WHEN I FIRST MOVED BACK TO VILJANDI after the split, I took a one-bedroom apartment in the Old Town. Then my second-eldest daughter decided to come and live with me. She slept in the bedroom and I slept on a pull-out couch. She was only nine years old at the time and still deep in her childhood. She would spend hours playing with toys. Later, she would go to take a shower and think nothing of me being there as I made food in the kitchen or did the laundry. One day though something unusual happened.
She asked me to leave.
There is a kind of door that exists between fathers and daughters. When girls are young, the door is wide open. They come and go and the fathers come through the doorway and think nothing of it. There are no boundaries, no borders, and everything is open and fluid. As time goes on though, as the children grow, that invisible door starts to close, bit by bit, until one day it’s shut tight. Now the girls only come out to ask for some pocket money for ice cream, or if you can drive them to a friend’s house. Fathers never notice this until they reach for their daughters, only to notice that the door is shut. It’s not a depressing moment, only a bewilderment. It’s confusing. The door used to be open.
Now it’s closed.
Living alone with one daughter though, I was subject to some new requests, ones that most fathers are perhaps not so familiar with. One day she asked if I could buy her a new bra, which I set out to do one evening at the local shopping center. I knew there was a lingerie store there, one that I had noticed many times because of the posters of half-naked women posing in various states of excitement in the display window. As you know, any man who stumbles into a lady’s lingerie store is immediately suspect. The seller looks you up and down. Who is this strange man fingering lacy brassieres?
I thought it would be easy. I buy shirts for my daughter all the time. I buy her pants, socks, shoes. With clothes, you can buy small, medium, large or, sometimes, according to age. Shirts for ages 10, 11, or 12, for instance. Here in the lingerie store, though, the bras had all kinds of interesting numbers. 65B, 70C, 75B? These are like apartment building addresses, not women’s bra sizes. At last, the seller came to help me. I told her my story.
“But don’t you have anything for an 11 year old?” I said.
“I am afraid it doesn’t work that way. You will have to measure her.”
“Or she’ll have to come here by herself.”
I forget how this particular situation was resolved, but I think her mother bought her everything she needed a week or so later. Still, every time I walk past that lingerie store I feel that something’s not right. It’s a place where I know nothing, a reality to which I do not belong. It’s an outpost of the secret feminine world, a door to their dimension. Sometimes my daughters come through. They come and act like everything is as it once was. After some time, they disappear behind the door and return to the other side.
This column appears in the autumn edition of the magazine Hingele Pai.