I don’t know what exactly happened in my parents relationship, I only know the part I could see. I only know of mandatory “family dinners” where the adults in the house didn’t speak to one another, and the only child in the house becoming the intermediary.
Jackie, can you ask your mother to pass the salt?
Jackie, can you give this salt to your father?
I only know these mandatory dinners were only served when everyone finally made it home, which could be late. I know that Dad started working later than ever, and at 15, 9pm seemed quite a ridiculous time to be eating. Especially when dinner had been ready since 7. Always trying to portray a happy, well to do family ~ even when nothing about us was happy. Why bother when no one can see inside our home or our lives? What difference did it make if we all waited until 9 o’clock, when all of us were in the same place, to eat at a table so they could ignore and glare at one another. What is the fucking point?
Ah, middle class white America. Slap a happy face on, smile for the camera, and don’t even start to let that facade slip. Do what’s expected of you, and pretend your life away.
Except when dinner’s over, your mom heads to the “study” and sits in the dark for hours on end. She sits in the dark in the deep blue wing back chair rocking, and rocking, and cutting and cutting. You don’t ever see that though, no, you only see the results of her actions, and the bloody tissues in the waste basket when you take out the trash. and the scars on her arms.
I only know that this kind of pretending insanity can go on for years… and it all seems so overwhelming, and stifling and out of control but completely controlled at the same time. I only know, it would all be better if he just left.
Or so I thought, and like they say, that’s what you get for thinking.
My Dad left on a Saturday. He came with a uhaul trailer, packed his shit and left. I watched from the second story bathroom window, staying quiet, out of site, always watching. As he was packing, and she was crying, and I was watching, I saw the brake let go on the uhaul and the truck go plumeting down the steep driveway and plunge into the bushes.
Finally. I was needed… I was the only one who saw it, and I could be useful.
Not now Jackie, I don’t have time for this right now.
DAD…the uhaul is in the bushes, it just came rolling down the driveway.
He looked at me like I was the crazy one… the uhaul he parked doesn’t just come rolling down the driveway ~ and I’d been busted ~ he knew I’d been watching. Not that he cared. Not that it mattered. But my cover of being a standoffish non caring teen had been broken. Of course I cared… this was the only family I had, and I had no idea how I was going to manage my life, and what was left of my family when he left.
Once everything was packed into the uhaul he took me aside. He knelt down on one knee so his 6 foot 4 body was almost eye level with me and told me he’d be there for me. Even if he didn’t live in the same house anymore, he’d always be there for me, and if I needed anything, he was only a phone call away.
As I look back now, I can’t believe I fell for that line. He’s out of town more days than not, and he had never really “been there” for me, even when we did live in the same house. But as a scared little girl I really needed the reassurance that I wouldn’t be left alone to deal with the madness that was my mother.
While I believed him in that moment, and felt a certain level of relief, it didn’t last long. My mom began to spiral downward. Time spent in the darkness, rocking in that stupid blue chair increased. In fact, when she wasn’t alone in the dark we were fighting. I was pissed I didn’t have a mother, and my guess is she was pissed she didn’t have a husband. Whatever we were angry at we managed to take it out on one another quite well. There were some knock down drag out fights in those days.
One day another fight erupted, over what, I don’t know. I do know I was bawling. She was screaming, goading me, taunting me, and it finally escalated to the point where a large glass ash tray came flying at my head. Luckily I ducked quick enough to not get hit, but that was it. I knew I couldn’t handle this anymore. I needed to get away. I needed to leave, to run, to escape. The only problem with that is, when you’re 15 years old society doesn’t give you much ability to escape your life. I had no license. I had no way to get the hell out of dodge. The only thing I could think of was to call my dad.
I’m sure I taunted her with the fact ~ what I actually said, I don’t remember. I do know I wasn’t kind. The idea that my dad would save me exhilirated me. I also loved the fact that I knew it would hurt her as well.
Daddy, Daddy! She’s trying to kill me. She just threw a glass ash tray at my head. I really need your help. Please, can you come get me? I’ve got to get out of here.
Silence… I mean, you could literally hear the crickets if you listened.
I heard him take a deep breath and then tell me he was sorry. He just couldn’t do that. As my escape hatch closed in around me, and the world began to spin I heard him tell me that what was going on over there was between me and my mom and we’d have to work it out amongst ourselves.
What?! Take care of it myself? I’m only 15 fucking years old?! Of course, that’s what I think now when I look back on that moment. How could that son of a bitch leave me there to deal with the situation all alone… but that’s not what went through my head then. No. At that point I realized the responsibility for everything would rest soley on my shoulders. Raising myself, taking care of my mom, it would all be on me. I was devastated. I hung up the phone in the middle of his sentence. If he couldn’t rescue me I didn’t really care what he had to say.
I remember standing outside on the front patio as I hung up the phone. I fell to the ground, put my head in my hands and just cried and cried. The weight of this realization nearly crushed me.
As my heart broke and my relationship with my father ended in my mind, my mom came over. Her first words were, of course, I told you so. She knew him, she knew he would never come to get me. She was right… but she really didn’t need to rub it in. As I looked up at her red eyed and broken something changed in her. She sat down next to me and took me in her arms and just hugged me.
As I look back on my life, the moments she got to be the hero have always been her best.