Like drones, men pour out from government-provided duplexes. Dressed in identical dark blue coveralls and heavy black boots they trudge to work. At three years old I could not distinguish my father from this crowd.
One day a stranger came home for lunch. I thought he was there to fix the electrical or plumbing or make a random repair as countless other men in blue coveralls had before. His 6’1” frame towered against the counter near the sink. He conversed professionally, courteously with my mother while I ate tomato soup at the table.
When finished, I walked toward the visitor to deposit my dirty dishes in the sink. He pressed in on me and requested a hug. No coverall clad man ever asked me for a hug before.
‘No,’ I said, stepping away from the foreigner.
His face melted. The look plastered in his skin reminded me of sad Charlie Chaplain, whom I was familiar with from my favorite children’s program. I felt a twinge of pity for him but still did not want to hug this alien.
‘Oh no. You made him cry,’ Mom said, appealing to that innate sense of compassion all children possess.
I did not want to make anyone cry, not even this intimidating outsider. I walked forward, arms extended. I expected him to lean down and give me a quick hug. Instead, he locked me in a tight embrace, pinning my hands to my side, and picked me up. He planted a wet scratchy kiss on my cheek.
A gritty prickling sensation crept over my skin. Inside, it felt like someone rubbed dirt and coarse gravel all over. My epithelial burned. Cold wet dribble lingered on my face, outlining the spot his lips touched. I shuddered uncontrollably.
When I hit the ground, I dashed to the sink, dropped my bowl and sprinted upstairs to my room, attempting to avoid further unwanted physical interaction with the strange man claiming to be my father.
My dad remembers this incident too. He speaks of it as if my three-year-old self purposefully and maliciously endeavored to wound him. His words seek to punish and shame; instead, they ignite an infestation of hard-shelled scuttling insects beneath my flesh that writhe and tear and sting and repel me from him all over again.