The First Full Year
by SARA BIVIGOU
1. Everything I know about drunk dialing I learnt from my father. Of course, the booze is always an excuse.
Once you’ve got it into your head that you are going to call someone then you will. You feel playground emotions: happy, mad, sad, bad, lonely, are overwhelmed by them. Giddy, you pick up your phone. A surge of useless adrenaline when you dial. The beats that your heart skipped when the person answered are now throbbing in your head. Your head is a banging drum. You speak and only listen to respond. What you’re saying matters little, that you’re talking, that the person you are talking to is entertaining this conversation with a drunk you, that’s important. If you’ve done it right and drunk just enough the talking is a blur. Words out of your mouth faster than thoughts. What even are thoughts anymore? Just speak. How do these conversations ever end? You never remember. Regret in the morning.
2. The last time my father called me, slurring but peppy was to catch me up on his day. My father the doctor, the doctor who lives in a small bachelor’s flat in Libreville, Gabon. He lives in the centre of the city alone. But he is thinking of moving to Moanda, now that he is 60. He is thinking of moving to where he has more friends and some family, a cousin maybe. He doesn’t need the fast pace of capital city life anymore, he doesn’t need the big airport. Last time my father called me about a week after his fourth fiancee broke up with him was to tell me he had a brain tumour.
3. A list of the illnesses my father has called to tell me he is afflicted with:
presumed heart attack, as in darling I’m calling you now to tell you I am unwell. Your father is sick. His heart is pumping heavy. I can hear the blood in my head. It hurts when I breathe. Listen *and he breathes deeply, exaggerated, strangled* At which point I begin to panic and shout at him. Why is he calling me? He needs to call his doctor. Or an ambulance. I am going to hang up, I say, I am loud and elaborately slow you’re going to call someone to take you to the hospital.
4. I haven’t seen my father since I was three years old. Which is to say I don’t ever in all my life remember seeing him with the eyes in my head. To me he is a voice over the telephone. An idea of a person. A presence felt as an absence. A square of air where a man should be.
5. My favourite family story is the one of how my parents met, in 70s London, on a foursome date gone askew. Good only slightly lapsed Catholic girls that my Mum and her friend (and fellow Modern Languages student) Sylvie were they’d never first date alone, they’d always bring each other. My father asked Sylvie out and respecting her arrangement would invite his friend Didier, for even numbers. The four of them met at some tourist trap restaurant in West London, had drinks and sat down for dinner. By which time Sylvie had demoted my father from conquest to fourth wheel, realised she fancied Didier more. Didier and Sylvie flirted insanely, intensely and are still married with 2 children today. My parents chatted politely, fell in immediate like and all consuming love over the course of the following year. My grandparents begged mum, to the point of almost disowning her, not to drop out of university, to wait to get married. She ignored them. My father was in the process of becoming a doctor, she was going to be a doctor’s wife who could learn many languages at home, while looking after their four children. They had it all planned out like so many 22-year olds do.
A small wedding, maybe 40 people, at mum’s stepdad’s house in Port-Gentil and they moved back to London very shortly after. Within a year my mother was pregnant with her first son and two more after that with me. My father qualified. Something happened. I probably won’t ever know what exactly – his pride, her annoyance, his wandering eye, her hurt. Mother pregnant again in 1984, another boy. But father left before he was born, did not meet him until 2008, when he was taller than him and thin like he used to be and still somehow his exact likenesses. The lesson that my mother drilled into all of us so solemnly that it felt like our family’s pledge: never get married in your twenties.
6. My first full year not in my twenties I got married.
7. Things I’m sure love isn’t:
8. When you grow up without father a heavy myth engulfs you. There is this gross familiar idea of daddy issues, which is a wariness of your needs. The fear that they are bigger than those of others. Can any man love you enough? Will he be crushed by what you lack? You yourself are constantly checking to see if the hurt is showing. Jutting out like a broken hip bone, revealing itself embarrassingly like spinach between your teeth. You worry that your dadlessness will be used to pinpoint all your sadness. That it is the cause for everything that is wrong with you.
I wonder if my romantic history would be the same. So full of silly strife, of messy longing. I have stalked boys. Been infatuated too many times. Let them cheat on or with me. Shimmed up drainpipes into their bedrooms. Done everything they’ve asked me to, even when that’s meant nothing that felt good. I collected their moods and eventually always took revenge whether it was offered or I had to hunt it down. Found a way to cut the sleeves of all shirts, thrown a lot of records at walls. I’ve been hung up on too many feelings, belly full off useless pride. For a time the saddest most sentimental sort, bad at letting go, even of the worst fucking stuff. And always tired. Eyes either sore from crying. Or itching from the need to cry.
I only know for sure that when you grow up without your father it is possible to fantasize him out of all proportion. The first lies I ever told were all about my dad. He was an astronaut, then he was the one who put the pictures in children’s books, then he was busy and I saw him yesterday and he’d be back soon. And now what?
9. Things I’m sure love is:
10. One long afternoon-evening home alone, two-thirds of a bottle of medium sweet merlot down. I don’t know why I dialed my father’s number. 11 digits. What did I want to say to him? Maybe I was sick now? No, I was angry. I had a story to tell. The click that connects an international call, then ring ring, ring ring.
The giddiness, the banging in my head.
Ring ring, ring ring.
Ring ring, ring ring.
Ring ring, ring ring.
Ring ring, ring ring.
11. He did not pick up.
Sara Bivigou is a contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in London.