The Only Living Girl in a Rock Opera: Revisited
An essay, five years later.
Normally, Eternally Online centers around the internet and its social culture, but today I wanted to dive back into a topic that’s orbited my life for many years: my father.
The original essay was published in Luna Luna Magazine in 2017. I’ve made slight edits and reflections since then.
It’s November 2012, and I’m standing three rows away from Roger Daltrey. He’s gotten old, yeah, and he attempts to swing the microphone cord while singing. It doesn’t quite work out, but he’s belting out his song while Pete Townshend plays the guitar, steady and wild. Pete does his trademark windmill and the crowd absolutely loses it. The stage lights look like rain drops. The band is playing "Love, Reign o’er Me", each drum beat cascading across the concert arena. Above the band, a grainy image of deceased bandmate John Entwhistle appears. John fades into a foggy vision of Keith Moon. I turn to my father, but he can’t hear me say "thank you". It’s not the first time, and it’ll be the last time.
It’s November 2012, and my father and I are in Greensboro, North Carolina to see The Who’s Quadrophenia tour. I’d never been to a real rock concert before, and my father bought tickets as a late birthday present. It wasn’t actually a gift because I had to pay him back. That is how he’s always been. After the concert, he buys me one black band t-shirt and steals a gray one when the cashier isn’t looking. I never tell anyone what he did. He drives us back to Virginia in the dark, our new t-shirts tightly wound like ancient scrolls in our laps. I was happy. A month later, my father left.
My father likes classic rock, but it'd be more accurate to say that he often listens to classic rock. I hesitate to say like because he's never really enjoyed anything: my mother, my accomplishments, his life. He just hid in the garage, tinkering with his sports car and going to regional car races every other weekend. Every year since his departure I go through a rolodex of personality disorders to assign him, but one label always sticks: father.
My father listens to classic rock, and because of this I grew up listening to albums such as Who’s Next, Led Zeppelin IV, A Day at the Races. As a kid, I would impress my father’s sports car friends with my knowledge of Eric Clapton’s entire discography. How different I was from the other little girls my father’s friends had. I’d steal my dad’s burned CDs only to return them when he asked me where they were. He had terrible handwriting, has terrible handwriting on the checks he mails me. I remember the slick feel of his CDs under my fingertips when I would change them in his car’s CD player. It’s a good touch that will stay with me forever. Now when I’m driving by myself in the dark, I don’t hear the scratches and skips of a CD player. I only listen to music I never touch.
I once told a guy I was interested in that I loved rock operas. Okay, I said something along the lines of I like rock operas because they are the only positive connection I have to my father, the literal last good thing before his leaving. He stopped talking to me shortly after. I really do love rock operas, even though the songs are about men singing about how alone they are. It’s not exactly an original concept, but something about that 60s and 70s loneliness spoke to me as a frustrated teen on the verge of adulthood. I still can’t help but slip into the blue jeans of Tommy or become the unconscious Pink in his chair. My self fractured like Jimmy’s conflicting identities. I don’t know where I’ll be by the final song, my mouth open when the outro wanes into the black.
My father does not hurt with his hands. He builds. He built the wall years before I was even a thought. Now the wall has entombed me and I am in constant fear of being exposed before my peers and loved ones.
I think about how masculine and dysfunctional the men in Tommy, The Wall, and Quadrophenia are. These rock opera fathers, friends, and authority figures are an assemblage of unforgiving and manipulative. I think about how dysfunctional and masculine my father is. All the real men in my life. They may not be mods, Cousin Kevin, or Pink’s dead father, but they’re all pieces of those men. I’ve known the Ace-Faces who never grow up. The doctors who aren’t real doctors. The male friends who used me to scaffold their ego. I remind myself I am no longer pretending to be deaf, dumb, or blind. That I am in therapy, have been in therapy for four years and counting. And yet I believed myself incapable of being seen or loved, as if I myself was a rock opera character. It took me years to find a man who loved me not as a crumbling idol but a fully realized woman.
But all the healthy relationships or talking in rooms can’t cure emotional starvation. I still compartmentalize and overthink things. I am creating hundreds of scenarios in my head every day. I myself am quadrophenic: one Hannah charms people to get by. A second Hannah wistfully looks up at the ceiling while the third Hannah looks up at that same ceiling and imagines it crashing down. The last Hannah stays as close to the door as possible. I don't know if it's a reaction to being the product of a truly incompatible partnership, or an entirely separate defense mechanism for dealing with people. I'm afraid to understand this.
Someone once asked me if I have "daddy issues". I hate that question. I am a woman who writes about my father. You never ask men this. Pink, Jimmy, Tommy can’t have daddy issues because they’re fictional. Those men will never be fathers. My father thought he would never be a daddy, but he’s real so he became one anyway.
Unlike the fathers in most rock operas, mine is not dead. No, he’s very alive and living three and a half hours from me. I do have lunch with him out of heartburn-causing obligation, but I never let him eat my remaining french fries. One day I will ask if he’s broken any more homes up lately. He’s already taken too much from me.
I want to remember the good nights with my father. So I make up the good nights I don’t remember. The nights where I’m a teenager again, with my curly hair and too-tight black jeans. I make up the nights where I’m in the passenger seat of my father’s Jetta. He’s driving on a dark highway as we’re returning from somewhere unimportant. It’d be a great scene in my own rock opera—instrumental opening, slow build, the meshing harmonies, the lyrics sharp and poignant. I’d hear my father’s heartbeat in the echoes of the guitar. I’d know he was there.
In another universe, my father and I are coming home from the concert, and he still leaves.