BY HANNAH COHEN
It’s November 2012, and I’m three rows away from Roger Daltrey. He’s gotten old, yeah, and he attempts to swing the microphone cord while singing. It doesn’t quite work out, but he’s belting out his song while Pete Townshend plays the guitar, steady and wild. The stage lights look like rain drops. The band is playing "Love, Reign o’er Me". I turn to my father, but he can’t hear me say "thank you". It’s not the first time, and it’ll be the last time.
It’s November 2012, and my father and I are in Greensboro, North Carolina, to see The Who’s Quadrophenia concert. I’d never been to a rock concert before, and my father bought tickets as a late birthday present. It was no gift because I had to pay him back. That is how he’s always been. After the concert he buys me one black band t-shirt, steals a gray one when the cashier isn’t looking. I never tell anyone what he did. He drives us back to Virginia in the dark, our new t-shirts rolled up like telescopes in our laps. I was happy. A month later, my father left.
My father likes classic rock, but it'd be more accurate to say that he often listens to classic rock. I hesitate to say like because he's never really enjoyed anything: my mother, my accomplishments, his life. Every year since his departure I go through a rolodex of personality disorders to assign him, but one label always sticks: father.
My father listens to classic rock, and because of this I grew up listening to albums such as Who’s Next, Led Zeppelin IV, A Day at the Races. As a kid, I would impress my father’s sports car friends with my knowledge of Eric Clapton’s entire discography. How different I was from other little girls. I’d steal my dad’s burned CDs only to return them when he asked me where they were. He had terrible handwriting, has terrible handwriting on the checks he mails me. I still remember the slick feel of his CDs under my fingertips when I would change them in his car’s CD player. It’s a good touch that will stay with me forever. Now when I’m driving by myself in the dark, I don’t hear the scratches and skips of a CD player. I only listen to music I never touch.
I once told a guy I was interested in that I loved rock operas. Okay, I said something along the lines of I like rock operas because they are the only positive connection I have to my father, the literal last good thing before his leaving. I’m still single. But it’s true. I really do love rock operas, even though the songs are about men singing about how alone they are. I can’t help but slip into the blue jeans of Tommy, or become the unconscious Pink in his chair. My self fractured like Jimmy’s conflicting identities. I don’t know where I’ll be by the final song, my mouth open when the outro wanes into the black.
"He never physically abused me," my mother says between bites of her steak carnitas, "or you, or your sister."
I don’t say anything. She is right. My father does not hurt with his hands. He builds. He built the wall years before I was even a thought between the two of them. I never tell my therapist of this conversation.
I think about how masculine and dysfunctional the men in Tommy, The Wall, Quadrophenia are. I think about how dysfunctional and masculine my father is. All the real men in my life. They may not be mods, Cousin Kevin, or Pink’s dead father, but they’re all pieces of those men. I’ve known the Ace-Faces who never grow up. The doctors who aren’t doctors. The male friends who used me. I remind myself I am no longer pretending to be deaf, dumb, or blind. That now I am in therapy.
But talking in a small room doesn’t cure emotional starvation. I still compartmentalize and overthink things. I am creating hundreds of scenarios in my head. I myself am quadrophenic: one Hannah charms people to get by. A second Hannah looks up at the ceiling while the third Hannah looks up at that same ceiling and imagines rope around her neck. The last Hannah stays as close to the door as possible. I don't know if it's a reaction to being the product of a truly incompatible partnership, or an entirely separate defense mechanism for dealing with people. I'm afraid to understand this.
Someone once asked me if I have "daddy issues". I hate that question. I am a woman who writes about my father. You never ask men this. Pink, Jimmy, Tommy can’t have daddy issues because they’re fictional. These men will never be fathers. My father thought he would never be a daddy, but he’s real so he became one anyway.
Unlike the fathers in most rock operas, mine is not dead. No, he’s very alive and living three and a half hours from me. I do have lunch with him out of heartburn-causing obligation, but I never let him eat my remaining french fries. One day I will ask if he’s broken any more homes up lately. He’s already taken too much from me.
I want to remember the good nights with my father. So I make up the good nights I don’t remember. The nights where I’m a teenager again, with my curly hair and too-tight black jeans. I make up the nights where I’m in the passenger seat of my father’s Jetta. He’s driving on a dark highway as we’re returning from somewhere unimportant. It’d be a great scene in my rock opera—instrumental opening, slow build, the meshing harmonies, the lyrics poignant and opaque. I’d hear my father’s heartbeat in the echoes of the guitar. I’d know he was there.
In another universe, my father and I are coming home from the concert, and he still leaves.
Hannah Cohen lives in Virginia and received her MFA from Queens University of Charlotte. She's a contributing editor for Platypus Press. Her poetry chapbook Bad Anatomy will be published by Glass Poetry Press in February 2018. Recent and forthcoming publications include Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Noble/Gas Qtrly, Calamus Journal, Yes Poetry, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and elsewhere.