Story Post: “I Don’t Hope for the Trees”

Please read the previous post about this week’s theme and work with and for survivors of sexual violence.

This is the full short story, “I Don’t Hope for the Trees”, available to you here as a tool for awareness and empowerment. If you are a survivor, please know some of the material here may be triggering. Protect yourself and read on if you feel comfortable doing so.

I Don’t Hope for the Trees

by Celeste Ramos

(c) 2009, All Rights Reserved

 

A crappy $1.99 Christmas wreath hung on the steel front door of apartment 6R.

The words “HAPPY HOLIDAYS!” repeated along a series of ribbons that were hot-glued into the wreath.

I knew he wasn’t home when I came in. I didn’t hear him coughing or snoring. Walking into that apartment was like walking into a cave to slay something. Only my sword had the tendency to disappear.

            I locked the door behind me. The small, narrow kitchen was immediately off to my left. I could tell what the rest of the apartment was going to look like just by the looks of that kitchen. May as well have been a “starter” apartment; one of those holes in the wall places you get when you’re broke and fresh out of school. But he was a grown, old, rotten man of seventy-five.

I passed by the phone on the wall before I took the four steps through the kitchen. I contemplated cutting the wire. I told myself it wouldn’t be necessary.

At the end of the kitchen I faced a window that had a garbage bag taped to the frame. The incoming draft was pushing it into the room like a wind-bloated sail. I turned right into a meager living room. There was a cheap brown couch, probably given to him by the Salvation Army or a church seniors’ program. There was a pair of chairs facing one another on the opposite sides of a rickety coffee table. It took a few seconds for the table to stop swaying when I put my purse on it.

The bathroom was off to my right, and beyond that was the dark doorway into the bedroom.

I didn’t want to see where he slept, not yet.

The place reeked of him. The eternal haunt of Vick’s vapors was just underneath the smell of whatever it was he’d made for dinner. Rice and something that smelled like what my mother would make for him. The same dish he’d sneer at, hack his cough over, and never say thank you.

There was another window behind the sofa. It looked out onto a tangle of late-winter trees, surrounded by rows of giant metal garbage dumpsters. The sun set far off behind the city skyline, giving way to the night’s gold crust of streetlights. I looked at the dumpsters and remembered what they sounded like when the City garbage trucks came by at four and five a.m., clanging those lids. Those were the only sounds I had to go by, when I was kid, to know the world hadn’t stopped turning and everyone outside wasn’t dead.

“This is it,” I said to myself.

            I didn’t know what his schedule was. I didn’t know when he’d be home. He was an old man; there was always a chance he wouldn’t make it home at all. He could die anywhere, I knew that. Seems there was always some new disease eating him. If it wasn’t diabetes it was cancer, if it wasn’t cancer it was high-blood pressure.

            Bullshit. All he had was a bad conscience strangling the life out of him for fifty years. The power of the mind is an interesting thing. If you don’t face things head on, you will subconsciously bring upon yourself, in real life, a host of ways for you to face things once and for all. We’re all put on this planet to learn lessons, be it by some superior being or just the random chance of monkeys and amoebas becoming us – everyone is here to learn lessons. No one gets to cheat, and duck out, and ignore what the world has to say.

            I wanted to tell him that. But I started to remind myself of these facts instead. I was the best example I had of how life tied you to a mirror if it needed to, in order for you to figure your shit out. I had to go through with this.

I lost several years of my life because of my father.

When I was three, bored and precocious as I was for my age, I wanted to bring my father his cup of afternoon coffee. My mom had just put a steaming hot ceramic cup on the table, and called to my father to come get it. In my three-year-old imagination I figured that if I pulled the table cloth, the cup would fall into my hands and I could bring it to him. But the black steam poured onto the crook of my bare right arm. I covered the burn with a cloth, and when my mom saw it she pulled it off and the skin came up with it. It didn’t even hurt.

Thirty years later and the scar looked like a butterfly, with a lump of skin that got separated from the mass of the burn hovering just above it. It’s a tattoo of the last time I willfully did anything out of love for my father.

            I looked through his trash. There were two bills in there as mail. He probably didn’t even get holiday cards anymore from his old and now forgotten trove of drinking buddies – his “cousins”, as he used to call them.

            The floors were fairly clean. The cabinets had enough food in them for a week, maybe two, knowing him. The fridge was half-full of leftovers covered with aluminum foil. I found that amusing because he hated it when my mom did that.

            I looked through the tiny cabinets and kitchen drawers and found all the standard things, until I came across a spool of thick twine. I smiled.

I set the twine on the coffee table and went to the bathroom. I ran the cold water and plugged up the tub. As it filled I hunted through his medicine cabinet. It was hard to fight the fantasy of meticulously switching up his medication. I could have emptied the gel caps down the toilet. Or better yet, mixed their white innards into the powdered milk I saw in the kitchen.

I could have killed him and no one would have suspected me. And since I’d come in with a key there’d be no sign of forced entry. Just a poisoning. An accidental poisoning by a forgetful old man.

            That fantasy was a fantasy of silence. It was still a safe fantasy. If I was going to harm him he would have to know it was me. I turned the water off when the tub was full.

I moved a few silent paces toward the bedroom door. It was half-open. A little shock of panic went through my middle. Had he been in there the whole time, maybe taking a nap while I prowled around? I reminded myself that I would have heard his infernal snoring, and calmed down a little.

            I pushed the door open with my finger nail and let it hit against the inside wall. It was hard not to feel like I was three feet tall and he was summoning me into my parents’ old bedroom. When all I wanted to do was watch cartoons and he insisted that I come help him get through the headache of his hangover.

            I could almost smell the day-old drunk of him. The dry spit. The flaking vomit on the floor. I was waiting to hear that wheezy breath of his. He was like a thing waiting in the dark. I told myself to snap out of it.

            I felt around for a light switch. I shut my eyes when I found it, and when I flipped it I kept them shut like a fool for a good few seconds. It was his bed. His bed. Where the thing rested his head at night or whenever he did. It was neatly made. A full-size bed with one pillow. I resisted the urge to drop to my knees and look for the signs of a child. For a shoe, a toy, a doll. I almost ran into the narrow closet beside me to look. But what stopped me was the statue I had been terrified of since I was a child.

            A ceramic statue of San Martín de Porres stood on a small wooden altar, against the sliver of wall between the closet and the flimsy headboard.

            If there was ever a sure witness of what my father did to me, who could tell me in detail about the times he took to me in our old bedroom, that fucking statue was it. Its brown skin, its painted eyes, hard black on stark white. It saw. It knew. I knew as a child, I knew I’d seen that statue blink. I knew I’d seen it look away. It was a lazy saint who didn’t move to help me.

            I shut off the light and slammed the door behind me hard, like I always did after being alone in the bedroom with San Martín. I always felt like he was going to chase me, grab me and hurt me, tell me I was going to hell for somehow dishonoring my father.

            My initial purpose for going into that apartment, my sword, was lost in a tidal wave of twenty-three-year-old fear. I was there to confront him! And now I was sitting on the floor, between the sofa and the coffee table with my knife in hand. Waiting to stab San Martín de Porres or whatever came down that tiny hall, whatever would cast a shadow on the wall from around the corner, because as my mother always said, my father was cursed. Wherever he was, black ghosts would follow.

            So why the hell had I come?

            I wasn’t given time to decide. I heard that age-old cough coming down the hall. I heard keys jingling. The man I hadn’t seen in almost nine years; who’d taken friend’s and lover’s hands out of mine; who made every hug feel dirty; who made every goal I wanted some shadow of obscenity; who made everything I loved something bad to be embarrassed about; who made me lose sleep; who made me run hard from love the way debris scatters from an impact, that son of a bitch was going to come through the door and find the biggest shadow of his past, sitting on his floor, crying.

            Suddenly I felt enormous. My legs stuck out too far to hide under the table. I would have to completely displace the couch from against the wall to hide behind it.

            The lock turned. He coughed again as he came in and shut the door.

            I thought of my mother’s picture of her favorite saint, St. Michael the Archangel, standing on a mass of black jagged rock with one foot on a demon’s head. His right arm brandished a sword to slay it. In his left hand was the end of a chain that bound the body of the demon. His wings were bright white and massive. The look on his face wasn’t even a sneer. It was an image burned into my mind since the time I was ten, because of the look on his face. It was almost a look of compassion, even as he was slaying a demon.

            My father’s steps hesitated. I heard one foot drag just behind the other. Mom hadn’t told me he’d developed a limp. So I knew he had to have been hesitating. Maybe he’d heard me sniffle.

            I wiped my tears and forced my face to go straight. I stood up, put my knife in my purse, and held it high above the coffee table before I let it drop, on purpose so he’d hear it. I couldn’t resist scaring him. I knew he’d always – for being such a fucking tough guy – had a terrible fear of robbers that I never understood.

            “Hello?” he said.

            I shut my eyes. I thought I was ready to hear him but I wasn’t. I wanted to give up then. To run out. But he was standing in front of the only exit.

            “Who’s here?”

            I took a deep breath and said probably the plainest and scariest thing I’ve ever said to anyone: “The ghost of Christmas past.”

            He hurried through the kitchen. I saw the edge of his body first; dark, rounded and short. I closed my eyes.

I opened my eyes to see my father, standing there in a worn red-flannel shirt and gray pants. His baseball cap was on crooked. His face was warped in disbelief.

            He looked me up in down like I really was the thing I’d said I was, a ghost. I was different. My face was certainly different. I was a woman now.

Grown and owned, as he liked to say.

            “Oh my God,” he said. “Janice? Janice? You – ”

            “Stop saying my name. It’s me,” I said.

            “I – I thought you lived in California!”

            “I do.”

            “What are you doing here?”

            “Three-thousand-odd miles is a long way to come see you. Pop.”

I thought of St. Michael the Archangel. I sat down on one of the brown chairs and crossed my legs. I made myself sit tall, even though I didn’t feel tall.

            “We need to fucking talk,” I said. I held out my hand in a stiff invitation for him to sit across from me.

            He shook his head. “Oh no. Wait a minute. I know what this is. I know what this is.” He threw his keys onto the kitchen counter.

The wind sucked the garbage bag out then back in to the room.

            “Damn right you do. Now sit down.”

            “How did you get in? It was your mother huh? That stupid – ”

            “That stupid bitch is also the one who still comes to see you when you land in the fucking hospital. She’s stupid for that much.”

            He nodded his head, bobbing it up and down weakly. He looked sick. He scared the hell out of me. “I know what this is,” he kept saying.

            “Sit. Down.” My mother always said I looked like my father when I got angry. I covered up being angry for years. That night, I made sure to look every bit like him because it was the last time I would ever need to.

            “She divorced me. Your mother. I know you know that. You – you have some tits coming in here. To keep lying!” he shouted. “I saw that letter. The things you told your mother. That I did to you? Who the hell do you think you are? I am your father!” He pointed at me. “Get out. I live alone now. I bother no one. You had your chance to talk to me. I called you and called you and called you. Don’t tell me you don’t remember that, Janice. Why didn’t you talk to me then!”

            I folded my hands tight in front of me and said, “Because I was in a hospital when I got the memories I did get back. I tried to kill myself. So many times … Pop.”

            Mute white flashes of a doctor injecting me ran through my head in quick succession. I remembered looking at my boyfriend at the time, the one who’d driven me to the hospital crying because I was bleeding so bad from the wrists. He was the one who’d been kindest to me.

I often wondered where he was. And from that wonder came a surge of rage, because that boyfriend and I would have probably married if it hadn’t been for the long, shadowy reach of my father.

            “Oh don’t bullshit me,” he sneered.

            I rolled my sleeves up so he could see the scars that mapped my forearms and biceps. They looked like the same lines that cut across my palms; the ones that silently predicted all that had now come to pass.

            “See that? You did this through me, you fuck! You’re going to listen to what I have to say to you. You’re not going anywhere.”

            “Or what?!” he shouted. I retreated from that trademark yell. It hadn’t faded, despite his deteriorating body. “Are you going to call the cops this time? Don’t think I forgot about that. I remember everything! Every – fucking – thing you did to humiliate me, Janice, to make me feel like I was the scum of the fucking earth.”

            My hands went to the ends of the arms of the chair. My elbows bent back behind me and angled up.

            “I’m calling the police.” His voice didn’t even shake. His eyes showed me no hurt. No hurt clouded by his anger. Nothing.

            “I’m not going anywhere. You will listen to what I have to say,” I growled. “You’re lucky I’m not making you pay me back the eight-hundred-dollar plane ticket I got to come here. And I’m considering it. I’m considering calling in every debt you owe me. It’s a shame you can’t give me back all that time I’ve lost because you.”

            He stood there and looked at me as if I was insane. He took off his cap and gave me the most distant, vengeful look I thought I had ever seen him give me. Then he turned around and headed toward the phone. He was grumbling to himself that old, deep-throated grumble that I grew up associating him with. He sounded like an angry, forgotten creature at the bottom of a well.

            “Come back here,” I said.

I sprang from the chair with the twine in my hand and came at him from behind. I tied one end around his left arm above the elbow. From there I tied it twice around his neck and then got his other arm. He was too weak to fight against me. I heard him choke a little, and felt his mothball-smelling body seize up with fear of me. After all these years he was finally afraid of me.

            “Come back to the living room. Now.” I growled into his ear.

            It was a fight to keep myself present in my body. I wanted to run away and watch myself from some other angle. But this was a moment that I survived all those near-death moments for. I couldn’t let my resilience be in vain.

            I dragged him backward into that shit-hole living room and plopped him down into the chair. He heaved and cursed at me as I tied him to the chair.

            “You crazy bitch! Are you trying to give me a heart attack! Get me off this chair!”

            When I realized that it would be hard for him to talk with the twine around his neck I went into my purse and got my knife. I cut the twine at his throat and then used the loose ends to tie him to the arms of the chair. I got the rest of twine and bound his swollen ankles to the legs. It tied it across his chest and shoulders, and then back behind the chair. I pulled back hard to make sure it was nice and tight.

            “What do you want!” he screamed. He was almost losing his voice, he was so afraid. His eyes looked huge and possessed. They reminded me of San Martín de Porres. I looked away.

            “You want me to say I’m sorry? I’m sorry? I haven’t done a fucking thing wrong, Janice. You don’t know who I am.”

            I was silent as I tied a knot at the end of the twine. I came around him and sat on the couch.

            “Who you are?” I asked.

            “You don’t know what I went through to raise you! To make sure you had food in your mouth!”

            “The food mom bought and made you mean? The plates of food you threw at her because they didn’t taste right? Gimme another one.” I sat in the other chair and stared at him. Finally, he was bound up. I considered shoving his socks into his mouth.

            “I know we’re incapable of having a conversation with each other. I know,” I said.

I hated that I was beginning to tear. My voice wavered. I wanted to sound cold and cruel and calculating, the way he’d always sounded to me.

            “There’s a lot I have to say to you.”

            “You’ve tied me up!” he shrieked. “I can’t believe you Janice!”

            “There’s a lot. And I’m going to start with what I remember.”

            “It’s all bullshit and you know it! Get me out of this fucking chair! Help me! SOMEONE HELP!” he screamed, angling his head this way and that.

            I got on my knees and yanked off his stinking shoes. I shoved a sock in his mouth. I stood up and brought my face close to his, slowly, supplanting fear with anger as I neared his frantic eyes.

“Spit that out, and I cut out your tongue. Understand?” I pressed the knife to his lips.

            He nodded.

            “I remember you. You used to be kind to me, at the very beginning. I remember, you taught me how to read things out of the bible when mom had taught me how to read. You remember that?” I asked quietly.

I went back to the sofa, already exhausted by the words that hadn’t yet come out of my mouth, and dropped into it.

            “I was so small when you started. I know you remember. It was the day that grandma got that new home attendant because we were supposed to go away for Christmas and then the trip got cancelled. I found out, years later, we cancelled the trip because you’d never bought the tickets. You drank the money. Remember that?”

            His head was still.

            I lowered my head and played with the knife in my hands. “Okay, well, here’s what I know. You brought me into the bathroom. You said you wanted to show me something special. And you sat on the toilet with your pants off. And you had me touch you.” I looked up at him. “You had me beat you off. Remember that?”

            Nothing.

“Yes you do!” I yelled. “I can see it in your fucking eyes!”

            He lowered his head as I got in his face again.

            “And you know what that did to me, Pop? You know?” I grabbed his chin. “Scars. Sooo many scars. People telling me I’m crazy. Me going to the police telling them that a guy had raped me when he hadn’t. It just felt like he had because I kept seeing you when I looked at him. I remember you holding me down with my face to the floor, and pulling my panties down. I remember you shoving your fingers into me. I remember you lying on top of me. I – am not – crazy.

            “All that money I spent in therapy I could have taken myself and all my friends on vacation five times in a row. I could have been so much different. I could have been happy, Pop, if it wasn’t for you. Why didn’t you die? Huh? Why didn’t you drop dead of the fucking guilt, from fucking your tiny, only, daughter? Huh? What the fuck are you here to teach me, Pop?”

            I got up and pulled the sock out of his mouth and threw it to the floor.

            He coughed. I sat down again and tried to steel myself against the sound, still.

            “You know – when you were little – you – you were never right,” he said. “You used to see things. When you were little you sat at the window sill. Looked out the window.” He went into a short fit of coughs.

Inside I was curling into a ball. I couldn’t look him in the eye. The sound of it was beginning to make me lose focus.

            “You talked to birds. You had invisible friends. And when you went to school, your teachers told us you talked to yourself all the time.”

            “Fuck you. I didn’t make this up.”

            He coughed again. He partially lowered his head and looked at me from under those heavy brows again, again, looking like a thing. The lines on his face framed his mouth. The bags under his eyes looked darker. His hair, what was left of it, stood up in every direction in white shocks.

            I listened as his words snaked out of him.

“I didn’t say you made it up. You just thought about it too much. You think it happened for how long? I admit it. I messed with you. Once. Maybe twice. But you wasn’t that little and it didn’t go on all that long. And all this shit? All this shit, you, wanting to be suicidal and going to the hospital and all that. That’s your own fault.”

            “I hate you.” I was reduced to those three words faster than I thought I would be that night.

            He spoke slowly, coughing here and there. “Don’t hate me because you’re crazy and have no self fucking control, Janice. Look at you. You carried me around, on your back all this time. Not me. You hate me. Please. You wouldn’t be sitting here if you hated me. No, you’d be staying where you have been. Far away. Abandoning me. What’s an old man like me doing to you now? I’m not interfering with you, Janice. I’m not. Or, with anyone. I’m alone now. I go to the senior’s center. I come home. Yes, your mother comes to see me when I’m in the hospital. But you gotta remember – getting her to come see me is like pulling teeth. You both turned on me. Both of you. Left me alone. Everyone left me alone. The rest of my friends are dead Janice. And you know what, I haven’t complained to nobody. You hate me. Hate me on your own.

            “Look at yourself! You, spent money to come here and blame me. You fucked yourself up and blame me. You fucked, a bunch of guys, you blame me! You came into my home. My home. Like a thief. You came in here, you tied me up. Don’t you think, this is too much, Janice? Don’t you? You hate me. Okay then, big-hate Janice. Say what you want and untie me, and then get out of here!!!”

            I leaned in and yelled, “Apologize!” I wasn’t there when I said it. I was running from him already, from that backward logic of his, from his tone of voice that made me feel like I was wrong no matter how right I was.

I carried my own version of that voice in my mind for as long as I could remember, and in my head, then, it was getting louder. Had I really come all that way for a lousy apology?

            “You sit there and admit it,” I continued. “And you can’t even say you’re sorry?”

            “You just want attention now, Janice. You want my money. I know you want something. You want something.” He coughed and wriggled his hands and arms weakly. “Get me out of this chair.”

            “No.” I ran my fingers through my hair and put my forehead against the heel of my hand. I had to think of something before I started crying. Something to say, something to throw at him. I glanced at him and he was staring at me with his eyes wide and calculating, giving me that fixed, possessed look of San Martín de Porres again. I started tearing.

            “See? You can barely control yourself. This is bullshit. You can’t even make your points, Janice, you never have been able to. What’s the point? What is your point, Janice?”

            I had rehearsed that night in my mind for months. I couldn’t believe I had let him corner me. I couldn’t believe I was losing the battle with that bound-up thing. I started to full-out cry.

            “Jesus, Janice,” he coughed.

            It was between sobs that I got the prompt I needed to re-arm myself. I heard the pipes in the bathroom hiss and make a locking “klunk!” noise.

I had completely forgotten about the bathtub.

            I smiled at him as I recovered from crying.

            He shook his head dismissively. “You’re crazy. Untie me. Untie me and get out of my fucking life!” he shouted.

            “You ask me what I want. I’ll tell you: I want to hear you scream.”

“You know what, you hate me so much you’re going to be like me one day. You’ll do the same thing! You’ll see!” he said. “You’ll do it. It happens, you know. It just happens, out of nowhere. Especially to crazy, hung-up people like you, Janice! And if it’s not a little boy it’ll be a little girl. If you haven’t, done it, already …”

I clenched the knife in my hand and rushed toward his body. I saw him wince and press his shoulders against the chair, ready to feel the knife go into him. But inches from his chest I pulled my arm back and stormed off down the tiny hall. I stood in the bathroom doorway, my hands in my hair, trying to get a grip.

I was not there to kill him. I was not there to kill him. I just wanted him to apologize. I wanted him to admit it, and apologize, and he even took that much from me, admitting it the way he had. Refusing to say he was sorry. Apologizing to me didn’t put anything back or wind back any clocks. I just wanted him to realize how shitty a person he had been, to me, to everyone he ever knew.

I wanted him to take away the feeling that I was constantly running out of air. He would never know what that felt like.

I looked at the tub. It was my last chance.

I heard him screaming at me from the living room.

“Get me out of this chair you – you shit!”

I stormed back into the living room and without looking or saying anything to him I cut the twine. He stood up from the chair and said, “Now get your things and get out, you pig.”

I folded the knife and put it back into my purse.

“You know where the door is!” he shouted.

I slapped him.

When he turned his face to look at me his eyes were huge. Those eyes, whose fury I could always read … I knew he was wishing he was stronger then. I saw him bite his lower lip and pull his hand back to return the hit but he was trembling. Before he could touch me at all, I slapped him again.

“Get on your knees,” I ordered.

I punched him in the stomach. He fell over onto the coffee table, clutching his middle and coughing.

I raged against the sound of his coughs to drown them out.

“I will never be like you!” I shouted down at him. “I will never push this experience on anyone. I don’t need to rob people – I don’t need to rob children – of anything. I want power, and I’m taking it back right now. For good! From you! I’m not involving anyone in it that doesn’t have a fucking thing to do with it. I know what your life was like, you told me every time after you raped me! You’d tell me like you were giving me reasons and justifications!

“I don’t rape, Pop, because I’m conscious of what it does. How it stains, how much that shit hurts. How it feels like you’re drowning! I don’t take things from people, I don’t prey on people. I get love because I give it! I don’t beat it out of someone! And it’s right love! Healthy! Where people around me like to know me, they’re not afraid of me! You don’t know how hard it’s been to stop so many good things from leaking out of my life. And you’re god damn right it’s your fault. I carried it around because you gave it to me.”

I could hardly breathe. I took in breath after breath as fast as I could. The room became incredibly hot. My hands shook, my chest felt like it was getting lighter, and lighter. My feet felt heavy, like the floor was just growing beneath them. I was there, finally, I was present.

            “You gave it to me,” I continued. “So now take this shit back!”

            He cried out when I threw my hands on him and grabbed his shirt between his saggy shoulders and his pants by the back of his belt. With all that pent up might coming out of me I dragged him down the hall into the bathroom and got him to his knees. I stood at the edge of the tub and pressed my hands to the moldy tile of the wall for balance. I pressed my foot to the back of his head, and shoved it deep into the water. I kept him there as long as I could without killing him.

            He struggled to grab my foot but I pushed in deeper. I could hear the choke through the bubbles, the slosh of his fear. The water went everywhere. I let off his head and jumped off the tub. I stood over him and yanked him back, and he threw up, water and something brown.

            He heaved for air, now on all fours, and I backed away from him to the doorframe. He looked like a small shivering thing, water streaming from him.

            “Years under that water, Pop.” I said. “That’s what you did to me.”

He started to cry. His back heaved, his gut heaved, his head and saggy neck trembled. He looked double his age at that moment. He coughed and coughed, and I shook my head, telling myself that that sound wasn’t an alarm anymore. When he looked up at me he gave me this empty look, one I will ever forget. I snapped out of the memory of all the friends he had, of the assumption that he was always surrounded by people and drink, noise, parties, children. That was my father of the past, when I was little. My father of the present was really alone, to finally learn his goddamn lesson. I would be lying if I said a piece of me didn’t feel sorry for him.

He didn’t say a word to me. He looked at me, ashamed and scared, soaked in cold water that I knew felt like it cut right through his old skin. It was how the rapes started, at bath time, and he was now feeling exactly the way he’d leave me to feel in the bathroom.

I stepped in and reached past the drifting vomit in the tub. I pulled the stopper out. I bent over and wiped my hand on his shirt.

I looked at him. I steeled myself to feel a hint of fear, but I felt nothing. I was looking into the face of a frightened stranger and I was okay. “This is the last time you’ll see me, Pop.”

He looked down and began to cough again.

“This is the last time, you’ll see me, Pop.” I said again.

Cough, cough, cough.

I began to tear. “Me, Pop. Your daughter. Don’t you wish you got cards on Father’s Day? Don’t you wish you could be there for my wedding? Don’t you wish you could talk to me when I was sad or angry or wanted advice? Or if I just wanted to talk? Did you ever want a daughter?”

He pathetically brought himself up to sitting on the toilet. He looked at the floor.

I stood just beyond the doorframe, in the hall, and said, “This is the last time you see me, Pop.”

He said nothing.

I walked into the living room and got my purse. I looked at him a last time and waited for a minute, maybe two. It felt like hours. He didn’t look at me. He didn’t say anything to me.

“I will not go to your funeral to put you behind me,” I said. “This is all I needed to see.”

I turned and walked toward the front door slowly. Still, he said nothing. I turned the lock and opened it. Still, he said nothing. I walked through and shut the door behind me.

I didn’t regret a thing. When I had rehearsed it all in my head I couldn’t get around the thought that I would regret it. That I should have just kept “facing him” in therapy sessions instead of going back to his apartment to do it. But I was glad I’d done it. I said everything I needed to say. I said things I didn’t know I believed – good, strong things.

The winter air met me with a sharp breeze. I didn’t look up to his window as I had when I got to the projects where he lived. I took a few deep breaths outside, then cried against the wall in front of the building.

When I was calm again I walked toward the subway, feeling my body as a new, feather-light thing. I could finally move where my soul and time would take me, without looking over my shoulder at the things I dragged behind me.

Finally, I was free.

 


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