I double checked my voice mail and found the school principal’s message. Finally, after days of trying to get a hold of someone at my daughter’s school to grumble about her verbal scores, someone had bothered to reply. I wondered if the school would have bothered to return my call at all if she hadn’t done whatever she was supposed to have done.
“Test scores are the least of her problems right now,” the principal barked. She sounded furious.
“I’d like to discuss the smaller problems first,“ I said. “About the test scores…”
“I had to send a boy home today,“ the principal fumed. “And you should have heard his mother on the phone.”
“What does the foul mouthed mother of this delinquent boy have to do with my daughter’s verbal scores?” I asked irritably.
“Please do not make light of the situation. Your child’s behavior should be matter of deep concern. I had to tell the boy’s mother we couldn’t reinstate her son without his seeing a counselor. But she’s right. Her son was provoked.”
“Provoked into doing what?”
“He snapped your daughter’s bra in class.”
The principal’s idiomatic English stumped me for a moment, reminding me that I was still a foreigner in America. Surely for such a fuss the brat must have unsnapped her bra. “In that case you shouldn’t have sent the kid home, you should have let me send him to the hospital,” I said.
“Please avoid hyperbole! I understand you may be upset, but we take all threats seriously.”
So I rephrased. “Just give the kid a spanking and send him back to class.”
“Sir, I know you’re from the country of Iraq, but in America corporal punishment is looked down upon.”
“Geography class, could use it,” I mumbled.
“Sorry, I didn’t hear you.”
“Never mind. Why can’t you just move the boy to a different seat?”
“Before we could take further punitive action, we investigated the matter,” she said. “And we are very troubled.”
That evening I went to my wife’s house to help with our daughter’s upbringing. Better to start with her homework, I thought, because if I started with her middle-school soap opera, the homework would never get done.
“What’s wrong, Dad?”
“We’ll talk about it after your drill,” I said. She knew exactly what was wrong. She had let that son of an irate mother scribble his phone number on her thigh. “I should wrap you in a chador and ship you to Iran,” I said. My irritation had just started what I had vowed to postpone.
“If you ship me to Iran Mom said she’d kill you.”
“She doesn’t really mean ‘kill’,” I said, mentally scheduling a fight with my wife about maintaining parental decorum in front of the children. “I’m not really shipping you to Iran, but what you did really upset me.”
“Mom says girls who act like that, it’s because their dads molested them.”
This was a surprise. The scheduled fight with my wife just got bigger. “I had no idea your Grandpa Albert fucked your mom,” I was tempted to say, but bit my tongue.
“Mom says girls who are molested by their dads get repressed by their memories.”
This thread of conversation had to be stopped. “Is that word on your vocabulary list, ‘repressed?” I asked.
“No.?” she said.
“Don’t put question marks at the end of every sentence, you’re not a teenager yet. What else can be repressed?”
“Can fury be repressed, for instance?” My daughter was not a coffee mug to be thrown and shattered in a thoughtless rage. The fury I felt at the moment was not of the repressible variety.
“What’s fury?” she asked.
“It’s on your vocabulary list. Look it up, so you’ll remember.”
“Why don’t you just tell me?”
“Because then this conversation will have been entirely without merit?” I seethed.
She looked up ‘repress’ and figured out what her mother meant. “But, Dad,” she wrinkled her nose. “It’s like the harder you try not to remember, the more you remember what you’re trying to forget. How can you make yourself forget anything?”
“Then how come Mom says?”
“Because she’s American.”
“I don’t get it.”
I perused her list of words. “In America and Northern Europe the natives tell frightening stories of an entity more pernicious than any creature ever conceived in human imagination. They call this monster ‘the subconscious.’”
“Oh, much more formidable. This creature lives inside of you and you’re not even aware it’s there. Whenever a part of you becomes inconvenient, like a memory it doesn’t like, this entity effaces it.”
She looked up the words, paling as she read. “That’s like the creature thing is wiping out your real brain.”
“More sinister than that,” I said. “Eerily worse. Your mother’s tribe believes that your real mind is the creature; the rest of you is just there to get it what it wants. When your mom says you made yourself forget, she means the subconscious monster has made you forget, not you.”
“Do I have one inside of me? The subconscious monster?” she swallowed.
“Well you’re half Iranian, so maybe you’re safe?”
“But what if I have one from Mom. Can it be, like, effaced?” Fear is a marvelous educator.
“There’s a catch. It’s always the last thing inside of you to die. Even people who are in a coma, they’re real self is gone, but the creature…” I was scanning her row of words when one of them jumped off the list and struck me. It must have shown on my face.
“Dad, you’re creeping me out. What were you going to say?”
Finally, a clue as to what Katie meant by ‘persists.’ Her father wasn’t haunting her like a ghost; he was a coma patient somewhere. I had made a policy of not discussing Katie with Paul because it would just add to the list of things I couldn’t bring up in front of his wife. But this was different. I wasn’t really talking about Paul and Katie; I was confirming a suspicion about her Dad. Was Katie’s father in a home somewhere?
Paul replied, “So you guys are talking now?”
“We’ve started to. Has she told you about her father?”
“Oh, God,” he said helplessly. “Please don’t walk into this.”
“What’s there to walk into? I’m just curious.”
“Please, she’s drawing you in. I bet you anything, she’s going to ask you to go out for a beer after work.”
“And you’re going to start inviting her into our group, and she’s going to get to Christie.”
I put as much suspicion into my voice as I could, “In what way can Katie get to Christie?”
Paul’s ears turned red. “Remember when Katie and I went to Europe that first time?”
“That was before you and Christie went to Alaska.”
Paul’s voice went to a past time and place, but not to Alaska. “Well, Katie and I were in this ancient pub in Dublin with pints in front of us. It had been raining outside, and we were both a little cold.”
“Paul don’t write your novel, just tell me what happened.”
“O.K. You know how being so far away from home makes you want to explore, like a baby? When your mom isn’t there, you put things in your mouth you’re not supposed to.”
“No! That’s not what I meant. Wrong metaphor.” He waved both hands frantically to stop me from speeding to a conclusion. “Nothing happened. I mean that didn’t happen. I didn’t touch her.”
“Let me guess then. You said something you shouldn’t have said.”
“I just told her the truth. That’s all.”
“I told her every time I saw her I got a hard on.”
I moaned, covering my head in vicarious embarrassment. “Byron, Keats or Shelley couldn’t have said it better. Then what happened?”
“Hey, I’m no Shakespeare. Maybe if I were, her Guinness wouldn’t end up on my face. You’re the one who reads poetry; how would you have said it?”
“I don’t know Paul, what rhymes with ‘hard on’?”
To be continued