Daddy Issue 1
Re: I'm back and I'm watching you
25 June 2022
Upper West Side
I was at the club in Puerto Vallarta when I received your little cease and desist letter.
It was just past dusk and the first performer was strutting onstage in front of the velvet curtains as the cool breeze weaved between the bodies on the still half-empty dance floor. She was a young drag queen with a rising star, lots of talent, and a blonde wig teased with promise. The guy I was with, a cute videographer making a name for himself with distinctive Instagram Reels at the various clubs around town, was at the foot of the stage watching through the iPhone lens that became an extension of his body as he bounced through the crowd – when he’s working you barely realize he’s there until suddenly you feel the frame around you, the intense energy connecting the viewer and the gazed upon. I won’t tell you his name (you don’t deserve to know) but let’s call him X. He had so much power and it vibrated every pore of his being, but almost nobody noticed.
Almost nobody saw how he bent his neck and wrist in precise angles that could only be calculated by intuition, the way he swerved from heel to heel and pivoted in uncanny ways as the gaps between the perfectly toned biceps and abs of the tourists shrank and eclipsed his slender arms. In the sweeping spotlight's reflection off sweaty, shirtless men, X. became a cool breath near everybody’s knees. Almost nobody realized he was there until they became the center of his attention. What happened next was up to him and how he framed the scene, how he cut the clips together, who appeared next to or before someone else. The story of the night was dim as memory vibrating under pulsating lights with a bit too much to drink.
Then again, X. was exactly the type of person I’d notice. Maybe I’ll tell you about how we met another time, if I’m ever in the mood, but now I’ll tell you this: I stood with a speaker blasting Britney Spears into my ear while I sipped a rum and coke and checked my email for the first time in weeks. There, almost unnoticeable under piles of spam was the message from your wife’s father’s company’s lawyer, who last time I checked was under your purview as the President of the firm? I swear I didn’t have a panic attack at the bar. No, I read it calmly before leaving the tab I opened with your Black Amex open for anybody to use. I left X. without telling him where I was going and went back to the condo paid for with another one of your cards, broke every single piece of furniture, tossed each porcelain plate like a frisbee at the granite countertop, cooked a ball of tin foil in the microwave until it shortcircuited. Then I lay on the mattress next to the destroyed headboard and boxspring watching “The Love Witch.”
I’d honestly forgotten all about those tweets after the concerned parties blocked me and wasn’t watching for any reaction, so I truly wasn’t expecting it. I certainly wasn’t mad. I guess talking publicly about what happened did spook the shareholders and cost everyone more money than I’m worth. Whatever, daddy.
I’m writing this to let you know I’m back. You did such a good job of changing the locks to all your properties but you forgot to tell the doorman not to let me in. Oh well. I’ll be squatting across Central Park from you writing these emails until you tell me to stop.
You Adoring Son,
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Daddy Issue 2
Re: Do you even remember?
04 July 2022
Brooklyn Bridge Park
I despise you. I stepped away from our red picnic blanket even though the fireworks are about to start because I had the most annoying memory I needed to tell you about. Do you even remember the last Fourth of July before mom died? I bet you don’t ever think of her at all now that you reinvented yourself. Taylor Swift was playing and the neighbors made a fruit Sangria, back when we lived in a ranch house in Suffolk County, I still went to public school, and you associated with anyone you wanted without the approval of your new wife.
I have watermelon pulp stuck in my teeth. There’s nowhere to be alone amongst the patchworks of different friend groups and their low hum of chatter and laughs; everybody’s clearly having a great time. Me too, which is why I was so startled when “Our Song” came on the speaker – unfortunately, I do have good memories of you but I don’t know what to do with them. Steam hissed off the white concrete of the driveway at the corner, where all the families gathered at dusk. The kids ran with sparklers popping and bursting onto the asphalt and the adults drank and gossiped by the garage door. I preferred to sit on the grass and listen to everything all at once when I was nine years old, always watching although not paying particularly close attention. Ha, people really don’t change.
The first firework just went off from the barge by Brooklyn Bridge but I don’t even care to watch. You came over and let me taste your sangria and gave me a hunk of soaked strawberry from the plastic red cup. Your fingers pinched, dipped just under the purple liquid, and lifted the seedflesh to my puckered lips. First, the texture of the coarse strings of fruit. Then, the sweet. I winced at the bitter edge and mom threw her head backwards as she made that deep laugh that caught in the air and her wavy brown hair. “Don’t give him any more of that!” The light above the garage door clicked on its timer and her pale face glowed. I laid back in the grass and closed my eyes.
I keep looking up at the sky: I lied. I do want to watch the bursts. I’m glad I’m by myself again, I really am. Being with people is too difficult to navigate. Is that how you feel, too? It makes me sad that I know almost nothing about you, really. Are you watching the fireworks with your new family? You’re probably not even in the city this weekend, having escaped to the house in the Hamptons or maybe even down to the Shore. I imagine you, your wife, and your child are watching the same fiery show as me, even though I know you’re not. Are you thinking about me at all? I hope your phone lights up with an instant notification when I send this and it ruins your night.
That’s all for now because the show is starting to speed up, each spark reflecting off the water and the faces of the crowd. I don’t only think bad things. I do remember when things were alright. Do you? I’m going back to my friends. I'll hit send just in time for the finale.
Go to Hell,
Daddy Issue 3
Re: I’m outside your building
10 July 2022
Upper East Side
If a stirring on the street outside caused you to rise from bed, look down from your window at precisely 1:36 this morning, squint at the guy standing under the streetlight typing furiously into his phone – that was me, of course. Wipe your blurry eyes, half-lidded sleep. I could scream your name. I imagine the violence of my noise rising far above my head, seeping through the window you always keep cracked when you sleep in the summer (what a waste of air conditioning just for that bit of ambient city noise) but of course I know anything that comes out of my mouth could never carry.
“Daddy, look at me!” I type here instead. “Check your email!” Ha. Since you haven’t answered I still can’t be sure you’re even reading these. I didn’t want to come here, but I was on the way home from the bar, scrolling through Instagram, and thinking about the guy I was just playing pool with when muscle memory took over until I was standing on the sidewalk next to this building that I no longer live in.
I was sitting at the bar sipping a PBR and scowling until I caught his eye, nodded towards to table. “Wanna play?” He was about your age but much worse for the wear, thick cheeks and a coarse face under his receding hairline. When he smiled the tongue stuck out pink a bit more than was natural. He looked out of place but I wanted to devour him. Does my hunger make you uncomfortable, Dad? My voice and attention startled his jaw into a slight twitch as he looked in my direction with a soft glint in his clouded eyes.
“Can’t. I’m here with my son.” There were a couple of guys about ten years older than me sitting in suede loafers and polo shirts ignoring the guy, and neither of them bore a family resemblance to him. I shrugged, left my barstool, and started racking the balls. See, this is the most important moment if you’re luring someone in at the bar. You pretend to be unbothered as you carefully place the 8-ball directly in the front point of the triangle. Any man who plays pool will never be able to resist correcting such a flagrant display of inadequacy.
Yes, Dad, I did pay attention when you taught me. I just pretended not to remember so you could teach me again every time. Then, two solids in a row. Remember when you taught me the exact way to hold the cue, how to bend at the hip and line up the shot, hold my breath for a second too long and then empty? Three stripes. That breathless lingering when you straighten and let the body tell you what to do: Impact. Before I could finish my little performance of blatant ignorance, this man abandoned his own son to play pool with me. You taught me the ideal number of inches in a follow-through. I let him show me every single one of his tricks and guess what? He was so much better at pool than you ever were. I made him so happy.
I hope something woke you up in the middle of the night just in time to look down and see me doing absolutely fine without you.
Daddy Issues is an ongoing series. Read Daddy Issue 4 on Vocal Media.
Joe (ze/zir) is a queer multimodal artist and writer who works in Seattle and writes love poems. Ze is one half of the art and poetry collective Eat Yr Manhood and head curator of Stone Pacific Zine. Zir work has been published in The Rumpus, Occulum, Peach Mag, Yes Poetry, and others.