stories every night about the war and how his great grandfather came back home with broken bones.
“He died right after,” he said.
The stories were sad and incomplete, ending in the beginning, rounding, and rounding, and not staying in position. He loved riddles. No, I am not saying his stories were laced with riddles.
What I am trying to say here is that I could not understand him for the longest time. His stories were sad but we laughed at the end as if the sound of our laughter could somehow dissolve the sadness in the stories. He was an okay person, I suppose. It was true that he was not the sort of father one would wish to have but he was okay for the most part.
Until I destroyed the bird’s nest, watched it flown away, and laughed at my audacity.
I keep saying that that move had not been my fault. I seem to remember a quiet disparity between my account of it and what my father thought had happened. That bird had made a nest for months in the space between my window and the screen. The screen had a thick cracked line that ran horizontally across it. When the sun shone on it, it looked like claws and crows. The nest was not fancy. It was small, a combination of twigs and rushed thinking. I stepped outside and I broke a stick and I destroyed it. My reason when he asked me was that I did it so he could grow up and be stronger.
He stared at me for a long time. He snapped somewhere around that moment.
I am looking at him now in the mirror and I do not know if I should scream or if I should talk. We look at each other. I see the small scar on his lips. He sees my mascara running down my eyes.
“Have you been crying?” he asks.
I touch my cheeks. This time, he does not follow the routine. Tomorrow, if we see again, I wonder if he will continue the pattern.
“No, I’ve not been crying,” I answer. It is an obvious lie. There’s so much to cry about starting from his leaving and me realizing that there’s always going to be something missing.
He nods. I nod. We both do.
Then he talks, “Still going out with that boy?”
“He was never good for you. You know that right?”
I nod. He is right and it bothers me that my reflection is right and I am still backstroking around the idea.
“Where is your mother?”
I glance around the room. It’s cold and small and messy. I have been searching for something. Looking back now, I don’t know what. It’s like my mind is not mine and neither is my body. It’s like I’m living in my subconscious, talking to someone, talking to myself. I start to wonder what this might mean or how it is possible to still see him after months apart. Well, it’s not like I don’t see him. I find him, sometimes, in the bathroom shaving. Other times, I see him by the door, walking out but never leaving. But, now, it seems to me that I am mad just like the bird.
I can’t be crazy since I am only sixteen but I can allow myself the fault of saying that I am as mad as the bird I made homeless. Did I make him homeless? The sky is his home so, yes, I made him free. I pushed him out to become better, to find his home among the stars and the moon and the sun. Still, I consider myself mad like drunken women in the snow.
I answer my reflection nevertheless, “She went to see her therapist.”
It is not a lie, not one of those things I say when I feel so exhausted. This time, I’m saying the truth. She has started therapy again and it’s a good thing what his leaving has caused.
He rolls his eyes. “Are you sure she isn’t drinking yet again?”
I am not sure about anything anymore but I tell him no. I tell him that she's changed and watch as he starts to erupt in laughter. The laughter is too loud, making the windows shake, burning my hands. I turn away and when I look again, he's gone.
I don't tell my mother that I've been seeing ghosts and that I've been talking to them. When she comes home, I make her noodles. I've since realized it's the simplest thing to prepare when one is exhausted. It takes about four minutes. Five, if one is overly exhausted. She eats it and she goes to sleep. It's still afternoon. I wake her up by six. She sits up in bed and knots her fingers together.
"What did you talk about?"
"It doesn't work that way," she answers. "It's sort of private."
"How long have you been sober?"
She groans. "We shouldn't talk about that."
"Do you miss father?"
"Not that, please."
I want to scream. There's nothing else to talk about. It's been months since he left. If we can't talk about anything, then what are we?
It's not a question. I mean, it is one but it doesn't require an answer. There's already one. We are nothing.
It's evening when I look in the mirror again. I see myself now, don't see my father's ragged smile. I wonder if I'm elated or if I feel a sort of sadness that wrecks a soul. I sleep with my eyes open. In the morning, I see my mother doing her lipstick in her bathroom.
"I'm heading out," she says without being asked.
"Where to?" I pick up an apple and chew delicately.
She looks at me and then back to the mirror. "It's a group my therapist requested I join. It's going to help me."
She's saying it like we are both involved in the addiction process. And perhaps I am. Perhaps I am addicted to something that is not healthy, something I have zero ideas about. What I know, for sure, is that I am unstable and that I still see ghosts.
"When will you be back?" I ask.
"I don't know," she says.
In my room, I stare at where the bird used to be and suddenly regret everything. I miss having someone to talk to and to confide in. I feel alone but more than that, I feel empty. My father is gone and it doesn't quite count as depressing news. Still, I miss having him around. When I peer into the mirror, I don't see him. It's only me, no one else. Now that is depressing.
The next time I look again in the mirror, I see him. No, I see me. I see us. I don't know what I'm seeing. Perhaps it's time to call me crazy.