The First Thing After Church
Following the rules really is so easy, military style; yes drill sergeant, no drill sergeant, all the while thinking: fuck you, drill sergeant. Once you learn how to effectively internalize your response, put on the required face, you have essentially won. I learn this the hard way, in the service, but more importantly is how I unlearn it.
Upon my return from basic training, I am emboldened, straight and taut from 300 sit-ups a day for eight weeks. I have a thoroughly unappealing arrogance about me, an arrogance I mistake for confidence. I am thrilled to see my father again — thrilled but cautious. I did not wear my dress greens or even my BDU’s, but a vintage Chanel dress bought at a Salvation Army in Columbia, South Carolina while on leave. I left my father for the first time in jeans and a Sex Pistols t-shirt, and now I am home, all grown up in an authentic little black dress, fishnets and heels.
Daddy is there leaning against the pick-up, just where I last saw him two months ago. Right on time, probably fifteen minutes early as is his credo when something is important like work, education and especially his daughter coming home from her first time away from him for more than a school day. Two long, damp and hot summer months, he waited alone in his bed, tossing off sweat soaked sheets. Work hours were peppered with intrusive thoughts of a wild variety: violent, sexual, nurturing.
The ride back to the farm is a wonderful blur of excitement and tension. Time lapses and we pull up to our renovated antebellum home, dogs chasing, chickens scattering. The 2 hour drive from Atlanta to Podunk, bane of my adolescence, Georgia has flown by, and I suddenly feel the inevitable let-down, having escaped, now back. Daddy notices my shift in demeanor as I hoist my duffel bag out of the bed of the truck with a resigned sigh.
He swipes my erratic, curly blonde hair away from my face and takes the bag.
What is it, baby girl?
I know this tone of voice, smooth as molasses and melted butter. It’s his ‘I-will-take-care-of-everything’ voice, and it has remained unchanged since my first memories of him. I know this tone of voice. It is all fluid and low and innately comforting. I feel the warmth but suddenly bolt at the familiarity.
Nothing! Jesus, Daddy, I’m full grown.
I have made the mistake of blurting this out before, but this time I add a choice phrasing of defiance I learned in the Army.
My ankles buckle under the dust covered black, pencil thin six inch heels. The first blow knocks me backwards; the second pins me to the ground by the throat. Barking goes off like willy-nilly alarms all around me.
What did you just say to me, you little piece of shit? What was that?
He tightens his grip before I can respond. My eyes suddenly open wide, looking directly at him.
What did you just say to me, whore?
I think of marching 20 miles straight with a 50 pound backpack and an M-16, crying in my foxhole unable to think of anything other than Vietnam, the drills laughing and snapping photos of us as we stumbled out after being tear gassed for the benefit of experience. I think of all of them on top of me, laughing, pumping, laughing and slobbering. My face goes blank.
I say, fuck off and spit in my father’s face.
At this point, I welcome the pain. The slap is hard and deliberate. I fall into myself, go into that learned space where no one, no authority can touch me or make me feel. They taught me this. I’m all grown up now.
Fuck off, Daddy.
My eyes fix on his with an expression like brittle paper.
Fuck you, I whisper and steel myself for the next blow.
The sun is low and the dogs have quieted. We are at home, father and daughter; all we have — each other, fifteen miles back into the woods, still in the front yard next to the pick-up. I am in one high heel shoe, groveling in a backwards crawl, my woven silk dress a nouveau-riche joke, riding up, exposing cunt and belly. He stands over me, moving slowly forward, crouching down. I furrow my brow and tilt my head back, little nose in the air.
Fuck you, I reiterate. I will never feel anything ever again — Never Daddy, never again, never.
He stops. The darkening sky softens his face. He pulls back, stands upright.
Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, never! I will never feel anything again.
He leaves me a convulsing puddle in the dirt, crying, screaming to no one and nothing. I stomp my feet and scream unintelligibly. I am a full-grown toddler past nap time. I can run but I don’t. I am a cockroach stuck in toxic goo, flailing limbs above a hopelessly attached core.
When he returns he has several massive loops of rope draped on each arm. I am scooped up, flipped and bound quickly, rodeo style. My insides explode with a bass line from long ago.
I am hogtied and exhausted; Daddy speaks to me with melted butter, molasses and a shot of whiskey.
You will feel again, baby girl. I will make sure of that.
He attaches a long rope to the undercarriage of his pickup and then to my bindings.
You will feel everything ten-fold, my precious piece of shit.
I relax into the ropes and wait. I wait to be dragged like lumber or a deer shot first thing Sunday after church. I wait for the hard earth and rocks to tear me open. I wait for all the pain, the humiliation, all to be expunged like vomiting after a binge.
I relax before the horror, stare it square in the eye. His voice instructs: this pain is a fact. I will teach you a new way.
I wait to be dragged like lumber. I wait to be fortified and consoled.UG
Julie Maureen Daniels was introduced and quickly assimilated Nov. 19, 1965. She escaped Greenville, South Carolina to Athens, Georgia in 1979. The years between and since have been fraught with both odious and delightful baggage left, more mysteriously acquired. There was that stint in the Army, all that wild kudzu shit back home and then, Ireland, Guatemala and on. Writing the whole while. Today — a full time volunteer, traveler, writer. Whatever unseemly and perhaps dark scribblings emerge are the result of all this and more. The essential concerns, regardless of the content, always manifest in written words. This is different: The cookbook is separate. This is psychosexual. This is not poetry or literature. This is ugly and arousing. “The First Thing After Church” is Julie Maureen Daniels’ first appearance in Urban Graffiti.
“Photographer Meredith Fleischer splits her time between Detroit and New York City. She manages Artists Resources at Plutonium Paint, a Detroit-based, American-made premium spray paint company. http://www.plutoniumpaint.com“