Lying With My Father

Lisa Carver carves out incestual temptation, from the archives.

When I was fifteen I left my mother’s all brown-and-white apartment in New Hampshire against her wishes for my father’s California digs. He called his place “the chicken coop”; it was two rooms and the roof was falling in. My stepmother had left him and he’d sounded a bit suicidal on the phone. I got off the plane and he was loping through the crowds like Moses through the parted sea, a head-and-a-half above everyone else, chicken-like hairdo and erratic beard, mismatched pants and shirt. He walked towards me like he owned me, like I was a parcel he’d set down for a minute instead of eleven years. I wore a new corduroy blue dress over a white turtleneck, and except for being unusually gangly even for my age, there was really nothing to notice about me. I had just lost my virginity (didn’t like it at all), was the third best drawer in my class and hoped to be a writer someday. My father stuffed me in his battered car and we each put an arm out the window, pretending to fly over the highway.

My father acted younger than I did. His unorthodox lifestyle appeared unbelievably cool. Friday night was poker night. Sunday he’d cook a huge meal and invite street people over (he preferred voluntary charity to the government-mandated version; he was a tax evader). His friends had names like “Black Vic” and “Reverend Bruce.” Things were regularly stolen from the house. One visitor casually mentioned he’d just thrown a brick through his TV because Stevie Nicks told him to. Another advised putting a beer in your baby’s bottle at night to make him go to sleep. My father would do anything. He applied for welfare “as an experiment.” Once we got on it, he’d do things like write them a letter saying he was planning a lobster dinner for six and needed fifty extra dollars in food stamps. And it came. My father was glamorous.

On a trip to the beach with the neighbor’s toddlers, he let me drive the van down an extremely steep, winding cliff. I’d never driven before outside of a parking lot, and nearly killed us all about thirty times.

While the kids screamed and cried, my father sat calmly in the passenger seat, not asking me to slow down. I don’t think he cared if he died. There was something so free and enticing in that—you felt that if you just stood close enough to him, some of his daring would transfer to you like static electricity. His bright eyes and lithe body seemed to say: “I’m a daredevil. I’m outside the laws of acceptable behavior. Are you, or are you one of them?”

My father never touched me and he never said I love you. He didn’t shake hands or pat backs. Having been abused as a child and then spent years in prison, it was as if there were signs all over his body: DANGER! DO NOT TOUCH! He’d sit with his back to the wall to have a clear view of all doors. His invisible enemies crept into my world too, and turned it all very, very exciting. He never asked what he wanted to know outright. He set traps, he did experiments. It kept me on my toes. I never knew when something he said was a simple comment, or a test, which I was loathe to fail. I wrote in my diary to him all the sentiments bubbling up my throat and stopped by a cork-tongue: All the candles in Rome could not outshine the burning in my heart for you!!! My admiration is a monument enormous, my devotion knows no end!!! I feel for you not only as your daughter, but as your fellow thinker. But outwardly, I was quiet. Not surprisingly, he was disappointed in my development thus far: a dreamy, bookish personality wrapped in corduroy. I was a mouse. It was hard for him to believe his blood ran through my veins.

It was hard for him to believe his blood ran through my veins.

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