03-28-2012 02:54 PM
As she promised, mom came back the next morning. She had a stack of folded up boxes in her trunk that she used to package her stuff and carry it out to her car. I stood at the doorway of my bedroom, watching her move from room to room, collecting anything she might need, or anything that specifically belonged to her. There was a small paper heart that leaned against the windowsill in my parent’s bedroom. I’d made it for her when I just started kindergarten. I noticed she didn’t take it. She took things from all around it, but as much as she could, she avoided it. Like it was a disease, an infection that she could catch.
Once her car was packed, and everything she wanted to take with her to her new life, her new home, was taped up and ready to go, she came back inside the house. She climbed the stairs slowly, until she twisted her head around, and our eyes met. We both had the same bright, emerald green color. Hers looked like they conveyed an apology, I expected mine looked distant and dead. She came closer, until she stood only a few feet away from me. She smiled, but it seemed fake. Painted on like a work of art, something to glance at and admire, but nothing of any real substance.
“I guess this is it.”
She spoke softly, so my dad wouldn’t overhear. I hadn’t seen him that morning, he was probably passed out on the couch, recovering from a bad hangover. He was never around when I needed him. I’d had given anything to have him by him side, so that I didn’t have to face mom alone. I felt naked, alone, like she was a creature from some faraway planet to study me, or to abduct me. The situation seemed…alien
That was the one word that I spat from my mouth. It’d taken me a few moments to get the courage to even say it. But by the time it reached my mouth it was more like a whimper, said out of desperation, to prevent her from walking out on us, even if it was only for a little longer. She crossed her arms over her chest. I did the same.
“Look, I know you’re probably angry, confused, but…this is….right. It may not look like that now, but you’ll come to realize that this was better than the alternative. Better than staying…here. I’ll miss you Grace, but I can’t…remain here, not without…”
She trailed off, unable to find the right words to tell me how she feels. I wasn’t sure if I preferred that or not. I chose not to speak, to make it harder on her than it was already. It was the least she deserved after coming to this decision.
“I’m…I love you kiddo. Take care.”
She ruffled my hair and went back downstairs. She muttered a few comments towards dad and then got in her car and drove off. That was the last time I saw her, I knew she wasn’t coming back, she wasn’t turning around. I accepted this was it. She was done…with us. With me. She never called. Not once.
That was four years ago. I was seventeen now, and I still couldn’t begin to forgive her for what she’d done. After that, dad reaffirmed his drinking habits. He got worse, much worse. I had to step up to the plate and take on the responsibility of taking care of dad. What that meant was making sure he got the garbage can or the kitchen sink before we saw the return of the alcohol he had consumed.
That was why I was lying in my bed that night, counting the number of times my heart beat per minute. I was waiting for dad to come back from the bar, so I could help him. I hated seeing him like that, when he came home drunk and staggering. But I was all he had now, and I wasn’t going to desert him. Not like mom. I would never be like her.
The car pulled into the driveway, followed by the slow cut of the engine. Footsteps on the porch and the steady rattle of the doorknob. I slipped out from under my covers and cautiously made my way to the living room. Dad was standing at the television, running his finger across the remote to find the power switch. It hadn’t worked in years; if he was sober he would know that.
“Dad, it’s me, Grace.”
His shoulders tensed, so I must have startled him. He turned towards me, raising his fists in a fighter’s stance. It would take him a little while to recognize me, as the alcohol clouded his judgment and set his mind on edge. It affected him differently than other people. When somebody is drunk, it is normal for them to develop a friendly behavior, but every now and then you have someone who instead becomes more agitated. They believe that everyone is their enemy. So far dad had always snapped out of it and realized I was his daughter before it was too late. But tonight….tonight was taking a bit longer than usual.
“Who are you and what are you doing in my house?”
“I…it’s me dad, Grace. Your daughter, remember?”
He cocked his head to the side. “Grace?”
I nodded. “Yeah, it’s me.”
I flicked on the overhead lights, so I could see how bad the damage was. It wasn’t good. He had blood running down his face, pouring from the cut on his forehead. I had no idea how long it had been there, or why it hadn’t stopped bleeding. I took him by the hand and led him over to his favorite chair, where he toppled into it. I used a damp cloth from under the sink to clean the blood. I needed to grab the bandages, which we stored under the bed in dad’s bedroom.
The room was spotless. The bed was perfectly made. The rug didn’t have a scrap of dirt or dust, and even the mirror was clear. Dad slept on the couch downstairs, and his clothes, both for work and casual were in a suitcase, sitting just beneath the dining room table. He didn’t sleep here, and he probably hadn’t even set foot in here for months, maybe longer. I dug under the bed until I found what I was looking for; an old shoebox that we used for our medicine cabinet, since the bathroom was off limits.
There was a mess of bandages inside, ranging from the ordinary grade to ridiculously large, almost comical ones. I took a large one and sifted the rest to the side in anticipation for the Neosporin, which was typically hiding in the middle layer of supplies. Instead, what I found was a small glass picture of the three of us, my parents and me at the family reunion, smiling and carefree. Mom had been fond of over the counter teeth whitening kits, so her teeth gleamed with an unnatural pallor. I was laughing, leaning my back against a small willow tree. Dad had both his arms wrapped around us, symbolizing the shield of protection he had promised we would have as long as he was alive. He was corny like that.
I can’t remember the last time I had smiled, the last time I had even been happy. To see my mother, the woman who had torn this family apart and forced dad to become an even worse alcoholic, it was too much. I hurled the frame and its paper residents out the window. The glass shattered into a million tiny shards, catching the moonlight so that they glittered like stars on the grass. I shoved the shoebox back under the bed, and left the room with haste. I could not be out of there fast enough.
Dad was holding the cloth to his forehead when I got back. His eyes weren’t as glazed as before, so he must have been coming down off his high. I took it from him and dampened it again, and rubbed in some soap. I did my best to clean the cut, so that it wouldn’t get infected. We couldn’t afford that. I’d just got a job at Shoppe Rite, the gas station convenience store. It was close enough that I could ride my bike their and back, but it only paid minimum wage. Fortunately I got a full time position, working the night shift. I made barely enough to pay the bills and put food on the table, as dad still wasn’t looking for a job even after four years since his father died. I doubt anyone would want to hire him anyway. I wouldn’t put it past him to show up to his interview half in the bag.
As I applied the bandage to his wound, I wondered how he had even got it in the first place. Had he cut it by accident? Maybe on the drive home somehow? It wasn’t like him to start fights, though I suppose when he’s drunk, that could change drastically. It was in my nature to investigate, to make sure this didn’t happen twice.
“Dad, how did you get this?”
His answer was brief, and he didn’t look at me when he said it. Johnny had been one of dad’s old friends, and also one of his enemies. They met in high school and hit it off immediately, and in those thirty years they stayed in touch and still hung out on occasions. Problem was, they both fell in love with the same girl in college. Mom. When dad won out against Johnny, fair and square, he loathed dad. Of course, I think he only remained friends with him because that way he still saw mom sometimes, when he came over to watch a football game with dad. After mom left, the friendship dwindled.
“What happened? Did you fight him?”
My voice betrayed me. I was sure he heard the whimper in it. He wasn’t emotionally stable; this wasn’t good for him, to have a fight with ex best friend.
“Had to, he started speakin’ trash about me. Sayin’ how I was no good for your mother and it was the best decision she ever made leavin’ me. What was I supposed to do, throw him a tea party?”
“You could have left dad, or just ignored him.”
He shook his head. “I won’t run from a fight, it wouldn’t be right.”
My dad was stubborn as a brick. “It wasn’t right to fight him. Your body can’t take the beating, not in your condition.”
He grumbled under his breath and sprawled out on the couch. He was asleep almost instantly. Before I went to bed, I glanced out the window again. The glass was still there, lying on our thick, bushy lawn. I thought about what I would have been like if things were different, if mom had stayed. Would it be better, or worse? I couldn’t see it being much worse than it was already. I was used to the way it was, the way it had to be. Four years was a long time.
But not long enough to forget.