is to be read from the beginning, as most things are.


Walkin' on Eggshells

I’ve been silent the majority of my life. It started at a young age. Every now and then I’d test the waters and let my thoughts spill out. Usually they were greeted with a shrug of my father’s heavy shoulders. Mostly though, he would pause, interrupted, his mouth parted like a cracked walnut, then his head would snap back to the exact point it was in, resuming conversation. Who has the time to listen to the fanciful whims of some girl?
We used to visit a Chinese take-out restaurant every Friday. A small copper bell rang once every time we walked in to be greeted by smells of grease, bleached linoleum, and old glue. The owner’s granddaughter was always there, so short you couldn’t see her behind the counter. As we waited for our food, I would go behind the sticky counter and draw caterpillars with the small dark girl. I think what I liked best about her was that she didn’t speak English. That way, it was impossible for me to embarrass myself.
Thinking back, I realize that my brother never seemed like he was walking on eggshells, avoiding being sighed at by our father, like I always was. I think the reason my fascinations were overlooked was my gender. One Christmas I asked for a soccer ball. I liked the way they seemed to glide over the grass, the noise the grass made when the ball skimmed over it, how when an expert kicked one, it seemed to float. I was disappointed Christmas morning, when no packages were awkwardly rounded. Instead, my parents got me a paint set, because I so enjoyed drawing with the Chinese girl.
What my father didn’t understand was that I wasn’t as interested in drawing, as I was in a playmate that wouldn’t judge me. If she had happened to be into arm wrestling, I would have accepted gladly. She just happened to enjoy doodling in that dank room, waiting for her grandparents to take her home. My father explained to me how to clean the coarse brushes while my small fingers ran over the tiny plastic tubes of paint, how to set out newspaper so that the paint wouldn’t leak, what rooms in the house were forbidden to paint in. All I really wanted to know was how to make smooth soccer balls float through the air, what side of my foot to kick with.
Last Christmas, I overheard my father and brother reminiscing about the first project they built together. Paul, my brother, was about nine or ten years old when my father showed him how to use his heavy measuring tape. I can imagine them in his dusty warehouse, Paul being taught how to properly cut a two by four, and the best way to stain cherry wood. They joked about how my father had forced him to work with him, and how funny it was that now Paul is installing cabinetry with him.
The only time I got to experience building something with my father was in third grade. I had an assignment where I had to build a replica of a typical dwelling for an Indian tribe. My father took me out into the backyard to clip off palm fronds to make up the roof of my miniature home. His wide hands seemed so strong, and he easily clipped off large forked branches. We assembled the whole thing at his warehouse. By then I had memorized his patterns. As soon as we got inside, I was to unlatch the bay door and yank on the large chains to make the door curl into itself. While I did that, he would lean over the band saw and draw out plans with a rectangular pencil.
After following my father’s hands while they helped me cut, glued and screwed wood, we had my finished project. On the drive home from the warehouse, I held the home in my lap, tracing my finger over the sanded holes for doors and windows. Only now can I realize how heartbroken I am that this was the only time my father shared a building experience with me. There’s really nothing so calming as working silently next to his massive body. He never took his round eyes from his work, but he always explained everything he did. For some reason it never seemed like he was actually talking to me.

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