Kristen Iskandrian

a selection from mother is the name for god

At the start of Parents’ Weekend, I meet my dad at the student center and we hug each other and I feel like crying, feel like dying, in that way you feel like dying during college. His beard tickles my neck and he smells like Pour Homme, the drugstore cologne he’s been wearing for a thousand years. My dad predates time. I am always a hundred years old and eleven years old, and he meets me at both places and the eighty-nine in between, is able to just sort of seep in there, the way rain wets everything the same, the way it’s only possible to be “a little wet” if we’re talking surface area and not depth of wetness. The day my mother comes back for good we will have to reset the calendar, burn all the dictionaries.

There is a breakfast set up for students with their parents, and I don’t have to work. We go to it, the stench of powdered eggs rubbing against our faces as we walk through the door. My dad puts a lot of food on his plate and when he runs out of room he puts it on my plate. Eggs, French toast, sausage links, bacon, a muffin, hash browns, fruit, and a few packages of saltines from near the silverware. The saltines are part of some final, desperate act. The last grabbable, edible thing, before the tidal wave of eating happens, and then we are just sitting there, finished.

We sit down at the end of a long table. At the other end, a group of girls sit with their parents. All of the girls seem to be wearing some combination of pink, green, and white, with scarves tied through their belt loops or around their necks or in their hair. Their mothers are aged holograms of them, incandescent in their crisp white shirts, with their crisp white skin and frosted hair. They are not angelic. They are barely matter. The only thing anchoring them to the earth, to the crowded dining hall, are their daughters, and their oversized asses. All various shades of thin, but each with an ample ass. I can see the budding of the weighty ass in several of the daughters already, their only sexual and inconvenient feature, tightening their jeans and gulping at the tops of their thighs. The fathers sit in pleated, pleading pants and plaid button-down shirts, silent and embarrassed. We listen along with them as their wives and daughters decide on the places they want to hit and do.

“So, okay, we’ll do the museum, then,” one of them is saying.

“Yes!” says another. “The museum!”

“We’ll do the museum, and then we’ll hit the mall, and then we can squeeze in a quick run--”
“Or tennis!”

“Ooh! Tennis! Yes. Let’s totally do tennis. And then…maybe Cactus Pete’s for margaritas?”

“Yes! Totally! We should definitely hit Cactus Pete’s!”

My father and I watch the same way we watch television at home. I turn to him, after a while.


“Hm?” He is hovering over his food, as if newly reminded of it.

“Should we do the museum? Or would you rather do Cactus Pete’s? Or we could, you know, do both, with a little fro-yo in between...”

My dad smiles, a bit of ground pepper between his front teeth. “What’s the museum like?”

I tear the tops off of three packets of sugar at once and empty them into my coffee. “There’s a Mary Sargent collection, I think. And a few suits of armor.”

“Sounds pretty good.”

The coffee won’t get sweet. I stir it some more. “I’m kidding about wanting to go.”

“Oh. Well, whatever you want. Whatever you want to do.” He is staring at one of the mothers. He is thinking about my mother, because we are always thinking about my mother. Something about this other mother is reminding him of mine, something invisible and irrational, like the way she might feel between her legs, or the mole that might be on her right shoulder, hiding beneath her blouse, or the thing that her organs do when she fills with baby. Mostly what reminds him of her is the fact of her motherness, the thing capable of making all women fundamentally the same.

The girls and their parents disperse after some prolonged goodbyes and a few more rounds of schedule recitation, dumping their trays of egg white omelets and fruit at the trash station and exiting out separate doors, linking arms with their mothers while their fathers trail behind.

We wind up at the outlet mall. We walk around and around, not saying much. We buy caramel apples, each the size of a baby’s head, and eat them down to their cores. My father keeps eating, past the core, seeds and all, until he’s left with only stick, which he holds in his mouth like a toothpick. We are in front of a giant sneaker store when he finally removes it. To ask.

“When do you think you’ll come home?”

There are questions we ask each other that we don’t have to answer right away, questions we could answer vaguely. This isn’t one of those.

I don’t say anything for a long time. I look at my dad, taking in as one mosaic the rough, sad terrain of his face and the sad garish mall carpet that he stares at. This fucking carpet, I’m thinking.

“I don’t know.”

My dad looks at me hard.

“I guess, I’ll come home when she comes home.”

“Where does that leave me.” He is pinning me here, in front of the shoes. The possibility for more sorrow is thick on my skin, a caramel colored haze settling over me and rooting me here for eternity like the girl from the fairy tale that the fairy tale forgets. Having evaded the father, which is worse than lying. Having scattered, forever, the father’s wishes, the ones he gathers every night like the loose change in his pockets, emptying them into the jar on his dresser that still smells faintly of the mother’s pickles from fifteen years before, the ones about family who comes home.

My dad takes the apple stick from his mouth. “She’ll probably come home, if you do.”

“That’s an awful thing to say. And untrue.”

My dad’s whole body is a frown, his head and shoulders tilted forward as if to butt against some stiff wind, his knees buckling slightly against all the feelings and objects of the world; namely, hope and the mall.

We used to do the grocery shopping together, every week, me as a toddler riding in the cart and later me pushing the cart while my dad talked to the meat guy and the fish guy, cracking jokes, pointing me out: “That’s my helper. Couldn’t do it without her.” I carried the list, generally written on the back of some junk mail, and crossed each item off as we went along. When we got something that wasn’t on the list, I’d write it down first and then cross it off. “That way we have an inventory of everything we got,” I said, newly aware of what inventory meant in some basic, shelf-stocking way, not yet aware of everything it would mean, in the spectrum of having and amassing and losing and replenishing, and my dad shook his head and smiled, like I was too good to be true. “We could save the lists, and see if there are patterns.” My dad put a pack of Juicy Fruit gum, my favorite, on the conveyor belt and said very seriously, “That’s a great idea.” From the hall later that day I overheard him in the bedroom with my mother, repeating what I’d said, and the next moment, the shower coming on, as if in response.

When your relationship is forged in a grocery store, you can get through most any impasse by talking about food, or eating it.

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