I remember him in all of the ways I don’t want to, sensory detail that climbs up through my dreams until I’m gagging with the taste of gun oil on my sheets come morning. My friends all said he was cute. I remember my babysitters flirting with him while he came over and snuck them some cans of beer to take home with the leftover pizza we’d ordered for dinner. They were boycrazy, but he was a grown man. He was supposed to be my father, this one patched in over the hole left behind by the one who left my mother before. He was a cop, and my babysitters would beg him to drive them home in the deputy car with the lights all red and blue and the siren blaring loud through our small, tornado bait town. He always complied. He was different than the other dads, my babysitters would tell me, with eyes starry stoned and stupidly lovestruck. He had some sort of soldering gun used for intricate metal work, and the kitchen stunk like burnt hair on the night when those girls burned his name into their skin, crooked calligraphy along the blue veins of their ankles. A heart with an arrow.
He never smoked, but I remember him like an alarm. He was a poorly maintained bonfire, given all the power and tools to contain himself, but never doing so. Mr. Sheriff’s Deputy, he slipped out of handcuffs and DUI charges as easily as he would later slip into my bed. A demon with a badge, and I hate the color of tan uniforms in the same way that I hate the smell of Bud Light and gun oil. I hate Navajo turquoise, because that is the color he painted that bookshelf he made for my mother that final summer before I ran away from home, and I hate purple because that was the color he left on my mother for my twelfth birthday when I stayed out too late.
When I see televangelist preachers on television, I think about that night he went up to the pulpit in front of the whole town to see. He proclaimed himself a sinner, and he begged to be saved. I watched the pastor lay hands on him, they shouted the Devil out, and I guess that was really the last time I hoped or believed in much of anything because it was all a big joke to him. But he put on a good show. I cried happy for him and everything, I believed with all the blind naivete of a child. He shot my dog three days later, and I remember that blood doesn’t look anything like those vampire movies promised me it would. The gore slick bottom of that doghouse looked like rust, not red. It smelled like old pennies and rot until he burned it.
The last thing I remember about him is the sound of his voice. It is a railroad spike in my stomach, because sometimes I answer the blocked number when he calls. I forget he exists, however briefly, and I stupidly answer. He won’t ever let me forget, though. Not really. Which is fine, I don’t want to forget. Because I carry him around with me like a cursed object, I carry him with me like a phantom limb or the secret knowledge of poison already swallowed. I carry him with me because the memories protect me as much as destroy me. Protection not from myself, but from all the things that matter, like people who smell of gun oil and Bud Light.
Elizabeth Aldrich is the author of the forthcoming novel Ruthless Little Things via Expat Press 2020 and writes fiction in a messy room in the San Fernando Valley. Please stalk her vigilantly at @eris_rlt. Former Lusty Lady San Francisco peepshow girl.