Friday, January 05, 2007


There is no door to my attic room except the two narrow French doors at the bottom of the steep enclosed carpeted stairs.
Before that, in my twelve-year-old's room with the long red drapes – a small narrow room at the top of the stairs – there are two doors, one that's never used goes into my father's room.

My father comes in whenever he wants to. Through the regular door. Wherever I am, he's allowed in. He expects to be let in. I cannot refuse him, the poor immigrant homeless Hungarian. It doesn't matter that I wish he would go away. What he wants is more important.

When I am seventeen I am in college and my father comes for the weekend. He suggests -- since it is not too far -- that we go to Niagara Falls for the weekend. He drives. We go to a good restaurant in the evening. That's the part I look forward to: the dressing up, the sense of luxury, the limitless food. My father is good at conjuring these things. I know I am pretty in my embroidered peasant blouse, my favorite red corderoy skirt that flows past my knees and the high leather boots, things I have patched together from the local mall, the trip to Europe, a thrift store. "You seem so much more mature than your friends," my father says and I am pleased and embarrassed. I know what he means though I don't have words for it. It has something to do with how he would never invite my friends out for dinner – not Janine and Ruth, in their jeans and sweatshirts, their faces shy as they shake his hand. I have this thing where I can shake a stranger's hand with confidence and see the interest in their eyes.

I am in college because of him, because my daydreams of joining the Peace Corps or just hitchhiking around the country amount to nothing in the face of his assumption that I will go to college, and not just any college.

Once, years later, he said rather grumpily, "Well, why didn't you tell me you wanted to join the Peace Corps?" As if he would have listened. My voice would have been feeble anyway, dismissing itself before he dismissed it. Instead, he drove me to Yale to meet with an old Belgian economics professor whom he'd known and admired for years, thinking that somehow this might help my half-hearted application, presenting me to him as if we were in some living room and I would now play a sonata on the pianoforte.

I am thirteen and we're all – both parents, both sisters – in Budapest visiting the grandparents. My father takes me with him into the country, to the ancestral vilage. We drive all day in his beige VW bug, our luggage with my sanitary pads strapped to the roof of the car and I am bleeding – almost for the first time – with no idea how to ask him to stop the car, unstrap the suitcase, lift it down and let me open it. I sit around smiling as relatives ply me with cakes, keeping my knees together in case it's all showing, waiting until finally I am alone in a room with my suitcase.

I can only have what I want when I am alone.

My father comes home from work – sometimes it's a weekday night, sometimes just a Friday night for the weekend. I don't want him to come home. Something in me draws back when I hear his car or hear him call up the stairs, but I always answer in cover-up because he is a poor sad immigrant from Hungary whom nobody appreciates and I cannot bear it that even I don't like him.

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