I thought I made those lips. You small and new to my arms. “She has your nose” everyone saying to your mother, and to me, “those lips. Those lips.” I thought I made those lips and the way they’d break your face free as you grew and gurgled and the laughs would spill out. You’d toddle around the yard and a tiny life found its footing. I found myself in a story, a dad. A daddy. And later those lips puckered as you worked your way through firsts: homeworks and backpacks and slumber parties and that first cell phone — for our benefit, so you would call and tell us where you were. You nodded and tried not to smile. And that pout, a little later. The years forming your face so the nose and lips of your parents came second to that pronounced brow and head tilt that seemed to say all the other parents in the world understood you better.
I thought I made those lips. Thought somehow we built you. Your mom warming and feeding you while you were inside her. The way we thought the music she’d listened to reached you, made you into something. And later when you were born of her, I was there holding you all the time and at all the ages and working my arms larger and stronger as you got heavier and squirmed. “Dad,” you’d say and inch yourself away from me, across from me all brow and head.
Your body turned away from me now. Your arms working like steel. Steel arms over a conveyer belt. Shirt. Shoes. Jeans. You shove the underwear and bras down into the corner of your bag quickly, begging me not to see. Your mother says you are old enough to decide for yourself. Says you have kept all the things we’ve told you inside you. She says you are your own and this I know. I know it like reading instructions in my head. The numbered steps and parenthetical notes and italics. It says you are your own.
But everywhere else, the way the room vibrates and each item in it speaks back to me of a certain time and a certain place and me always being there, helping you up and around and over. And the clothes and toys and gadgets as if I had hand-picked them though you’d never let me do such a thing. These things of you are all part of me, made of me. And this spell says it’s my money and my house and my rules and your world is in mine and when you turn around, bag on your shoulder, hand on hip and I see those lips, pulled taut as if to squeeze me out of them — “You have my lips!” I yell, because we made you and held you once, so small and new to this world. I held you and my only thought was to keep you alive.
Natanya Ann Pulley is half-Navajo, born to the Kiiyaa’aanii (Towering House) clan. She is currently working on her PhD in Fiction Writing at the University of Utah where she teaches Fiction Writing. She is the Assistant Editor of Quarterly West. She is the winner of the 2009 Utah Writer’s Contest for her story “With Teeth,” which included publication in Western Humanities Review. Her nonfiction prose piece “The Way of Wounds” will appear in The Florida Review’s Summer 2010 issue.