In a bedroom in small-town Pennsylvania,
you’ll find an unmade bed,
a pile of clothes on the floor—
clean but not folded,
open drawers and dusty shelves,
a desk in the corner of the room
with pictures laid across it.
When I caught my first fish at six.
I held it at arm’s length by the fishing line
to avoid the slimy scales,
a frown on my face from being forced
to sit silently in the cold.
When my family went to Marco Island,
my sister and I, sifting sand for the best seashells
in our matching swimsuits and hats.
Mom and dad’s fights forgotten in our fun.
High school graduation
posing with my best friend since first grade,
diplomas in one hand and an extra cap held between us
because not everyone survived all four years.
Move-in day at college,
sitting on my raised bed with a grey comforter
and two decorative pillows the color of cotton candy.
Sweat on my brow from southern humidity
and moving furniture without the help of a father.
The pictures are merely snapshots
that lack the full story.
How I learned what it meant for love to fall apart
when I was eight years old.
My sister warned me before it happened,
told me what a divorce was.
I mistook her for joking until they called us upstairs.
Dad cried when they told us, but mom held her tears
until the day he left. The sounds of her cries
escaping from behind a closed door.
“This doesn’t mean we don’t love each other.”
But that’s exactly what it meant.
How I was taught by my father that love is conditional,
and I repeatedly needed to prove myself
through good grades and unquestioning obedience.
Forced to stay home to spend time with the family,
sitting wordlessly on the couch while he watched TV.
Made guilty for wanting to spend time with friends
because that somehow meant that I was a bad daughter.
It’s funny—I never asked myself if he was a good father.
If you look harder at the bedroom,
you’ll find journals filled with bitter words,
screws from disassembled pencil sharpeners, loose razors, and Aquaphor,
food wrappers stuffed in hidden places,
a closet brimming with junk and pairs of shoes,
evidence of a story untold. Until you.