I wish Daddy had told me sooner that life wasn’t like the movies. Hadn’t set me up with such a steady diet of celluloid while he tended bar and I retreated into the world of falsity that I lived in for so long that I thought it was real. He didn’t admit it was all a lie until it was too late, until I had been conditioned on dreams and happy endings for my formative years and beyond. In short, too significant a period to re-train my mind to ever whole-heartedly subscribe to the unvarnished truth. Oh, how I liked my varnish. It made everything seem so much shinier than it was. That and it appeared to put a thick sheen between me and being able to see what Daddy was really going through to give me all the things I wanted: “on-trend” clothes, a car, a college education, help with paying rent.
He kept letting me believe in illusion for a while, watching me careen gracelessly through my twenties and, now, what’s left of my thirties. Then one day over the phone, Daddy told me, “Life’s not like the movies. Things don’t work out for people and sometimes you just have to accept the hardships you’ve been given.” But all this time, he had told me to dream, told me never to give up on dreams. Something changed when he crossed the threshold from his sixties to his seventies. He couldn’t feign optimism about my future anymore. Because he was so glaringly facing his mortality, it was as though he couldn’t go toward the proverbial light without confessing the nature of reality to me. “It’s time for you to grow up. How can I leave this earth knowing how unstable you are? You’re living like a derelict for the sake of saying you live in New York. But what’s it worth if you’re under a bridge?”
He had a flair for the dramatic, that’s for certain. And maybe that’s where I had inherited my own knack for a sense of production, for treating my life as though it was nothing more than theater: a play in one continuous act of humiliation and failure, punctuated with comedic elements, of course. In my father’s extremely narrow mind, it was true, I might as well be living under a bridge because I wasn’t working in an office or saving money for my retirement. I was in a constant state of flux, never knowing what financial bomb might get dropped on me next. I was incapable of carving out the sort of life that he had managed to for himself. The kind that entailed staying in one place all the time and committing to one thing–one job, one person, one objective. At a specific period in my life, I had been willing to do the aforementioned, but after seeing how little result it yielded in terms of getting those outside forces you were committed to to commit back, I decided to let everything go, say fuck it, I don’t care. And I don’t. Can’t. Caring is the ultimate trap. And maybe if my father hadn’t cared he wouldn’t be so afraid to die right now with the knowledge that his spawn is a nothing, a nobody. And never will be anything else.
We so rarely talked on the phone. Now I was remembering why. Each conversation became more upsetting than the last, a constant amplified reflection of the disappointment he was radiating from across the coast. “Is this how you want to live the rest of your life? Do you ever think about the future?”
Of course not. Fuck no. If I thought about the future, I wouldn’t fucking make it to the future. But he didn’t understand, didn’t see it that way. I snorted a line that a not so close friend of mine dispensed onto the coffee table of a guy whose house I had spent the night at because it sounded easier than riding the train back to 125th Street. So I was still in Brooklyn. Hungover and vulnerable enough to feel like talking to Daddy, who, these days, really didn’t seem to want to talk to me because it put too fine a point on his own so-called failure as a father. He wanted to be the sort of father who could raise a thin, enthusiastic wisp with business acumen that would grow up to marry a well-to-do guy and have kids that would perpetuate his noble lineage.
I wasn’t that wisp. I think his acceptance of this was becoming crystallized, which is why he could no longer see me as a girl, no longer delude himself into believing there was still time for me–time enough to make a change, to re-steer the course of my existence. Though, funnily, he would often tell me to “stay the course.” Well, I’ve stayed it. And this is it. I will hop from one random person’s apartment to another, one menial job to another until I die in New York. Maybe under the bridge, maybe not.
“Daddy. I’ve got to go,” I say, essentially cutting him off from further urgings and cautionings. This probably wasn’t the best moment to ask for money anyway. The trans person (I didn’t know what to call them–the girl or the boy–I always get it wrong, like everything else) next to me tittered as I made the final declaration, “I love you.” And I do love you Daddy. Even though your love for me is out of obligation, and even that reasoning has waned as you watch me make what Morrissey would call a terrible mess of my life–every decision a wrong turn and a false step leading me to the same portal you’ll soon enter. So maybe you weren’t completely miscalculated in allowing me to drink from that high-inducing well of movies for all those years. Because there are plenty of films that don’t end with everything neatly tied in a bow: La Strada, Lola, Dancer in the Dark, Nymphomaniac (Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, of course). There are more doomed people on this earth than destined for greatness ones. I’m just sorry you thought you were going to give life to a child capable of the latter. Maybe that puts you in the former category as well. And although I’ve accepted my state–learned to stop fighting for dreams–I still wish Daddy had told me sooner that life’s not like the movies. At least, not the kind of movies I originally thought they would be like.