If you’ve been with me for a few years, you know I’m in good company on Thursdays. Check out this fantastic group of ladies, giving insight on various topics. After reading my post, click on:
Froggie (Tracey): One frog’s distinct voice on the world around her.
Merry Land Girl (Melissa): Tales of a suburban mom who likes to talk about pop culture, books, Judaism, family, friendship and anything else that comes to mind.
Darwin Shrugged (Denise): Civilized Observations in an Uncivilized World
It was my turn this week, and I asked my fellow bloggers to showcase their creative writing- current works, past works, or anything they’re thinking of working on.
I have two books that are “complete”. When I say complete, I mean there’s a beginning, a middle, an end, yet it’s far from a finished work.
The book I’ve been editing and cleaning up on a near daily basis is the one I call my “gateway novel”. My whole goal in writing it was to work on something that was semi-autobiographical. To get me into that writer’s frame of mind, my practice book. When it’s finished, I’ll give it to one of my best friends for Christmas. It’s fitting, considering she was part of the inspiration for writing it. I have no intentions of sharing it with the world. It’s for her.
The excerpt I’m sharing today, however, comes from the other “completed” novel. Something I started years ago and have yet to finish, but it’s next on my list.
I feel so inspired, surrounded by the talented authors I write book reviews for. It’s given me a much needed kick in the ass! Nanowrimo has also been a huge help in keeping me honest when it comes to how often I write and keeping with my word count/goals. It’s kicking off next month, for those of you who want to get back into the swing of things, or start something from scratch. Let your voice be heard!
I feel like I’m sixteen again.
Dad used to ground me for doing the insane shit teenagers do. There were times I would stay out all weekend and he had no idea where I was. He would get so angry, teeth gritted together while he’d say in a super quiet voice, “Sam, where the hell have you been.” It was never a question. Sometimes for emphasis, he would clamp onto one of my ears with his thumb and pointer finger, yanking had enough to illicit a yelp from me. The man was not an abuser. Never has my father raised an open or closed palm to me, but that simple act of tugging hard onto my ear would cause excruciating pain radiating into the side of my head.
It was well deserved.
How would he react to my disappearance for over five years, with no phone calls, no visits? No friendly reminders that his daughter was still alive and well out there in the big universe?
He’d practically rip my ear out of the socket, that’s what he would do.
I park in the driveway of my old house, the whitewash concrete a bit disheveled and cracked. Grass has decided to take up residence within the foundation, and who are we to argue with nature? I know to park the car on the left side of the driveway, always the left side. Dad parks on the right side in the garage. Heaven help the person who blocks that man in, ooh boy.
I hear the patio door squeak open and bang onto the frame. John Compton (a.k.a. Dad) lumbers towards me, wearing a red checked flannel coat even on this perfect summer day. I feel so small as my Daddy stares into me, his ruddy face full of hurt, anger, and a smidge of trepidation, dark brown eyes squinty in the sunlight. The stubble on his chin reveals a good week’s work of growth. In all the years I lived with this man, he would have never allowed his facial hair to grow that long. Was this impending visit that hard on him? Damn. Maybe I should have stayed in a hotel like I’d originally planned.
He immediately peers into the back seat, examining Robbie. I roll the driver side window down to give my greetings and Dad cuts me off before I can even get a word out.
“Is that Robbie?” he asks me. Which is silly. Who else would be back there?
“Yes, that’s Robbie.”
Dad takes his left hand, a bandage wrapped around a thick thumb, and runs it through his coarse, dark brown hair. There’s a little wave to it, flecks of silver tracing through the strands.
“Well hell, how would I know for sure? I haven’t seen him, other than the pictures you sent when he was a tiny baby.”
And so it begins. I’m not even out of the car yet.
I open the car door and climb out, assessing the situation. He’s 5 foot 9, a few inches taller than me. It’s not like he’s some large, overpowering man, yet he frightens me. Not because I think he’ll wig out or anything like that. That would be an easier situation to deal with. No, I am frightened because I know he is going to make me pay. He’ll throw painful, hurtful words at me, and I won’t have any way to defend myself since chances are everything he’ll say to me will be spot on.
“I’ll get Robbie into the house. I didn’t expect the weather to be this nice. It makes the car pretty hot in the back.” I proceed to unlock Robbie’s car seat and lift my sweaty boy into my arms. He managed to conk back out during the drive, most likely a by product of the very early wake up call I had to put him through this morning. Dad watches with interest. His hands are in his Levi’s, finding homes in the pockets of the front. I want to make him think I have order in the chaos that has just presented itself. I feel a false sense of security as I walk towards the patio door, once again marveling at how time stood still for this house. Same green trim. Same white foundation, with traces of new cracks and a bit more dirt than I remembered.
I am even more amazed upon entering the house. The carpet hasn’t changed. It is still an impressive brown shag. Dad never had a need to replace it, who would he try to put on airs for? That makes me want to snort out loud, but I hold it in as I carry Robbie into my old bedroom. Dad said he had made space for his grandson, and he was right. My twin bed has been made up with a faded blue and black checkered quilt, the same one I cuddled up in on cold winter nights when I was small. I carefully place Robbie onto the bed, pulling lightly on his black Converse shoes until they are free from his little feet, tucking him in under the bed sheets. He’ll sleep for a while, I imagine. But I wish he wouldn’t. Maybe if he were awake, he could save me from having a long awaited conversation with my dad.
I glance around the space I’d felt safe in when I was growing up. It was also the place I’d felt the most restraint. I had wanted nothing more than to break free from the confines of this little room and leave, propelling myself towards something bigger and better than what I’d grown up with. Nothing had changed much. Dad added a computer in the corner which sits on top of my old dresser. The bookshelf is still here with piles of Stephen King novels all over it. It was the King who had inspired me to become a writer. It was through his books I wanted to pursue my passion. I remember staggering out of this room many times after reading a King novel, the hours having passed and my not being very aware of it. There was no putting down a King halfway. I considered it blasphemous and had to finish the book even when it consisted of 1000 pages, sometimes more. I don’t even know how I did it, but Dad was always prepared. He could see the lost and vacant look within my eyes, a snack waiting for me when I’d finally emerge from my cave.
I leave the room and my feet are like lead weights dragging into the fur grass that is carpet. It’s the original, circa 1985. Dad’s leading the way back into the living room, and I feel as sick as I did on the plane. Is he nervous, too? He sits down in his chair. So many particulars with this man. His side of the garage. His chair. No one in this house ever risked sitting in his chair, not ever. He crosses his left leg over the right, a little more rusty than he used to, not nearly as flexible, but he manages. His fingers play with the soft worn yellow upholstery on the arm of the ratty old chair, and I know he’s waiting for me to sit. Grandfather clock in the corner ticks and tocks a lot slower than my racing heart.
“Do you want something to drink?” I decide to work on being polite before I sit down permanently. I want to break the ice with this man, and any sort of stall tactic will work, I hope.
“I’m good,” he tells me.
Well, there goes that plan.
No use in delaying the inevitable. Let’s rip this bandage off. I sit down on the sleeper sofa, the same one I used to watch late night movies on and lost my virginity on (which is why it was later deemed “the couch of shame” within my circle of friends). I sink into the plushness of the cushions and await my fate.
“I have one question, Sam. Just the one.”
He blinks a little more slowly, like a cat who is very annoyed with it’s unsuspecting prey. “You know what. I haven’t seen you or heard from you in over five years. So my question to you, is why?”
I curl both legs up and wrap my arms around them. The question is such a large one. I can’t answer it. Not in the way he wants me to.
“I don’t know why.”
“I don’t know” isn’t good enough. That’s a stupid answer. I deserve better.” He looks me deep inside, and I know he’s right. The fact is, there are so many reasons I could give him, none of them good ones. A lot of them painful reasons that would only make this conversation more uncomfortable for the both of us. I decide to be as tactful as I can.
“I got tied up in a lot of projects. I had Robbie, and then my whole life sort of got derailed. I got wrapped up in my life with James and I know you hated him. I wanted to somehow please the both of you and I didn’t know how to do it.”
Dad picks at the arm of the chair again, focusing hard on the loose fibers coming apart at the seams. “Yeah, I did hate James. I know that only one of us really loved you and you decided to side with the guy who didn’t, the one who didn’t give two shits about you. Do you know how it feels to never know my grandson? I’m just meeting him now. How could you do that to me?” His voice cracks, and I can see a minute amount of tears forming in the corner of his eyes. Dad never cries. I can only recall seeing him cry a handful of times in my entire life. He’s no good where emotions are concerned.
He stands up suddenly and moves to the faux wood entertainment center, a 27 inch Sony tv from my teen years still gracing the top but covered with more dust than I remember. His back is to me now, and I know what he’s doing. I know what he’s going to pull out from the cubby hole located at the top of the shelf. He faces me then, a silver picture frame in his hand. A picture of her. His fingers are gripping tightly around the image of my mother, the image Dad hides from the world and even from himself. It remains hidden behind random photo albums of years’ past. He shakes the picture at me furiously.
“YOU. ARE. JUST. LIKE. HER.” Each word spat at me, tears sliding down his face.
“Please. Don’t say that.” I knew all along that coming here was a bad idea. Out of all my reasons for leaving Salem, this was the biggest one. I didn’t want anyone’s judgement, least of all my father’s. I get up and stand next to him, but I don’t know what to say. I don’t know how to comfort him. Shit, I don’t even know how to comfort myself. We stand about a foot apart, studying each other. His lip quivers just like mine does when I cry.
“Why did you come back here, Sam? For this assignment? Do you know how shocked I was when you called me? But of course, it’s not to see how I’m doing. You just wanted to make sure you have a place to stay while you are in town for your job. Still self absorbed, I see. Hey, some things never change, right?”
I flinch inwardly at his words. They are like knives to me, and I begin to feel my own bottom lip quiver. After talking with Margie, I made the decision to go back home and face my dad. To make the attempt at burying the hatchet. But I realize now how stupid that was. Some things are better left buried.
The anger and pain I’ve put on my dad after all these years has been like poison to his system and he needs to get it out of him, to purge the pain. I can feel it radiating from him. My head hangs low, focusing primarily on the black Converse shoes I’ve had since high school, scuffed and worn around the toe. I wear them everywhere, even when I’ve been dragged to dance clubs by my friends and coworkers in Omaha. As you’d imagine, they aren’t the best shoes to wear on a snowy, cold night. But I get a few drinks in me, and even I can’t help but bop my head to the music. My Converse are my “dancing shoes”. Right now, I’d love it if my shoes could replicate Dorothy’s ruby red slippers from The Wizard of Oz. Why can’t I click my own heels together and wish for home? The bigger question: Where is home? A teardrop falls onto my right shoe, my eyes blurring.
“What do you have to say for yourself? It appears I still have to talk to you like you are some runny nosed stupid assed kid who doesn’t know what end is her head, or her butt hole. I want some answers from you. Look at me.”
I don’t like it when people see me cry or get emotional. I hate being put in any situation where there is the potential for tears. It’s weakness in my book and Dad made me this way. He taught me to be tough and to never show my feelings and emotions. If he wouldn’t have always told me to suck it up, maybe I wouldn’t feel like I always had to.
“Look at me this instant! Don’t you think I deserve your respect?”
I lift my head up quickly, tears streaming down my flushed cheeks. “Is this what you want to see? That I’m crying, that I’m hurt by what you say? Well, here you go! Does this make you feel any better?”
His face is contorted in grief, and I feel so much worse. A lot worse. “Yes, it does. It shows the old Sam might still be in there somewhere. But that’s neither here nor there.” Neither here nor… what? “I am letting you stay here because I want to develop a relationship with my grandson. Your sister is never having kids. I blame myself for that. She’s gone through so much in her life, I’m sure the thought of having kids scares the shit out of her. She is totally focused on her career and it’s her saving grace. Really, Robbie’s all I’ll ever have in the grandkid department.”
My sister. Fuck. I hadn’t even gotten in touch with Karen to let her know I’d be in town.
“Karen is just as hurt as I am. She didn’t even want to see you at all while you’re out here. But I told her she should, for her nephew. You really fucked things up, haven’t you? You were off making a name for yourself, living high on the hog with that asshole of a husband who ended up cheating on you and leaving you high and dry after Robbie was born.”
I feel the shock and shame of what he’s said wash over me. I didn’t know anyone back home knew about my situation. The fact that my dad knows makes me want to curl up into a ball and die. “Word gets around. Just because you turned your back on everyone doesn’t mean word won’t get back to your family. The truth always leaks out, Sam. You’re a journalist. You should know better than anyone.”
I wrap my arms around the center of me, feeling foolish. I made the biggest mistake of my life, thinking I could fix things with my dad. Having to defend myself, being put in the position I’m in now. The judgement. I don’t deserve this. “Yes, he cheated on me. He left Robbie and me. I didn’t want to come back here with my tail between my legs, running home to Daddy to solve all my problems. I stood on my own two feet, I have a great job. I raise Robbie on my own. I’m doing it! Why can’t you be proud of me?”
He throws the picture frame at his special chair and it lands with a soft thud.
“Because you had to hide from me and everyone else to get to this point, and do you even know who you are? Who did you become? This person I see before me, well I think she’s a big fat nobody. Who you were before you decided to leave your family behind is the daughter I want back.” He walks down the hall towards his room, turning around at the last second. “Were you ashamed of us? Was I not a good enough father for you? I worked in the cannery your whole life. Were you embarrassed by my profession or the way we lived our life? That put food on the table and kept a roof over your head. Do you even know about Karen? Of course you don’t. Talk about pride. That girl runs an office and does this marketing mumbo jumbo. I can’t even tell you the first thing about it, but I know she does well for herself and she didn’t have to move away to do it. You are just like your mother. This life wasn’t good enough for her. She had to go and make a name for herself somewhere else, leaving us behind permanently. Just like you did.”
With that, he quietly closes his bedroom door behind him, ending our conversation.
I stare after him like a moron, not knowing what to do or how to respond. The door is like a barrier. Anything else I’d say right now would just hurt the situation further, anyway.
“Mommy?” Robbie’s soft voice whimpers. “Mommy!” This time more urgent. I open the bedroom door and find him looking disoriented, curly brown hair a mop on his head.
“Hey, baby boy.” I sit next to him and push the loose strands out of his face so I can focus on his chocolate brown eyes, his father’s eyes. “It’s okay. We are at my dad’s house. Your grandpa’s house. Remember the talk we had before we went on this trip? How we were going to spend some time with grandpa and stay at his house?”
Blankie is waddled up tightly within his fingers. “Yes, but you were yelling.” It’s an accusation. Robbie isn’t used to yelling. It’s just been the two of us and he’s never heard me at odds with anyone.
“We have to work some things out. Sometimes grown-ups can be worse than kids when it comes to fixing problems.”
“What were you yelling about?”
I sigh and lie down next to him on the bed. “That would take years to explain, Robbie. Years and years.”