Chapter Five: Daddy’s Home
About three and a half months after he left, in mid-December, my father came back home from Central America. The climate within the house was immediately different than it had been all the weeks before. The affect was the most noticeable on my mom, whose demeanor changed dramatically. She no longer walked about light-footed with a smile, her eyes alight with the next project in mind. She became withdrawn, sullen and spoke in muffled tones like there was a blanket pulled over her head.
We kids just stayed out of his way, which wasn’t all that hard to do, because he immediately delved into his old routine – leaving before seven in the morning and coming home after ten. He seemed more tired than normal as if he’d actually exerted himself over the course of his day, which was absurd. He detested anything overly physical, so his fatigue seemed unusual. I mean, he was a pencil-pusher, what was physical about that? Still, I couldn’t help but notice the slowing of his gait, the dark smudges under his eyes and the increased slackness of his face.
Of course with the exhaustion came an additional layer of surliness, if not downright bitchy-ness, keeping the rest of us at bay. Thus, our interactions were kept to a minimum. We all knew he could explode over the tiniest misstep and, like always, he proved true to form.
It was toward the end of the first week when I overheard my mother ask him what seemed to me to be an innocent question.
“What?” he had replied with a question.
“Roxanna, she’s been calling all week. Is she a new colleague of yours?”
I waited, feeling a wince about to form at the edge of one my eyes. This could be good, or this could be bad.
“She’s none of your god damned business. Do you hear me, Pillar?”
It was bad. Whenever he called my mother by her first name, it wasn’t good.
I breathed a weary sigh, not wanting to hear yelling in our new house. It seemed like a deflowering of sorts. I wanted no part. So, I got up, turned off the TV in the living room and went to my room.
I had just enough time to close the door to my bedroom when I heard him start to yell at my mom. I hated the sound of his voice when he spoke to her in that manner (if you want to call it “speaking”. Speaking was a form of communication. What he did to my mother was dominating, something entirely different).
I could already sense why he was angry in the first place. It was something he did when he felt cornered, backed-up against a wall of his own manufacture. Roxanna was most likely his latest “fuck” in a long line of “fucks” he’d had over the duration of his marriage. How he managed to do so well with the ladies was anybody’s guess. He wasn’t, at least from my perspective, a particularly good looking man.
Already, I was taller than him by a few inches and I was no more than five foot nine. His body tended toward lassitude, and this wasn’t due to his age. Like I’ve said numerous times, he was physically lazy, shunned anything cardial. And, because of this, his physique had suffered. His hairline had been receding for years, even at thirty-nine. The remaining hair was almost all white. Premature, yes, but white nonetheless. He had light-brown, beady eyes that could burn with fury within seconds. His nose ended in a bulbous knot and his lips were much too wide for his narrow face. This was accentuated by their color – somewhere between a deep pink and a washed-out red - that made them all the more noticeable, out of place. His chin was squared and cleft deeply. So much so, my sister had often commented it looked like he had a pair of butt cheeks on the lowest portion of his face.
“Dad’s such an ass, because he has one on his face. Hahahahaaa!” she’d been found of saying for years.
So, you see, to me, he wasn’t overly attractive, and yet he seemed to get more pussy than your average guy.
Now, I called his women “fucks”, because I could never imagine my dad making love to a woman. He was just too taut, pulled too tight to express any emotion in the proper fashion. His filtering mechanisms were twisted beyond repair. I couldn’t see him “wooing” or “sweeping” any woman into bed on a wave of sensual romance. No, he’d just want to fuck, plain and simple, and somehow he managed to find females who were ok with that. And, this wasn’t the sixties or early seventies when “free love” was the motto and sexual partners were passed about like hard candy. No, that age had passed. AIDS was the name of the game now. Fear of the unknown and the concept of a modern plague ruled supreme. Still, my father managed to get women to go to bed with him. I know, weird…
(Little did I know it would be Roxanna who’d play a critical role in what was in store for my family in the months to come.)
At the time, though, she was of little consequence. Thus, I banished her from conscious thought forthwith.
Instead, I sat on my bed, thinking of Myra, knowing somewhere in the middle of myself what I felt for her was already more mature, more real, than anything my father would have the capacity to experience. Here we were, mere teenagers, in the wash of hormones, where life could be glorious and then turn tragic at the drop of a dime, and still… we were better equipped.
Over the years, I’ve come to realize my father never truly got over the death of his mother. When she died, something in him had stalled, as though he was stuck on a sandbar in the ocean of life. Nothing died per se, as with many other people. No, his yearning, his willingness to learn, to improve himself, merely quit on him. One can mourn something that has died, and then accept it and move on. Being stuck is not the same. His whole life, my dad was stuck in the past, stuck over the fact he’d grown-up poor, stuck with childhood notions of what it was to be a man. He couldn’t reconcile the fact his parents had divorced, and was further confused by the eventual promiscuity of his mother. Her “sanctity”, in his mind, was marred each time she took a new lover to her bed. Inadvertently, and unbeknownst to him, his anger grew, festered, turning into something smacking of rot and decay. Because parents weren’t as open with their children back then as they are now, or when I was younger, his world continued to backslide even further into the dregs of his ever hardening heart. He had only the leave-takings of a world he couldn’t hope to comprehend without help.
Then, his mother passed away, and that’s when the guilt set in. He felt guilty thinking she was a whore. He felt guilty over the times he’d spurned her affection, because of the men she had around. Maybe, somewhere deep, he felt responsible for her death. Forget the cancer, forget her fast life-style. Something inside turned black with her dying. It was something crucial.
Yeah, he might’ve died an adult, but he was never more than an eight-year-old child in his head.
A vindictive, self-centered, eight-year-old child, I thought. Don’t get it twisted.
As if to stress the point I was trying to make in my head. I heard something fragile break, could imagine hundreds of shards scattering across one of the rooms downstairs. The asshole was throwing things again.
I shook my head ruefully, running a hand through my short hair. This fucking guy…
I would’ve continued with the thought, but the sound of my door opening and closing roused me from my musings. I glanced up and saw Valerie stride in, tears on her cheeks, apprehension and dismay written within.
She came to me faster than I could react and did something she hadn’t done in years, not since we were little kids, helpless against the nasty barrage coming from my father’s mouth. Her arms were around me in less than a second, hugging me fiercely. Her exhalations were warm against my chest. “I forgot what it was like, Jer,” she sobbed into me. “I forgot what it was like.”
What could I say? I agreed. It had been a wonderful time without my father around. We’d moved into a new house, a big home, hoping to turn over a new leaf, and maybe we had. Maybe that was why it felt like we were taking two steps back the moment my dad had come home. He was pulling us back into the morass of egocentricity, his warped sense of the world, his animosity. How could I have forgotten so quickly?
My arms came up and I held my sister like I hadn’t for more than eight years, feeling my own eyes well. Why did he have to be such a dick? Why couldn’t he be a normal dad, like those so many of my friends had? Why did we get stuck with him? How was it fair, to any of us, especially my mother? Didn’t we – she – us – deserve something better? Didn’t we?!?
I guided Valerie over to the edge of my bed and together we sat, her head still on my shoulder.
“I hate him,” she muttered pitifully.
“So do I, Val. So do I.”
Suddenly there was an escalation of noise reverberating through the walls, screaming and wailing at a much higher pitch than I was used to hearing issue forth from my father. My body must’ve gone rigid, because Valerie pulled away from me, her eyes quizzical.
It wasn’t my father yelling anymore.
It was my mother, and she was furious.
We heard crashing and thudding. We were certain huge items were being thrown about. The entire house was shaking.
All at once, a sick feeling lurched in my gut. I tasted sour bile at the back of my throat.
Where was Eli?
I breathed. My heart threatened to break through my ribcage.
“Valerie, Elijah’s in his room, right?”
She stared back, uncertainty and dread filling her eyes as if a levy had broken behind them. “I d-d-don’t know.”
I stood in one swift motion. “What do you mean, you don’t know? Was he downstairs with you or not?” I knew my tone was too harsh, but I wasn’t thinking about her feelings at the moment.
“I don’t know, Jerry!” She had replied just as fiercely, but I could tell she knew where I was going with this. “You don’t think…?” she began to ask, but her voice strangled into silence.
This had happened before.
“I don’t ‘think’, Val. I know.”
“Fuck!” It was a vehement burst of the word.
I made for the door, but never made it.
Eli came in holding his cheek, crying bitterly.
Even from where I stood, I could tell my father had slapped him hard across the face. There was a hand print the size of mine poking out on all sides, underneath his six-year-old palm.
“Did that sonofabitch hit you, Elijah?” asked my sister, leaping from my bed, scooting around me to hold him by the shoulders.
“Why?” she asked.
It was a moot question. It had happened before.
“Because mommy made him mad,” he retorted in a small voice, though he didn’t have to.
Then, he did something I never would’ve expected him to do at a time like this. He smiled.
“But, she made him leave.”
Whether it was me or Valerie, neither of us would never know.
Our amazement was blinding. My mother had never ever stood up to him before. What had changed? What was so different now?
My baby brother had been nodding the entire time. “She threw everything at him.”
Who or what had lit a fire under my mom’s ass?
We brought Eli to my bed and the three us sat, holding hands, sharing half-smiles drenched in comfort. It was the first time we were able to express our love for one another without speaking.
It was incredible.
And yet, what had changed?
It was almost an hour later. After my mother had cleaned up and had come up to “check on us”, she said.
But, I knew she was there to make sure Eli was ok.
She smiled uneasily, like testing new waters. “He’s gone,” she mumbled, “for now.”
“I hope he stays away forever,” growled my sister.
My mom chuckled thoughtfully. It was one of those prayer-like musings of not-quite-mirth.
Eli had scooted onto her lap, snuggling.
I knew she had been wishing for the very same thing.
Later, when everyone was asleep, Elijah next to me in my bed, the answer to my question came…
The resounding thud rattled the house to such a degree, I was awake in less than a second. Instinctively, I reached out for Elijah, but his hand found mine before I’d had neither hide nor hair of where he was in the dark.
The screams brought me from the bed and out the door in a flash, with only cursory glance back at my little brother, looking tiny upon my queen-sized bed.
“Eli, stay put!” was all I said, and I was gone.
By the time I had reached the kitchen, my mother and Valerie were already there, frowning hard at the person sprawled about the floor, who was pointing, with wide-eyed abandon, at the microwave.
“It beeped at me! All on its’ own it fucking beeped at me!” screeched my dad.
I don’t think I’d ever seen him that frightened before.
“Did you hear me? They motherfucken microwave beeped at me. Right when I walked passed, the light came on and it beeped, over and over!” I could tell he thought what he’d experienced was real, but who was to say it was based in reality.
“Go to bed. You’re drunk out of your mind,” explained my mother and made to return to her bedroom, then stopped. “I made up one of the guest bedrooms upstairs, so you can sleep it off up there.”
I saw my father’s face harden. “The fuck I will.”
My Mom snorted. “Fine, then I will.”
Before any of us could move, she walked through us and up the stairs.
My dad watched her with rabid fascination. I could tell he was asking the same questions we’d been asking hours earlier.
I wheezed air through my lips, sharing an “oh well” look with my sister.
She shrugged and followed my mom.
I left him there on the ground to find sleep, all by his lonesome, on the first floor of the house.
We didn’t want to sleep near him anymore.