You have robbed me of my innocence, my youth, and my laughter. Although I maintain some sort of child-like quality, you have taken my life and stomped it out and now I’m just a walking corpse.
You do not know I have a daughter. Full of innocence and charm.
Another Father’s Day has come and gone, thank God. And to think I almost called you. A brief crazy moment when I spotted your number in an old address book written in black marker as if to match your personality, dark and soulless.
I lay in bed and toss and turn. Sleeping too much, too little. Insomnia, mental illness, and depression are my comrades now, dark friends to accommodate heavy memories.
People say forgive and forget, move on, get over it, etc. But how you do move on from the war inside you when you’ve had years of therapy and you’re only worse?
My mom still ignores my pain and looks to others for expert advice on me when I am the best expert on myself though the government disagrees.
It is a double-edged sword, this insanity. Social Security has blessed me with a reward although the only fix can see that would take away this awful pain would be to come back in another life with good parents.
My sister is the family success and I’m the family fuck-up. Although I’m smart, they say, anyway, creative, and resourceful. I am a bitter survivor who has not won this war, this battle with others and me.
I often think if I could just go back to that decrepit by now house, I’m sure, if I could just go through those rooms in person instead of in sleepless nights, that I could resolve something or other much like my sister supposedly did years ago.
A new family lives there now and many have come before them. Did they abuse or neglect their kids or were they great parents? Did they have daughters so different, so opposite as if to scream, “See me! Notice me! Love me!” or did their family fit in to a society that sheds no tears?
How many people walked down that steep driveway, the one I used to skate on with my outdoor skates?
How many kids gave up “Mother May I?” and “One Two Three Red Light” to sit at a computer and shield the sun?
What’s there now where Mom’s rose bushes used to be? The ones I posed in front of with a fake smile for dad’s camera?
Is that old garage still donning a large Santa decoration at Christmas or is this family Jewish like the ones down the street I used to be scared of?
Does a latchkey kid sit on the porch like me, so many afternoons when I forgot my key? Or does someone greet her with cookies and milk and hear all about her day?
Has the window unit a/c been replaced with modern central air that doesn’t drown out sounds of fireworks and crickets that used to stream through bedroom windows on hot summer nights when my dad would greet me half naked?
Have those old windows been replaced with storm windows protecting the family from cold fall nights in Georgia?
And do the neighbors know each other like in the 70s when we lived there? Or do they not even know each other’s names and hurry about their day?
Is the doorbell that old-fashioned kind still or has it been replaced with modern chimes, the sounds I love now?
I bet that old blue shag carpet has been replaced again like when my sister visited there, convincing a family of strangers to let her in to see her old home just for old time’s sake.
Do the school pictures hang on the walls in the living room still, full of painted smiles hiding levels of pain that no teacher ever picked up on amidst Tupperware parties and PTA meetings?
What’s sitting where my dad’s old green recliner was, the one where I lost my library book inside and had to pay a steep fee?
Did a kid unwrap a Christmas present hidden in the living room closet then hastily try to rewrap it in a sloppy seven-year-old way only to be busted later?
What kind of furniture has replaced that 70s motif, the flowered couch where my sister and I used to huddle, giggling, telling stories, and her quieting me?
What kid plays there now where I used to sit and play Barbies only to be told by Mom to clean up and put up?
I bet a big-screen TV. may have replaced that old floor model we used to watch “Gilligan’s Island” and “The Carol Burnett Show” on and a Christmas tree is probably put in the same place, by the big living room window for all to see and marvel.
Does this family have knick-knacks collecting dust after a divorce like when Mom left Dad for another man in ’75?’ Or is there a 21st Century wife living there now who makes everything shiny and new, including her kids’ pain, wiping away their tears instead of leaving them?
In the kitchen is the floor still tiled or has it been carpeted in Feng Shui fashion? I wonder if this family has ever used an electric griddle to make pancakes and sausage at the kitchen table on a Sunday morning before going to church on that rare occasion.
I bet those paneled walls are now a friendly light color and the curtains aren’t those frilly ones but are a streamlined rarity. Does that boring old brown fridge sit in a junkyard now, to be replaced by one with an outside ice maker and frostless feature? Do those kids have to wash the dishes anyway even if a new dishwasher was installed?
Is the stove and oven still gas or has it been upgraded to meet the needs of the new millennium? Where that rotary phone hung I bet is a nice push button cordless phone enabling a busy mom to walk around the house, multi-tasking and checking on her kids.
Has that ugly wallpaper been replaced by cheery colors, inviting all to enter to relax and have fun?
And does this family bring their lunch or do they splurge at Chick-Fil-A?
In the garage used to sit an old yellow Impala, dad’s car that looked lived-in at best, where he’d smoke like a chimney, roaring down the road and I had to hang my head out to breathe.
The banging of that old washing machine, the one I used to sit on to wait to be let in, burning up in the spring, freezing in the fall.
That attic where Dad used to pass decorations down to Mom at Christmas as he stood precariously on a ladder and we all watched with anticipation to see what fresh treasure would make its way down to us in a parade of colors.
On that little patio outside Mom used to sun herself and Dad used to grill. Steaks and baked potatoes made on Saturday nights when many windows would sometimes be open
and a breeze might blow through.
I like to tell myself that it wasn’t all bad and it wasn’t. With my sister as my comrade things could be more than just bearable.
In the backyard does a mom garden while the kids play on a swing set and one in the sandbox? There was us sliding down a slide into a kiddy pool of water with glee only to run back up the ladder to do it all again while two neighbor kids looked on and ran to ask their mom if they could join us.
Down the hallway toward the bedrooms back inside the house was the sound of my dad’s slippers shushing across the floor as my sister and I would often lay in our beds in anticipation as to what was to come, what mood he was in, what was he going to do or say.
My oldest sister giving me “luxury baths” before fleeing for another home at 16, escaping my dad’s final plans.
Who sits in that big bedroom now, the largest one in the house where two of my sisters shared beds and stories, where one of my sisters would talk on their new phone till all hours of the night till my mom would shush her?
And in my parents’ room the smell of Hai Karate and various perfumes giving way to Pine Sol when my mom would clean while Dad worked.
Dad, who has four daughters who don’t talk to him now. No one calls him on birthdays, holidays, or Father’s Days because of his crimes against our humanity, against our childhoods. Dad who used to be handsome, thin, successful, a military man, computer genius, creative oddity, now on his third marriage discovering how technology has changed without him.
Closet overflowing with sheets and towels, flung open when I’d wet my bed in the middle of the night as my parents would wake me up and I stood watching them change my bed.
My room transformed from a shared room with my sister amidst family secrets and bedtime stories between us, to a pink canopy parade of colors, then finally to a black light room complete with velvet posters, beads, and beanbag, only to be intruded upon by him once again as he’d utter, “Can I sit on your bed?” and “Can I lay down with you?”
My last room that was truly my own identity, my own personality, my own fixture from my childhood years. My last hurrah, last hope for a respite from his disease of insanity now still alive and well.
Lastly was the basement, that dark spooky place which in the daytime became a skating rink for us kids who rode bikes, played, and watched my sister teach arts and crafts to neighborhood kids while some nights we’d perform skits for my parents in the “C and T” and the “C, T, and R” show when we included her best friend.
Then transformed again on the weekends to an adult night club as dad would bring the stereo down and set up with bowls of Bugles, pretzels, crackers and cheese, testing the speakers, stringing up lights, moving furniture, and vacuuming.
It soon became a different place, an adult place, a forbidden place like my dad’s workshop where he was always on “the next big patent,” the “next big invention,” the “next big thing” as drills would buzz and saws would slide across various pieces of who knows what and soon dust would settle upon his works – especially after the separation.
I say goodbye to the drive now, in my mind anyway but not in my heart.
If only I could sweep away the bad and keep the good.
It’s 4 a.m. and I can’t sleep because I’m thinking about age, memories, nightmares, and him. He’ll die one day and then will he see the souls he has created with his own tragedy?
My little girl will be 4 soon and he doesn’t know she exists. It’s best that way for she will never know the poison that is him.
I love him and hate him for he is my dad who lives and breathe in my heart and my soul, expressing him in my dreams and in my addictions.
Everyone has a memory, maybe a person they do not call. Society wants us to be kind, shake hands, and “move on.”
But I cannot move on from myself and I cannot move on from the effects of a war. I cannot “keep my chin up” as Mom used to hammer me with. I cannot “cheer up” and let go of what I have become because every day is a reminder, every illness a footprint of him, of what you is left on my heart, on my brain and I don’t know how to fix it.
No therapist, no God, no money, no love has ever been able to so far.
But when I look in my child’s eyes I see that all along it was never me and never will be. I am innocent and still am. When I look into McKenna’s face I see what I could’ve been, what I would’ve been if only I’d been left alone.
The sadness is unbearable. It makes me want to die.
But now I have to stick around for my sister who fights for me still, for my daughter who I have to see grow up.
I have to see what happens next, good or bad, different or not.
I know I have given her a fresh start, one that does not include him. I know she has a chance, the one I never had for
I see her laugh, smile and be normal, all the things I never got to be. I see there is hope in her that never dies completely, just gets put on hold sometimes.
My tears I shed for me, for my sisters, others just like me, for my ex-husband, for all the people I put through so much because of my own damage.
But my little girl will never know this pain for she has been given good parents, ones who build her self-esteem, do not tear her down or damage her. She is free to laugh and love and she is unscarred when by the time I was her age it was already too late. My destiny was set, I could not break free. My future was mapped out by an adult who held all the cards.
Now I take medication to function in the day, attend meetings, pray, and write. Now I hang pictures of my little girl, the one who has a brighter life.
What she can become will not be dictated by a sickness of a father, a man who could be good or bad depending on the day but a man who will not change for us, for no one, or even himself.
I carry his burden on my shoulders removing myself from my daughter’s life to not harm her or get in her way.
And in her growing up there won’t be traces of him. She will pick someone to love who will treat her right and who she will treat with kindness.
She will be a walking testimony to the possibility of hope and what that hope can do.