It takes a lot to write a novel but if you’ve followed me on Twitter, you know that I write my own pain into my work. As I said recently, it’s been a long week and you’re getting the darker side of my writing these days. Why? Because this blog sometimes functions as my diary and repository of all my thoughts. Unfortunately for you, its been a tough week. So, enjoy what is probably fiction; maybe its not. Either way, this has rattled around in my brain since Thursday.
A hand stretches out and over it, I see angry eyes, unwilling to turn around.
They fought over his father’s death, a man my father hated for the pain and indifference he inflicted on the family, but it was leveraged to make my mother feel bad. It wasn’t her fault that we missed the funeral; we were out of the country, visiting family in Ireland. But he’s as cruel as his own hated father and uses the funeral as an excuse to manipulate my mother and excuse his own behavior. Their words shake the tiny house, the only one we can afford since it seems beneath him to pay his court-ordered child support. After all, the trip to visit family had been subsidized by her father, so we could finally meet them.
Angry words rattle the windows before he finally storms out. I’m just old enough to know that if I let him go, I’ll never see him again. My slender, childish legs labor to reach the end of the drive before he pulls away and I’m still too late. The last I see of him is his angry eyes in the rearview mirror as I reach for him and fall sobbing to the cracked pavement in front of my home.
Restless teenaged years go by before the Internet grows enough for me to track him down. He lives in Hawaii with his new wife. She’s only seven years older than me. I’m sixteen and horrified. But at my insistence, hopeful for some Hollywood style reunion, he comes to my High School graduation. His new wife draws too many comments and I’m uncomfortably aware of how close in age we are.
When I enter college, I keep him at arm’s length. As I start my career, I push his overtures at reconciliation even further away as every time I try, he’s there for six months at most before he disappears again, leaving me lost and alone. Wondering what I did wrong or why this can’t be like the homey fairy tale media feeds me.
“He’s sick. You have to come,” an email tells me from an unknown sender. A friend of his, who thinks well enough of him and believes the lies he tells. This man thinks I am a soulless woman, uncaring of an ailing father. He doesn’t get to hear my side of things, my years of pain, torment, self-doubt, and quest for validation.
Despite my reservations, I move heaven and earth. Money spent. Time spent. Tears shed into an aging couch that should have been replaced with the money that was spent.
I don’t love him. Love left long ago. But a societally imposed sense of filial duty drives me to action. The wheels start rolling as soon as work is done. A forgettable night in a motel and another six hours of driving brings me to his side.
The sense of dread that has grown over the last twenty-four hours is realized as I walk through the door. Trash, rotting food, and unrecognizable filth fill the tiny apartment. He staggers around, unaware of his surroundings. Blind and unable to smell the pile of soggy Cheerios that makes me gag.
A few carefully posed questions make me think he’s had a stroke or other mental event. Against his protests, we “kidnap” him and take him to the ER. Not the closest, but the one he said takes itinerant people, because he has no insurance and can’t afford the medical bills. He has a home, I’ve bought a small condo for him to live rent-free, but he’s so terrified of declaring bankruptcy for medical bills a second time that he won’t let us take him anywhere else.
Settling him into the hospital bed, I feel as though I’ve done the right thing. He’s safe and settled under medical care that can undoubtedly sort out his myriad issues. But hours go on, he grows cranky and irritable. Words come fast and hard. Hurtful. Cutting in a way only he can slice me. Because his slashing words don’t hit me directly. They’re aimed at my mother, the one adult who loved and cared for me. The bitter words of a life wasted and devoid of love slash at me like a scalpel.
Something in me breaks, cracks, and dies. After thirty years, I break out of the shackles of societal expectation, filial devotion, and unrealized expectations.
“You will not speak of her that way,” I cut off his next round of insults, long memorized and repeated to sympathetic and unknowing friends. “If there is anything in me you like and respect, it comes from her. Not you. She raised me after you left me sobbing in the street. Don’t think I don’t remember,” I whisper harshly. “There is nothing,” I say coldly, “nothing of you in me.”
I rise and turn away. The sound of a hand hitting the hospital bed’s rails rings in the small cubical. The little plastic button that holds the hospital band on clinks against plain metal as I walk out of the room.
A hand stretches out, but I’m too angry and tired to turn around.
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