You Are Safe | Erica McKeehen

Sunday is full of empty rituals, but now, as a single woman living alone in the big city, mine include drinking endless cups of coffee and succumbing to exhausting bouts of soul searching while fulfilling a variety of standard domestic activities. I’ll do some laundry and wash some dishes and sit in the silence of my third floor apartment and feel no shame. There’s no one to watch over me or out for me. There’s no one to tell me that I’m wrong, that they know better, that I’ve made my choices and now I have to sit with them and wait until everything feels better and different.

When I was younger, my dad always said he had eyes in the back of his head. And I reluctantly believed him. Just like I believed that shaking a gallon of milk before pouring it made it taste better. Just like I believed that Courtney Love killed Kurt Cobain. Just like I believed that brunettes were more attractive than blondes and that a woman’s long, straight hair was her best asset. Just like I believed that mom was never ever right or any fun at all—she was always five fucking hundred million miles away. My dad would sit in front of the TV on Sunday afternoons and loudly support his losing football team while also knowing, without looking, when Shannon and I were acting recklessly on the front porch behind him. Sitting on the wobbly banister or chipping away at the old paint with our fingernails. Or fraternizing with the boys and girls across the street. He didn’t need to see it to know that we were wrong and he was right. When learning that I had concocted an elaborate lie to tell my second grade teacher in order to avoid lunch-time detention, he scolded me quietly, sitting up in his blue recliner, his sad brown eyes fixed in utter disappointment that his perfect straight-A daughter was, in fact, deceptive—an ornery little sneak, just like him. And despite the hours of scrubbing to erase my clumsy mistake, he yelled to the top of his smoke-filled lungs after me when a bottle of my red nail polish spilled over into the cream-colored bath tub at age nine. I should’ve never tried painting my nails in the house because he hated the toxic smell and the idea of me trying to grow up too quickly. He saw behind closed doors and threw tantrums when I started dating boys with long curly rock-and-roll hair. He hated when I wore my dark blue eyeshadow and looked so utterly depressive, whoreish, and typical. He hated when I stopped eating meat, and when I cut my long hair shorter and shorter and totally abandoned my best asset. He fumed and fussed about when I wanted to drive his old car to school for an ounce more of independence. He hated how I stole his old CDs and tucked them away, not so secretly, into my own collection, like an ornery little sneak. He didn’t listen to them anymore and he had too many CDs. He hated that, as I grew older, I always had to be right and fought him to the bloody and bitter end to prove the pettiest points—because he was always right. And he had eyes in the back of his head.

Erica McKeehen is a photographer based in Chicago, IL, where she shoots weddings, portraits and city events. She is from small-town Bucyrus, OH, and she holds a degree in commercial photography from the School of Visual Communication at Ohio University.


Nonfiction for the restless soul. Published online quarterly.

One comment

  1. Knowing the woman who you turned out to be, I can say that all the trials and tribulations (and possible minor chicanery) of youth have somehow left behind only wisdom. Great story, beautiful writing, I’m glad I know you!

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