‘A knot’

My name was Paloma. After the Spanish for dove, I used to think, but that was just the romantic in me. When I found the man who called himself Mike, the man I only knew as ‘your father’, who had dirt-rimmed nails and fished for carp in Massachusetts, he told me it was after a knot, the Palomar, and that bitch gone spelled it wrong, always trying to rile him up some way or other.

I felt an itching at the edges of myself. Was it because I had finally seen the shape of him, this man who had always been invisible to me? The spit, the anger, the disappointing truth of him. Perhaps I felt guilty, thirty years later, for the young lives I had ruined. I’d needed to know? Well, now I did, and all I wanted was to scrub myself clean.

Palomita was what my mama used to call me, because it sounded like the way people talked in the barrios. She didn’t realise it was the word for popcorn. Come to think of it, that’s what I was like, the last few years we were together. A kind of unassuming kernel, either stubbornly closed or exploded into an unrecognisable monstrosity. Nobody knew how to handle me. I held myself at arm’s length too.

When I left Santa Ana, I was sixteen. It was after a row about the ink on my back, or what she thought were cuts, or something like that. I took the Greyhound to Chicago. I waited tables, lived on a vicious sofabed in an illegal sublet. I was just a child, and I melted there, like a snowflake in the rain. Each night I cried myself to sleep I hoped I might disappear, the way bathwater runs down the drain. The next morning I would find myself solid again. Returned to being a thing among things; ready to survive another day.

Suddenly, another sixteen years had gone by, and I was solid enough to ask the question I feared the most to the man who could never speak for himself. In the end, I never needed to say the words. A knot? Is that what I was? I turned to water again.