**Disclaimer. I wasn’t sure if I should share this or not. However, if I want to write, I must write. These things are part of my story. I choose not to hide in shame. This is my short story which received an Honorable Mention in the Writers Digest Competition this year. It is titled “My father’s choice”
We stood side by side, silent. The rain drenching us, we looked on, surprised when he pulled up alongside where we stood. He was in the driver’s seat, beside him there was a woman. It was the occupant of the backseat that felt like a kick to the gut, a girl, probably no older than seven or eight years old. My eyes darted to his face upon seeing her there, our eyes met and he drove away soaking us even more with the water thrown up from the car. The entire exchange was but a mere moment but it mirrored a childhood of hope and disappointment. My body surged with adrenaline as I grabbed her hand and ran.
Our father had seen us, my sister and I, standing in the parking lot, waiting for him. He saw us, and drove away. Ran away. The rain was coming down in sheets and it was hard to see anything but as quickly as he drove, I was right behind him. Words were spoken between us but I couldn’t begin to guess what the actual words were. She was in disbelief. He had seen that it was us, maybe not at first as we were wearing jackets with hoods. But as we stepped closer and looked at him, he looking from her to me, he knew. Yet he had left, he had chosen.
After 26 years of marriage our parents had filed for divorce. The big joke was maybe they would win the lottery and could afford a divorce. We had heard it too many times to count. The lottery showed up the spring of 1998 in the form of an online romance between my father and a woman who lived in Michigan. On Valentine’s Day that year my father, the anti-outdoorsman, left on the ruse that he was going on a guys’ fishing trip that would last several days. An examination of the mileage driven, coupled with my mother’s insatiable drive to figure out what was happening in our computer, led her to the truth. He had met someone, he had lied to all of us, and he had driven hundreds of miles to meet this woman in person.
Upon his return, everything changed. Suddenly the man who never had an ounce of get-up-and-go, got up and went to live with my uncle. He wanted out. I was away at college when he left. Things had been strained, different, for quite a while. He was like an old piece of furniture that took up space in the home I visited on weekends and holidays. He wasn’t the loving father who had told me that I mattered when in my heart of hearts I believed anything but. The internet, still new and exciting even with dial up, must have served as some sort of sanctuary for him. I imagine he was lonely. Now knowing the way he behaved on the internet, I would also say off balanced.
He had left only once before, when my sister was just a baby and I was only 4 or 5 years old. That time he had gone to live with my grandmother. My sister and I were left alone with our mother. I vividly remember trying to tell her about something a neighborhood girl had done that I found offensive, to which she responded by breaking down into sobs and screaming “I hate her!” Her anger was always misplaced, although as a child I didn’t realize it. He would come to visit us but in between visits, we would go on stake outs.
I don’t recall where I learned the word stake out but somehow I just knew that’s what we were doing. My mother suspected he had been having an affair with someone she described as a “monkey”. Until many years later, I imagined that the person’s home we were sitting outside for hours was an avid tree climber. It was only as I grew into an adult that I realized my mother was a closet racist and her description of this woman had more to do with the color of her skin than her tree climbing skills.
We’d sit outside this apartment building, not far from where my father worked, in our car for long periods of time. Watching. Waiting. Once a neighbor came with us and my mother must have gone into spy mode, maybe climbing her own tree, or to confront this woman. The neighbor sat with my sister and I in the car. My sister began to cry and I began to worry. I pleaded with the neighbor to get my mother so we could take my sister home but she dutifully told me to sit quietly and wait. So I did. After one stakeout, day had turned to night and we were late getting home. I had been excited because my father was supposed to come and visit me. As we turned onto our street my mother turned to me, her voice cold and distant and told me I had better not mention to my father where we had been or what we had been doing. She assured me that if he had any idea what we had been up to, he would certainly leave us for good, and he would no longer love me.
He returned and in reality had only been gone for a few months. As a teenager, who was privy to way too many personal facts about her parents’ relationship, I learned that she threatened him with losing us until he returned. So he came home. I think that beneath the lies, manipulations, and hurtful words there was at one time love. I often imagine the relationship that my parents had as one that probably should have fizzled out. A mismatch from the start.
As a young child, I was a Daddy’s girl. I loved my Dad. I was loud (still am), and curious and independent. I loved to read and write stories. I wasn’t interested in anything girly, not a tomboy per se but happy in solitude. If my mother put in a request for her perfect child, she was given the opposite, me. It wasn’t just comparisons to children she felt were “good” or asking why I did something one way when Susie down the street did it another way that tipped me off that something about me was undesirable. It seeped out of her. There was always this, negative energy, this tension. She despised me, yet tolerated me. I was close with my father in a way that she was not, and she hated me for it. This realization came much later in life, back then I just wanted to change, to be whatever and whoever would make her love me in the way I needed to be loved.
I was angry for a very long time. Looking back, I was deeply depressed. I’d stand in the bathroom with the water running at 8 years old and pray out loud for God to just take me. Please, God, I just want my Mom to be happy. If I’m not here, she will be happy, so just take me. I’m not strong enough to do it myself. But day after day, my prayers went unanswered. It became my proof that there was no God.
My father was a creative person. He was the type of man who, had it not been for his family and my mother, would have gladly wandered from job to job an occupational nomad for life. My mother put a stop to that and with the help of my grandfather got him a stable steady job.
Reading was my safe space. Books offered an escape that I allowed to consume me as often as possible. To immerse myself in the words of another and be in that person’s world was one of my only joys. I started writing, poetry, short stories, anything really. My father encouraged this, a reader and writer of poetry himself. He entertained my crazy ideas and spoke to me like a person. Truth be told, as much as I wanted to die for my mother, I lived for my father. When he left the first time, he wept uncontrollably, and many times after that. As much as I was haunted by the possibility of the stake outs robbing me of his love, I worried that if I were to go it would be too much for him. He was sensitive and fragile.
In high school things with my mother escalated to a dangerous level. She was emotionally abusive, to the point that I feel confident saying caused me to have a psychotic break. She knew which buttons to push and she did so relentlessly. One day standing in our kitchen I confessed to her that I was suicidal. I couldn’t take it anymore. I wanted our family fixed and would she please consider going to therapy with me. Snorting and smirking she said I was just like my father and living in a fantasy world where something like therapy can make everything better. Then she walked off. I moved out into a boyfriend’s house after that. If I had stayed I would have taken my own life, I am sure of that. I didn’t leave until my father told me I had his blessing and that he knew I couldn’t exist in that house.
The summer before college I returned home. I missed my little sister and my grandparents. The impending move further away was a ticking bomb and I didn’t want to regret not going home. My mother was still angry, but quietly so. She was different and withdrawn. Instead of making it a point to make me aware of how much of a disappointment I was, she just treated me as nothing. It was after I left that I noticed the changes in him. I’d call home and no one would pick up. Then he’d call back and angrily ask what I had wanted. I assume perhaps I somehow disconnected the dial up connection. Then came his faux fishing trip, and his relocation out of our home into my uncle’s home.
Things weren’t easy for my sister, and I wasn’t there to protect her from my mother. She was a pawn to her. My sister wanted to go with my father. In response to that request, my mother began injuring herself telling my sister she’d kill herself if she left. She stayed. My sister was as close, if not closer, to my father as I was. Him leaving, was hard on her, not just because of my mother’s antics but because she was alone. The breaking point of everything was when I came home for a visit and found her crying in her room. She had just seen my father and told him that because he and my mother were still married she felt it was wrong for him to be living with someone. He told her if he had to choose between us and this woman, he wasn’t sure what his choice would be.
A car ride and rainy encounter later, here we were. He pulled down a driveway with no street lights and we found ourselves in an office park. Both of us were driving way too fast for conditions and he wouldn’t just stop and talk to us. We just wanted him to say it to our faces. I made a split decision to block the end of parking lot aisle he was driving down. We sat, nowhere for him to go, watching, sure he’d stop. He sped up. He didn’t waiver. At the last moment I pulled out of the way, letting him go. A volt of electricity couldn’t have made me shake more. The reality that he was going to slam into our car, likely killing us, broke me. We drove back to his hotel to write him a letter saying good bye. He had chosen.