That was it. I had had it. I knew I could not suffer this from him one more time. In the past, I just wouldn’t say anything. I would pretend like it didn’t happen. I received everything from him, you see: twelve years of prep school, two cars, four years at the third most expensive school in the States, an apartment on the Square, and an extra year in Europe just because I needed it. I knew he would pay for my master’s degree in England too, despite the pound’s weight against the dollar. He gave me everything. But much like my mother, I had had it.
Of course, I did not believe my mother’s accusations, though this little voyage through the Cyclades had made very evident how insufferable he could be. But my father would never hit anyone, and I had always known my mother was a liar deep down. She just wanted more of his money. She was the only one who ever beat me.
I stormed out of our cabin, thinking about what I would say to him once he’d emerged from that little closet. I did not want to be there when it happened. My aversion at the act and its residue outweighed my desire to address the issue ASAP. I would return in twenty minutes when I could breathe easy again.
I circled the deck over and over. The coast of Crete rested in the distance, growing a greyer green as the furies flew around my head. I thought, “these filthy Greeks wouldn’t tolerate this.” And they were filthy, no doubt. No deodorant, chain smoking cheap Ukrainian tobacco, unshaven, wearing their awful big, plastic sunglasses. None of them could read Plato in the Greek. How can they live with themselves? How could Dad live with himself?
But I was just as confused as I was disgusted. Alton, Cathy, and I had grown up in an exceptionally uncomfortable home. Not that any of us knew it. We all thought our experience was normal, that all college educated people ought to act in certain ways and that the less privileged did not know better. After all, our parents met at Yale Law, and they gave us each our own trust. But we could be, and were, criticized if we ever fell short of the standard we held for others. Dr. Herman once said we sounded like a bunch of hyenas. If we ran across some inadequacy in our own pride, there would be no sympathy, no empathy. We were all the more vicious. Alton never let a mistake of mine go. If I ever had an opinion, I had to watch every word I said about it or he would rip me to shreds. That’s why I’m so quiet.
I wanted most of all to ask Dad why. “Why aren’t you ashamed?” I never ask myself the question since I am ashamed of everything natural I do, naturally. Original sin, according to a few medieval theologians, was passed through Adam’s semen and that is how all humanity suffers from his imperfection. I feel it in me especially. I am not one to cut myself slack. Whenever I finish up after some of this nasty gay porn I love, I pause and ask myself, “What have you done?,” totally devastated and with the longest frown, like a father sobering up after he’s beaten the shit out of the wife and kids. Then I shake my head and it falls heavy on my desk. I’ve heard the same knock from Alton’s room.
Shame compelled Adam and Eve to hide their naked selves. Freud said it is the mark of civilization. Shame, shame, I know its name. It’s all I have. I’d never have worked so hard to to earn the Ivy embrace if I did not feel shame’s perpetual piercing through my spine. I’d never become anything. I’d never be happy.
Enough time had passed. The room would be okay, I sincerely hoped. I was born with the gift of an amazingly acute sense of smell. Now, the gift had become a curse. If I couldn’t smell, I wouldn’t have to let loose on dad like this. I could either cut my nose off or address him, so I went to the cabin and walked into our room, 1307.
As the door opened, I took a reluctant sniff to assess whether I had to breathe through my mouth. It was fine. Dad was lying on his bed, watching a documentary about antique instruments’ affect on the sound of Mozart. He smiled at me. I smiled back… but the door to the WC… ajar, just as I had expected. It was time. Had it still smelled, I would’ve brought the issue up with a frustrated groan. Since it didn’t, I would start with an annoyed question.
“Dad… why do you leave the door open after you’ve used the bathroom?”
He seemed surprised. “Whaaat?” he asked.
“You just leave it open after you’ve used it. I cannot, in a million years, understand why. Why would you do that? Do you want to stink up the air in the rest of the room? Do you want me to know that your shit smells nasty? I would never do that to you, to anybody!” I exclaim with two raised hands as if I’m shaking someone in a stupor. “If I ever have to do that, I specifically go to a public bathroom, in the lobby or something, to do it. I want to be anonymous. But when you do it like this, you really shove it in my face. You know how good my nose is! It’s disgusting. Even more, you leave the door open, which is entirely unnecessary. How aren’t you ashamed? How can you be so comfortable?”
“Max, how can you be so uncomfortable?”
“Whaaat?” I ask.
“Maybe you should give Dr. Herman a call. But I’ll start closing the door from now on.”
* * *
Gordon Max is a Junior in creative writing and Hellenic Studies at Columbia.