Laili Gohartaj

Things that I wish my father had said

S.M. Sukardi

my father said

Things that I wish my father had said

Laili Gohartaj

My daughter, you are all Black and all Persian. You are not half of anything, because your mother and I poured all of us into you. There will be times when you are made to feel like you don’t belong to either people. But I want you to always be all both.

I didn’t know how to tell your green eyes that even as we walked parallel paths, the distance between us was too much. I couldn’t share your gaze or lend my footing. Your skin was honeyed by your mother and I didn’t know how this sun would feel on it. I am the Tennessee molasses that this country has burned for decades.

There will be times when your fair face will open doors to you that would not part for me. When you will sit among people who won’t recognize my blackness in you. That access will sometimes be agonizing and it pained me to know that our lives would be so different that I could not guide or empathize,

and I am sorry we didn’t have more time to talk.

I should have explained that when I said your hair looked like a bundle of wildflowers I meant that you are both wild and flower and all beautiful. It was lonely being different, you were different even in our house, and I meant to tell you that each dark strand of your hair doubles back over and over to form those tight coils, and this is the way you will learn to hold yourself.
To wrap your arms tightly around your own heart.

Your inability to conform will always be pronounced before you’ve said a word, and it will fortify your bones. Your cheekbones and nose are from me.

My girl, we were brought here to build a new country and don’t let anyone tell you it isn’t ours. What we don’t own is by their design, but this is your home
and I’m afraid you will never belong anywhere else.
Your mother is an immigrant and my people were stolen, but you? You were born here.

You were born on the first day of spring. You are Norooz. You are huge sprays of California lilac covered in bees and monarchs. You are the Pacific. Your king tides crash over barriers, your waves break along endless miles of cliffs, making the air thick with cool, and salt. You are the shimmering green hummingbird. The nectar seeker finding the most vibrant and fragrant. You lend light and color to the sky, you are quick and clever and brilliantly aggressive and free.
And free.

my father said

S.M. Sukardi

Wrote a story the other day about 3 girls who are me and not me (I am not 3 people, and also I am not a girl (in that too much time has passed for me to still belong to that category even if I were a girl, and also in other ways of being not-girl)).

So I went home to the Land of Dad with C the other day and gave her (another girl-not-girl with a dad-not-dad (though still more girl than me)) the synopsis, scrolling thru my phone as I told her my story-not-story (because summaries are not stories, and also because the word count of my story bristled against arbitrary parameters for a short story’s length, and also because the story was fiction-not-fiction).

Got to a detail where the remaining girls with an even greater paucity of Dad wore red granny underwear from their moms on their lunar year, where their scratches in defiance of the material left big red welts on their thighs resembling the monster logo, and maybe then they could take off their underwear because their skin had produced the red they needed to wear for protection instead? (But I just thought of that detail now, it wasn’t in the original version of the story, which no longer exists for reasons you shall see.)

C told me the story does not have the ring of truth, Koreans don’t believe in red for luck! Where’d you learn that? Did you even grow up with that belief? she asked. No, I said. I just learned it after college when some girl at work informed me during the 2nd return of our lunar year (i.e. we were 24) and bought herself a red bracelet for protection. The first return was what the story-not-story was about; I had retroactively applied the detail. Which perhaps made it more story than not-story?

Yeah, remove that detail, she said-not-said. Fine, I said. Everything—everything—in the service of fidelity to truth. But, a detail for a detail. So she told me her dad-not-dad was always itching, always sneezing and rubbing his nose in Murica. Also America but mostly Murica; he seldom left the home when he came home-not-home, and I said, my dad-not-dad did that too!!! Let me put it into the story-not-story.

In my story, he goes home-not-home to America as all three of my Dads (singular) do once in a while, and tells me-not-me (and also C-not-C, because her name is not actually C, and because I have taken her detail and sublimated it into mine, which makes it more story? Or less story?) to come sit down. He has something to tell us.

It is a rich detail. I like it very much. His spent Kleenex is spread out on the table like the richest banquet my father is capable of preparing. I sit for him. I am ready, now, to take each damp strip of cloth, unroll the creases, wring the fluid out, and use it however I may please.

Laili Gohartaj is a classically trained musician, writer, home baker, visual artist, raver, and professional fundraiser. She has a bachelor’s of music in clarinet performance and a master’s of English, focusing on creative nonfiction, both from Holy Names University. Laili’s personal essays are intimate meditations and reflections on her experiences with childhood homelessness, growing up in a mixed-race family, and leaving her abusive engagement.

“Summation,” her first published essay, appears in the Hennepin Review’s August 2022 edition, and “Sunflower” was chosen as a finalist for the 2021 Crazyhorse Nonfiction Prize. Laili has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area since she was eighteen, considers Jurassic Park the height of cinema, once posed as a press photographer in hopes of meeting Ta-Nehisi Coates (she didn’t,) and grows African violets.

S.M. Sukardi is a writer, essayist, and critic from the suburbs of Southern California. They have received fellowships from the National Book Critics Circle, Lambda Literary, and Periplus, and their work has been noted in Best American Essays 2022. They are the co-founder and co-editor of Soapberry Review, a journal for reviews of Asian American literature.

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