I promised myself I was done writing about my father. What feels like a lifetime ago, I took my first Creative Writing class to satisfy an elective for a Masters in education. Nearly all my stories were about a young girl who happened to be around whatever age I was then, explicitly trying to deal with the death of her father. There was no subtext. My characters spent time in dusty attics looking for her dead father’s journal. Or she went on a transatlantic cruise and ran into her estranged half-brother, finding her father in his hairline, in his chin. Or she was a girl writing a song for her musician father.
I thought I had gotten him out of my system. I remember promising myself my stories wouldn’t be about him anymore; this was before, when I thought I had a choice about what my bones wanted me to write.
The stories I submitted in my application to the MFA Fiction program didn’t have any fathers. Ha! I was rehabilitated.
In the first workshop story I submitted, I wrote about mangoes. About the Philippines. About family. I did not – I thought – write about my father.
I am proud of what I wrote, and the process of writing that story felt just as feverish as the main character’s feverish consumption of giant, mutant mangoes. (You cannot get them here in Colorado or anywhere in the US, so I won’t tell you about them.)
The writers I’m with in the program are talented, generous, brilliant. They are noticers, astute and keen on meaning. They are writers, after all. They encouraged me and celebrated my first story in the program. They also astutely, correctly, insightfully identified a force in the narrative that I kept from them, something at the heart of the story that for some reason didn’t appear in it – a suspicious absence in a piece that was otherwise saturated with imagery. Trees with no forest.
They prodded my prose – Something’s behind the mangoes that the narrator’s not telling us. We wish we knew more.
A line in that story read: “I feared she would start talking to me about my father, about the past. A familiar hardness began to rise up in me.”
That was the closest I got to the truth. Barely glancing it, then swerving.
Even after the workshop, when I walked away with plenty to think about in terms of craft and revision, I never thought to concede the truth, to reveal myself.
The truth, when I finally admitted it a few days later, was that my father loved mangoes. He died when I was 14, and back then I must have thought if I ate mangoes I could consume, ingest, make up for all the moments we would never have. He loved mangoes. I loved mangoes. Eating a mango was like communion, experiencing so fully something he loved, our experiences only separated by time and space. It was the song I played over and over and over again. Feverish consumption. Dorothy, I said to myself, not without compassion- you forgot what the story was really about.
I’m not quite done writing about my father. Maybe I never will be. I know, the way that deep hope becomes knowing, that I’ll never be done writing.
My father is written on me. So is my mother. (Another essay, maybe.) So are my ancestors and our languages. So is The Philippines.
I will write about the things that are written on me. This is how I’ll make my way home.
Dorothy Angle is a first-year writer in the fiction program. She was born in The Philippines. She grew up in Bacolod City and in Los Angeles, California. She lives with her husband, daughter, and boxer/lab mix in Fort Collins. They love it here, and they share this love in the same time and space. They are lucky.