Written by: Sai Sanjana Munaga
Edited By: Kavya Gupta
It was an ordinary thing to say: go sleep with your daughters. Granted, our bed was only big enough for two. But the three of us made do as we all played a round of power blocks with our bodies all the time; me, my sister, and our father. It was an ordinary affair for us.
I was eight years old. Back then it was all so simple.
“Well, this is it. My weekend getaway from all of you,” you said, walking empty-handed as I carried your luggage to the car. Your eyes brimmed with tears all of a sudden as mine clouded with confusion. Before I could make sense of it you were gone.
I was twelve years old but somehow felt a bit older than that.
“You love him more than you love me, no?” you fumed in anger.
I looked up from the creases I was ironing out of the pile of clothes; there was some sort of thrill in ironing out the white creases you remind me I can’t get rid of from my own body. You were on the sofa painting your toenails a certain shade called periwinkle. Ugly. Channels shifted through on the TV. Your focus, however, was completely on me.
“Why are you ironing all his clothes? What about mine?”
Well, I would get to them all, wouldn’t I? But of course I didn’t say this out loud. You could be terrifying when you were all red nosed and furrow eyed.
You seemed to take this as a cue to trudge on. “You both have something special that I will never have. He must have you wrapped around his finger. Or maybe you have him around you. You always were a little thief weren’t you? Taking what was mine? It would have been perfect if I had never had you in the first place — the both of us on a King sized bed.”
I was fifteen years old and it was starting to feel like none of it was just a joke anymore.
“Why don’t you leave the room when he comes in? Or just lock the bedroom door.”
But you had taken the door off its hinges.
“Why are you smiling? You must be daydreaming about him.”
“Don’t tell me you’re getting all dressed up to seduce him. Would you really steal my man? You must think I’m a fool. Go change into my cargo pants. God pray they fit.”
“Like you need those heels. Let me try them on.”
“Don’t be a girly girl.”
“It’s 5 O’clock. Get back home.”
“I’ll always know what you’re up to. I’m your mother.”
Yes, that wouldn’t change. That’s what I feared.
I was sixteen and we were all home quarantined. Those were the worst months.
There were loud noises all throughout the night. Slamming doors and screaming.
When it subsided he finally made his way into our room to tell us it would be okay soon. But he did so from an awful distance. My blurry eyes made the darkness seem all the more closer. It blacked me out for a moment. But then I noticed he was shaking like a dog caught in a thunderstorm.
The blue fluorescent lights above us flickered and finally focussed on the first tears I had ever seen roll down his eyes. I got up and tried to pull him in closer for a hug but he recoiled.
He didn’t want me to.
He felt embarrassed and I felt ugly.
He knew you were wrong but felt like he had to prove it to your empty presence.
And that’s when I knew. I knew that there was an anger in me that could turn into a beast. I was your daughter after all. It runs through me too. It runs against you.
I was seventeen then. But I knew that this was the night that would come to haunt me years later when I would wonder if choosing to adopt a daughter instead of birthing my own blood would widen the distance between us and hide me from you.
Following this our father began to laugh less. Eat less. Just being less of himself in the days that led up to it. When we took family photos he was either the one taking the photo or crossing his arms in the frame to keep us an elbows length away from him. He wouldn’t even look us in the eyes anymore and none of this was ordinary at all.
I was eighteen and I didn’t know how to tell him I was on his side. So I left for college and called him once in a while.
He was happy for me. But he was still trapped, all alone.
I’m not sure how he would make it through. Somehow he did.
It was an ordinary thing to say in our house: go sleep with your daughters. It meant nothing, nothing at all, just a pass by comment like any other.
But then years later as I lay in bed, all alone in my own apartment, and became the child of eight, twelve, fifteen, sixteen, and eighteen all at once, I would feel the same empty presence looming over him loom over me as well.
It would then strike me; you were right there next to me whispering all the words all those years all the while. You kept us quiet.
You had been the one sleeping with your daughters. Sleeping with us.
It had been you all along.