“My Father’s Coat” by Christy O’Callaghan-Leue
I pull your unwanted Army green dress coat from a box of crap sent home with us and lay it on my bed, bodiless, discarded because it no longer fit. Angry because you spoke to my brother’s history class but wouldn’t walk five doors down the hall to speak to mine. Typical. I remove the patches one of your wives had lovingly sewn. Airborne Ranger. Special Forces. I cut stitch after tight stitch with my grandmother’s tiny foldable scissors.
With each snip, I count the hours squandered over you. The afternoons planted on the side steps, itchy in a church dress, planning discussion topics you’d enjoy, excited for my special day with dad. You not showing up unless my brothers came too. Weekend visits I slept squished on a triple decker bunk bed with three half-sisters in an insignificant room of your military housing. The extra bedroom reserved for your painted soldier collection. My brothers sleeping in the living room so you can wake them early for adventures, while I get left behind. Free childcare to give your sweet, exhausted third wife a break.
Never once a sorry.
My stitches quick and loose, I decorate the coat with buttons and patches my friends and I collected. “Mean People Suck”, stuff about the environment, The Misfits, Dead Kennedys, a red ribbon.
The coat is heavy and thick as I pull it over my shoulders. I push perfect gold buttons through perfect holes and hug the lapels together. Breathe in what I guess is your scent, although you never let me close enough to learn it. I stand in front of the mirror at the foot of my bed and turn side to side, admiring my handiwork and smirking at the reactions I anticipate. Your pissed off face. About to call my brothers in to show them…I stop and take off the coat.
I exhale excitement in a jagged breath and inhale dread. I’d be ok with your yelling and screaming, even hitting, at least you’d be paying attention to me, but if you saw how I desecrated your pride it would be worse. Crueler. To you I would no longer exist. Even the slightest scraps of love would vanish.
I swear low enough so no one will hear me. Hating myself for being so stupid. Pathetic. A child yearning for a father. But I know you. I gather your patches into a shoe box and push it under my canopy bed as far back as my fingertips stretch.
My buttons and patches left on your coat, I place it on a hanger, shroud it with its white dry-cleaning bag and hang it at the far end of the bar in my closet. I shove my shirts and jackets in front of it, hiding what I’ve done from brother’s snooping eyes and tattletale mouths.
There it will stay, haunting the closet until my mom sells the house seven years later.
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Christy O’Callaghan’s Artist Statement: Christy O’Callaghan lives in Amsterdam, NY. Her favorite pastimes include hiking, gardening, swimming, snowshoeing, and collecting sea glass—anything in the fresh air. She started writing a few years ago after a prolonged illness and can’t seem to turn off the words. She writes a weekly blog on her website including her adventures as a writer, book reviews, and other such musing. To check out her nature photos go to @christyflutterby on Instagram and Christy O’Callaghan on Facebook. For her weekly blog and learn more about her writing, go to christyflutterby.com.