Stories, poems and other musings from the mind of a writer who suffers from World Builder's Disease
A short story I wrote on another blog, before I had created this one. I’m including it here for your reading pleasure.
I never ran away from home.
I sit here on the veranda of my soon-to-be ex-husband’s home listening to the cicadas permeating the oaks, the bushes… pretty much everywhere this time of year. As they annoyingly screech at each other, I am reminded of my parents’ fighting.
I question why I never did. Run away, that is.
You’d think I would have wanted to get away from the nightly sessions of “this goddamn food is too bland,” “what on earth prompted your fool-ass to do that, you idiot woman,” or occasionally, from her, “if you want to wear that shirt today, clean it your own damn self!” The subject matter of their squabbles were never weighty issues. Neither of them were that educated or smart. Sure dad would yell at the newscasters, or gripe about our “nigger” problem, but in context, he was simply a closed minded bigot, uncomfortable because a black family moved in next door. Looking back, I should have run away and left my family for theirs. Mr. and Mrs. Washington were warm, loving people. I am still Facebook friends with the daughter, Jenna. Jenna isn’t her real name, nor is Washington, but I respect their privacy and feel uncomfortable exposing them.
I mentioned that that my parents never argued about anything that was truly important. The topics would not have been important to anyone but them, save when it came to me. Being their only child, I was a target of my father’s outbursts, and that subject was important. To me. And to mom.
I was the kid that dad never wanted, so I could do nothing right by him. Not that I didn’t live up to his expectations, but that I actually exceeded them and he was so insecure that he’d lash out at me with little provocation. He expected me to be who he wanted me to be, an unenlightened auto mechanic by trade and a beer drinker by night, and he presumed that I would be as enthusiastic about cars, and guns, beer, and all of his other hobbies as much as he was.
I didn’t know any girls my age that enjoyed getting all greasy and sweaty in a hot garage every Saturday and Sunday, forced to help (watching mostly) their father dig into the bowels of a Mustang’s engine. “Hand me the wrench,” he’d order, and when I gave him a wrench, he’d chastise me that it wasn’t right, that he’d wanted the smaller size. Once, I spoke up and told him that he should have specified which tool he wanted because the workbench was littered with them. I should have known to not talk back. Make-up couldn’t cover the bruise I’d earned that day. That was the April that I stayed home from school with “mono.” Christ, I hadn’t even kissed a boy yet. I was only thirteen. But that’s what mom told the school secretary, and of course, when I finally went back to school, I was a laughing stock.
Mom wasn’t bad, though. She was great, actually. She was my champion. She’d stand up for me when father would come after me, and usually pay the price. So many times, I think their fights about the stupid minutia were really his backlash because he was angry with me.
Much later, in my twenties during counseling for my depression—I’ve suffered with it all my life, but this was the first time I’d tried to commit suicide—my therapist and I discovered that as an only child, I was the only thing that connected my parents. I was the child she’d always wanted and he had no clue what to do with children, let alone a little alien thing—a girl. They had nothing in common but me. She took care of me and the home, crocheted and watched soap operas during the day when dad was down at the garage, then when he got home, she was his personal servant and subject of his ire.
Yes, I was the glue that kept them together. To me, it felt more like rubber cement, a strong but flexible bond. Impermanent. But the fact was that they were both raised in the 30s and 40s and clung to the old-fashioned belief that divorce wasn’t an option. Not even after I moved out and went to college.
I guess that value never sunk in for me. I’m on divorce number three, my last one. I refuse to hunt that jungle again. Too many monkeys. They say “third time is a charm.” For me, it was what broke the camel’s back.
I could never understand why she stayed with him. She wouldn’t admit it, but I speculate it was because she would have been lost without him. They’d married right out of high school. She had apparently never thought of having a career of her own. Maybe it was because I came along. So between her dependency on his financial support and whatever twisted notion of security he gave her, she stayed with him until her heart gave out. She was only 45. I’d lost my mom, and my friend, and the only strength and shield I’d ever had against him. I guess, in a way, it wasn’t till she died that I finally ran away.
With her gone, I had no reason to put up with his crap anymore. When I’d become too big (and smart) for him to hit, he had taken to other methods of abuse: shame, guilt, intimidation, withholding affection (what little of it there was), and punishing me by not being there emotionally or refusing me (or making me jump through his many hoops) on the rare occasions I needed financial help).
We now talk for three minutes on the phone every six months or so, but I have not seen him since a week after mom’s funeral. He’d made it clear that he was fine and dandy without me pestering him. I think he somehow blames me for her death, as if I had convinced her to leave him. And if divorce wasn’t an option…
I wonder if my own unspoken notion that it was really a lifetime of abuse that killed her is rational. And if it was the ultimate reason, perhaps he is partly right. Perhaps I was his accomplice, by never standing up, by never running away.
I wish she and I could have both run away. Maybe she’d still be here. We could sit on this porch and enjoy the cicadas. She liked cicadas. Their song was always so lovely to her.
I miss you, mom.
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