Where to begin? How about right now?
The Silk City Police Department. I am waiting in the police station in an interrogation room for my father to show up. A friend of my dad’s from high school sits with me. Just like on TV, a square brick room, one-way mirror, three chairs.
He chits and chats. I nod. “I went to SCHS with your dad,” he says to me just before my father walks in. I’m a sophomore there.
“Hey Hank,” my dad says. They shake hands. A great hand shaker, my father. On Hank he uses the one pump with the left hand coming on top as he says, “Thanks for taking care of my girl.”
“No problem, Matt.”
It’s exactly what Hank wants to hear, my father fulfills his fantasy, making him my protector, a knight. Hank will do anything for him now.
My dad looks at me. Something weird in his eyes. Pride?
“Hey, bub,” he says. “A little too much excitement for one night, huh?”
“Yup,” I say and stare at the table.
“Are we free to go, Hank?”
“I think so. Let’s go check at the front desk.”
Like we’re checking out of a hotel. In the lobby, among the wanted posters and D.A.R.E. pamphlets (‘This is your brain on crystal meth,’ one shouts), Bobby’s father, Mr. Donovan, is screaming at the desk sergeant who is carefully ignoring the tirade from behind bulletproof glass. Lucky he can’t smell Mr. Donovan’s oppressive aftershave there.
“- massive lawsuit this town has ever seen. Look at my boy!”
We all look at Bobby. Nicks and cuts all over his face where I gouged him. Later my father will say he looked like he’d been attacked by a bear.
To avoid looking at his father Bobby turns and looks right at me. I want to say something, but not in front of my father. I try to put it all in my eyes.
Mr. Donovan notices us. He looks like he wants to collect everything that just spilled out of his mouth and slurp it up.
My dad looks from Bobby to Mr. Donovan.
“Your boy just got a lesson on the word, ‘no.’ I hope it takes because the next lesson’s coming from me.”
Bobby’s head hangs, his beautiful, marred face looks at the ground.
His father is choking, can’t get the words out fast enough. “Are you threatening my boy?”
My father smiles. “Let’s go, Casey.”
Casey Jones, that’s what he named me.
“Hank, you heard him. He threatened Bobby.”
“I didn’t hear anything, now you keep that boy of yours on a leash. Be glad nobody’s pressing charges.”
Bobby’s dad snorts. “His daughter’s the one who needs a leash.”
Hank sees it coming too and puts my dad in a restraining hold. They are both straining, necks taut, faces red, eyes bulging.
“Okay, Joe, get out of here,” Hank says.
Mr. Donovan can’t resist one comment before scurrying out the door. “I see where she gets it.”
But he’s wrong. My temper comes from my mother, always churning right on the surface. My father’s temper is deep down under, hard to find.
In the parking lot, in my father’s car, we sit and exhale. We both know Bobby just got a lesson on the word, ‘maybe.’
“Dad, it wasn’t all Bobby’s fault.”
“I know, Bubba. That temper of yours strikes again.”
‘Bubba’ is my father’s nickname for his girls, me, my sister Addison, and my mother. A bittersweet word for me. Addie and I are the only ones he can use it on now.
“What would mom have said?”
It’s something we started doing a little after she died. When I get into trouble my dad says, “If your mother were here…” and he gives me the lecture she would have given me. Sometimes he is cruelly accurate, impersonating her shrill tone along with the words. It helps me remember her. Of course, I never paid much attention to those lectures when she was around.
“I wish I knew, Bubba.”
At home I kiss my grandma and go to the room I share with Addison. She’s ten.
After I shut the door she whispers, “What happened?”
We can hear my father thanking grandma for watching Addie.
“The usual,” I say.
“Sounded like more than that.”
“What do you mean?”
“Was there a boy? Was it Bobby?”
“Yes,” answers both questions.
“The police called,” she says.
I picture my father, talking to Hank probably, asks him to look out for me; tries to keep the panic out of his voice. The next call to grandma. Addie listens, trying to figure out what’s happening. Unable to sleep.
“Daddy was worried.”
“Why are you so angry?”
I sigh. It isn’t her question. “Let’s talk about it tomorrow.”
I pretend to yawn. Wait for her to fall asleep. Wonder, jealously, what she is dreaming about. We look so much alike, so much like mom; dark hair, olive skin – but she keeps things hidden deep under the surface, like dad.
Downstairs, he paces, listening, I imagine, to our mom’s ghost. I try to hear her voice, hoping to pull it into my bed, like a blanket.
It is difficult to explain my rage. It sneaks up on me like a fever. I imagine it sometimes as a shadow. My shadow, but like Peter Pan’s, one I can’t control. I picture it, at times leaping into me and turning everything red. I don’t get black outs, I get red outs. I can’t hear myself screaming but it’s been described enough times to me so I know I do it. Like a girl possessed, someone said once.
I must have been hollering pretty loud when the cops broke up the party tonight. I don’t remember them coming into the room to find us, me and Bobby, mostly naked. Bobby with both of my wrists in his hands, trying to keep me from hurting him, trying to make me listen, to get sane. Just like the cop who dragged me away, who asked me sweetly to get dressed while he turned away. That’s the next thing I remember.
“Okay, can you put some clothes on, honey?” The cop’s voice was a father’s to a child waking from a nightmare who thinks there might still be a monster in the closet or under the bed.
That’s how I felt.
I think it’s the screaming more than anything that my father can’t understand. He is quiet personified, the king of the wordless conversation, all gestures and eloquent facial expressions. Even when his temper gets the better of him it’s more like a scathing whisper than a scream. The only person who ever really made my father scream was my mother. Now he’s got nobody to scream at. Oh well.
He has aged well. Quitting drinking probably helped. In pictures of when he was younger he has those boy next-door looks that must have calmed all the mothers down, that and his good manners; but the fathers probably knew better. And in the really old pictures, before I was born, there is always a drink in his hand.
He is slim, with wiry, ropy muscles and broad shoulders. People talk about his high cheekbones a lot but once you get to know him, you realize it’s his eyes that are special. His eyes and his smile can make you go weak and the absence of his smile can still make me tremble. When my mother used to get into arguments with him, she wouldn’t look at him. She knew she couldn’t win that way.
I once asked my father if he stopped drinking for me. It seemed to make sense. His drinking anniversary was the year before I was born. He smiled and shook his head.
“I didn’t know you then.”
“So why’d you stop?”
“For your mother.”
“Because she asked you?”
“Because she didn’t ask me.”
My parents are fighting and it’s my fault.
“It consumes me,” my mother is saying.
“Because you let it,” my father says again.
“Why does she hate me?” my mother asks for the hundredth time that day, I’ve lost track of how many times that week. This whole fight is like a rerun.
“Mommy, you’re fresh,” my sister Addie says. She is almost two. Anyone who yells is ‘fresh.’
Our mother behaves as though we are in soundproof containers in our car seats in the backseat. I chew on my pigtails. I am seven years old. My memories are faded, the colors are not quite true, the details grainy. I don’t remember where we are going. I don’t remember what she is upset about. The rage in my stomach brews, gathering strength. The windshield is a blizzard, snowflakes like stars at warp speed. My face burns.
“She doesn’t hate you.”
The edges of my vision blur with scarlet.
“Hate you!” Addie parrots.
My mother shudders, it’s in her voice. “You always take her side,” she says between clenched teeth.
The next few moments are taken by my monster, my Miss Hyde.
I don’t realize, at first, that we have driven off the road, over the curb and into the snow. What I notice is how quiet it is, even my sister seems frozen. We careen, silently down a hill. There is no friction. Then we hit the ice of the frozen reservoir, still noiseless, gliding.
There is a delicious moment of relief before our world caves in.
It is dark, like we’ve been swallowed by the night; only the night is ice cold and pours through the window my father has opened. My sister is screaming, alternating between “Mommy’ and “Daddy,” or unintelligible noises of anguish. I am scared for her.
Our father is whispering to himself as he undoes all of our seatbelts. My mother is silent, still. I strain to hear him. “Babybabybaby. Babybabybaby,” he is saying.
“Daddy,” I say.
“I know, bub.” His voice is as cold as the water. “Casey, can you find that flashlight near your seat?”
“Oh yeah,” I say trying to match his calm. A miracle, I find it.
“Cold,” Addie whines.
“It is cold,” my father says, almost singing, “and it’s going to get colder.”
And it does, the cold is like the fear, chilling me to my bones, grabbing, hurting. The water rises, creeps above the seats. I don’t want anything to do with it. Dad pushes Mom away from it. Her head lolls.
The window is submerged, and he turns to us. “Hold your breath,” he says, “One. Two. Three.”
He pulls us, my sister and me, through a window. He has us by our collars, it is too cold to move, too cold to think, too cold to hear. I don’t know how he gets us to the shore.
“See those lights?”
I nod. A house’s windows look at us through the trees. All our teeth chatter. My sister is too quiet.
“Hug your sister. Count to a hundred. If I’m not back – Casey! – if I’m not back, take your sister to those lights and bang on that front door.”
“You will. One hundred. Start now. Be brave for your sister.”
He dives back down – the thought of the water shivers me. Nine, ten, eleven…I can just make out the light of the flashlight, like a firefly under the water, twenty-five, twenty-six, heading towards the lights of the car, like one of those fish so deep underwater they glow in the dark.
Fifty-seven, Fifty-eight. The trees are swaying in front of the house lights but I can’t feel the breeze. Eighty-one, eighty-two. Addie isn’t speaking. One hundred nineteen, one hundred twenty.
I start. My sister is stiff and slippery. Twice I stumble. Not a sound from Addison. I count with each footstep, one hundred thirty-three, one hundred thirty-four. When I get to the house, I pound as hard as I can but I can’t hear the noise or feel the door under my fist. Still counting I knock, one hundred fifty-six, one hundred fifty-seven. A strange couple opens the door. Their faces are pure shock.
The heat in the house embraces us; the smell of warmth makes me tear up and everything goes fuzzy. The couple shares the competence of parents. Concerned questions are asked and ignored, towels are fetched in a blur, our wet clothes are peeled off. One ninety-nine, two hundred. The scent of something chocolate from the kitchen is mixing with the lingering odor of baked bread.
When I hear my sister cry it is like she has been born again.
“Daddy!” she screams and as if he has been summoned he bursts through the door and lands in a splash on the carpeting with my mother. The couple is almost relieved.
I am only half paying attention, trying to chase the cold from my bones. Noises are coming out of my father’s mouth, but not words. Two hundred and one. Will I ever stop shivering?
Minutes or hours or seconds later, the paramedics arrive with a stretcher and rubber gloves and a mask they put over my mother’s mouth.
The woman who lives here is trying to soothe my hysterical sister.
My father, a shuddering mess, is on his back, on the floor, with nothing left, his last hopes leaking out of his eyes and escaping in contorted shivering gasps from his mouth, and it is beautiful how much he loves her. I think if he were to look at Addie and me, he wouldn’t know us – but he doesn’t look. He is being restrained, being questioned, it must look to Addison like he is being tortured.
“Do you think your father loves you that much?”
I don’t like this shrink, don’t like his eyes. I’m here because of the Bobby thing.
“Sometimes. Most of the time.”
They’re like my father’s eyes, not missing a beat; they seem to know the real reason you say or do something – always reading between the lines. I try to picture this guy in the sack, something I do with most men these days for better or worse. Are all fifteen-year-olds like this? I have no mother to ask. The office and his face combine to give an impression of plump comfort – books stuff the shelves, his cheeks like the leather of his chairs are curvy. The pictures on the wall, I’m sure, are meant to be soothing. I find their abstraction distracting – are they framed Rorschachs?
“So you hit your mother?”
His hands, with pad and pen, are small and tentative. I decide my doctor would be a boring and lazy lover – but I could be wrong. I was wrong about Bobby.
I thought Bobby would stop when told, thought there were lines he wouldn’t cross. My mistake. I didn’t realize how hard it would be to stop. Like sliding down an icy hill – nothing for the brakes to catch on, but plenty of friction. Everything slippery, wheels spinning, careening, out of control, breathless.
“So you hit your mother?”
I don’t really remember. I imagine the fighting continuing as if I’m not there. The rage rises inside me. Higher and higher. Unbuckling my seatbelt. Boiling over. I picture my toe connecting with my mother’s head, making the car lose control.
“Did your father ever hit you?”
I don’t like the question because I don’t know where it’s going. “Sure,” I say.
I always know when it’s coming, like the air just before a lightning strike, charged. The hair on the back of my arms stands, just like it does now.
“Did he ever hit your mother?”
And it’s like a hole has been punched into my brain, like when a submarine goes too deep and cracks from the pressure – and ice water is rushing in, bringing nightmares with it, but they aren’t dreams.
My father is driving. The hair on the back of my neck is tingly with electricity.
“She is fucked in the head,” mom says from the passenger seat.
My seatbelt is off.
He strikes quickly but I don’t hear a slap – his hand is a fist. My mother whimpers.
Then the toe of my shiny black shoes with the Velcro straps connects just behind my father’s eye.
Paint everything red.
The chords of my voice are thick and sore from screams I can’t remember making. The doctor is frozen, poised with pad and pen.
He is there, soothing as a snake charmer, trying to chase the bad dream away with one word, over and over, “babybabybaby, babybabybaby.”
The only other sound, the impact of my knucklebones and the tips of my shiny black shoes with the buckles, again and again and again.