Lean

Continued from “Mutation”

This business of the obligatory goodbye kiss had to end, we had decided. It was increasingly uncomfortable the older we got and the less affection we could summon. So, carefully and with a much practiced presentation we gathered our courage and asked for space to exchange the kiss for a goodbye hug. We steeled ourselves and stood strong when he responded as though we had accused him of molesting us. We demurely stuck to our guns when his elaborately crafted extreme questions and rhetoric nearly pushed us into reflexive backpedaling and conciliatory apology. And we were flush with shocked relief when at last our request was granted. Rarely was a petition honored– never without an ordeal–, especially when it was a question of  household policy. We clapped each other on the backs (when his was turned) at our diplomacy.

Short lived exultation, I assure you. Over the next few weeks several awkward hugs were exchanged, each heavy with disapproval and a sense of my willful withholding of something due. But the right to an un-violated body is something Dad himself had taught (during the endless “Every man ever wants to rape you” lectures). It wasn’t the first time I’d been stuck in a quandary due to conflicting teachings or expectations. How was I to know that allowing myself to be manipulated by the emotional pressure into relenting wouldn’t simply result in a moral lecture of epic proportions anyway?  So with bated breath I chose not to relent.

A soft embrace. At last the awkwardness is gone. He has forgiven me my assertion. Respected my need over his. His arms welcome me, draw me in. Relieved, I relax against him. The hug draws out just too long. I feel caged, start to extricate myself. His arms go hard. A trap. Confusion and panic tumble over me. I shift, but the embrace holds me tight. We are leaning, leaning back. I can’t steady myself with my arms pinned. Still leaning– I try to relax but he pushes it too far. My reflexes take over and I stop thinking: My heart races, I start, go rigid, put my foot back solidly and push against him. I am free. He is angry. “What’s wrong? You don’t trust me? You think I’d let you fall?? You really think so lowly of me? You should trust me with your LIFE. I am your FATHER.”

We didn’t win. We never do. A hug is no longer a welcome refuge from an uncomfortable tradition. It is the new unstable ground, sometimes safe, sometimes a test of demanded trust– a test I must pass by suppressing all instincts of self preservation, submitting to fear and recovering on my own time.

The last time I saw my Dad, Aug. 2013, I dreaded the goodbye hug. When the time came my body was tense and cold, the hug rigid. Even then, even after so many years, even hugging his 28 year old daughter, Dad leaned just noticeably enough, and chuckled to himself at my startle reflex. His head shake seemed to say, “You never did learn, did you?”

I hope I never will.

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