THE DAUGHTER'S DICTIONARY
THE DAUGHTER'S DICTIONARY
Mirror, n. Grandma showed me a photograph of when you were sixteen. It’s exactly what I would’ve looked like if I was alive in 1976—almond-shaped eyes, straight and semi-thick eyebrows, wavy brown collar-bone-length hair, narrow nose, a shy smile. Your dimples were the only things I didn’t inherit. 35 years apart. We looked the same. People tell us we’re practically sisters. You appeared happy, and that was the difference between our photographs—I rarely smiled in shots when I was your age. You looked at the camera like it was a person you loved. I looked at my camera to show the world my pain. I envied your teenaged self.
Lying, v. When I came back from Dad’s apartment with wet hair and it was a strange sixty-seven-degree October evening, you asked if I had gone swimming. I said no. You caught the sliver of guilt in my eyes and sent me to my room. You told me I lied. You told me I could’ve gotten sick, or an ear infection, or anything. I cried. You hugged me, warning me not to do it again.
Closet, n. A tiny space filled with dusty American Girl dolls and tight childhood clothing towered over me as I hunched against the wall, sobbing because your new husband yelled at me and you didn’t do anything about it. We never talked about making progress.
Suspiration, n. After an argument you deeply sighed and said, I can’t help you. I tried. Then you walked away and I felt terrible for not taking your advice about something mindless, like an inappropriately short dress or wanting to stay out with my friends past ten for a football game. I wondered what went through your mind when you sucked in oxygen. You saw this teenage girl, your only daughter, wanting to break rules in ways you never did.
Blamestorming, n. The only reason I’m still living in hell is because you put me here. You divorced Dad and moved me and my brothers to Texas, and I had the worst twelve years of my life. Did you know I cried on a bench during recess in elementary school? Did you know I only joined softball because your husband made me, and when I wanted to quit, I feared something might happen? Did you know I resented you for taking me away from my first home?
Zodiac, n. We are compatible signs, Cancer and Virgo. Homemaker and Healer. You know I’m sad when I speak slightly above twenty decibels, I push around my food, I keep to my room. You know this because I know you do this, too.
Unrecycled teenaged experiences, n. While my brothers dated around, I stayed home most nights or went to school events with friends, but never with a boy. When I was finally allowed to date at sixteen you asked if I had my eye on someone special, maybe a classmate for homecoming, prom, and I would bat it away, no, no one has asked. I know it killed you I never had a boyfriend while I lived at home. That I had no curfew for a boy to drop me off after a date. That I had to receive a corsage from my own mother. That I didn’t have what you had at my age.
Watershed, n. You kept questioning my reasons for why I wanted to move, it was never your home, it’s all this image you so badly want, etc. etc. etc. But then it changed when I received the rejection letter from UW, and you saw how crushed I was. I think then you understood how important it was for me to get out of where you unfairly dropped me in. I feel like I’m a lobster nearly plunked into bubbling water, claws clinging to the edge of the pot, and I’m desperately trying to keep from sinking. Which death occurs first: boiling alive or drowning?
Quiver, v. It just happened. We were driving home from the mall and I suddenly broke down in the front seat. You pulled over at Summit High School’s football field and we walked the tracks in crisp January air. I wanted to stop breathing. I wanted to die. So did you, before you divorced Dad. You were the reason I kept living, you said.
Apopemptic, adj. At five in the morning, the Friday of move-in weekend, you woke me up and whispered, college is waiting for you. I said goodbye to my dog of nine years, my room of six years, and my mother of nineteen years after I was left alone in my dorm. I heard you sob in the suite bathroom and tried to ignore the redness stamped in your eyes when you hugged me goodbye. We’re only three hours apart, I said. You still had a kid at home. You were not an empty nest.
Yoctosecond, n. In the laundry room, I saw a split fraction of a second in your eyes how disappointed you were about my decision to see Dad for Christmas. I have to share myself somehow, I argued. You can’t be selfish. It was your decision to divorce Dad. You should have thought it through for the products of your marriage. You should have known the separation would also separate me from you.
Deciderization, n. Ever since I defined my confusion on sexuality, I had to decide why I had a nonexistent sex drive. A: You divorced Dad while your three kids were growing into tumultuous childhoods; B: I never want to have a divorce, especially if I have kids; C: I need a connection before considering romance and sex; D: Relationships burn out faster than a wedding tea candle—I’ve seen it happen. So it’s important for me that you never know why I hadn’t pursued a relationship in all the years I’ve been on this planet. It is partly your fault. Bad tastes take years to disintegrate off a palette still trying to recover from burns.
BBC.com, n. I announced that someone from the news website found my photos from Broken Light Collective, a nonprofit that shared people’s artwork derived from their mental illness, and wanted to feature it among other artists for World Mental Health Day. I hesitantly let slip how they found me. You lowered your voice and asked, I thought you were doing okay? I said it comes and goes. But don’t worry about me. And then I drove three hours back to college, worrying about you worrying about me. I hope you have forgotten about this.
Straitjacket, n. I had a breakdown in the closet on Thanksgiving. I stared at the white walls behind Dad’s dangling ties, tears spilling hot onto the carpet. I wanted to throw my phone when I read your message. You wouldn’t understand what it was like to be torn between two families; your parents were on their 63rd year of marriage. It’s so hard keeping people happy. You can’t hand your entire world to them to control, but you can at least let them in. I’m still working on that.
Ostrich effect, n. In the beginning, my very first year away from home, you advised me to take my time in college, get to know people, get to know yourself. I ignored this. I wanted to get out. I took summer classes and carried eighteen-hour schedules for six semesters. My final year, I pulled my head out of the sand and realized, oh, I actually had a really good time. I wish I had stayed longer.
First date, n. I called you an hour after I told my friends about the date, galvanized and ablazed a guy had asked me out. More so that we had a good time. You couldn’t keep your excitement in, I could sense your curiosity extending through the phone. This doesn’t have to be a true love connection, but you should use this time to have fun. You deserve it.
Misleading, v. Are you sure you’re okay the second date didn’t happen? you asked over the phone. I worry about you being lonely and alone. I wasn’t going to tell you we did have a second date. I wasn’t going to tell you I dissociated the entire time, so far out of my body that I couldn’t say no each time he kissed me. I couldn’t find the words to tell him to go home after I had allowed him to sleep over. I wasn’t going to tell you I tried to get drunk so I could possibly consent to sexual activities. I will never agree to let someone touch me sober. My body chars like chemical-induced gasoline spilled on an oiled canvas. I wasn’t going to tell you we trespassed into territories I wasn’t ready for. So I said he was boring and too tall and we never had a second date. You knew I was lying. But you were so excited when you told me. And then you feel like this barely a week later? Did something happen?
All those afternoons in the childhood closet, all those moments staring at the dark walls, all those small voices, and you dragging me out from beneath the winter coats no one wore, you at last accepted this: No. Nothing happened.
Emily Townsend is a graduate student in English at Stephen F. Austin State University. Her works have appeared in Superstition Review, cream city review, Santa Clara Review, Pacifica Literary Review and others. A Pushcart Prize nominee and a 2019 AWP Intro Journals Award nominee, she is currently working on a second collection of essays in Nacogdoches, Texas.