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My father gave me the experience of heartbreak long before any other man could have the chance. He often told me that these things were normal, that it was supposed to be a part of growing up. You're supposed to learn things in new ways, and it's supposed to better oneself.
When scrutinized under the public eye, the relationship mirrored that of a good one—hell, maybe some would even argue for a great one. Always getting what I wanted when out to shop, downtown live jazz concerts at least once a week, I could wear whatever (or what little) I wanted, pizza and soda for dinner all the time, and best of all... no bedtime.
That "perfect" life really had the aspects of every young kid's dream. A perfect life where the child made the rules. A life where there were no rules. A perfect life until the bruises and blood wasn't as easy to hide.
By now, I found myself smack in the middle of fourth grade and in the full swing of things. My birthday had recently passed and I had turned the infamous double digits. This milestone left me feeling like I was on top of the world and nothing could knock me down from this high. The one thing that could taunt the jump down, however, was the unwritten yet universal understanding of a kid's curiosity. The curiosity leads each child more often than not to find themselves getting into some sort of trouble... right? Unfortunately for me, this seemed to be my case and there was no hiding from it. It was in the late afternoon hours on a visitation weekend when the downhill spiraling truly began. The weekend had been more of the usual. I found myself playing Spyro on PlayStation 2 with the neighbor's children, eating pepperoni pizza for dinner, washing it down with a bottle of Yoo-hoo, and staying up until 1 AM watching Adult Swim. This was a typical weekend visit up until I had seen my father stand on his tip toes, and reach for something in the kitchen. I thought to myself what was he doing? He was reaching above one of the splinter-inducing cabinets over the sink; I didn't even know you could put stuff up there. He saw me watching him and quickly dropped what he had gone for, dismissing the fact he was unmistakably in the process of something and turned to the fridge to grab a new beer. His breath always smelled of his signature Pennsylvania-based pale ale that he drank with every meal. There was a half-finished bottle on the kitchen table so anyone would have known that's not what he really wanted. He always made sure he finished each bottle. "Alcohol, the cause of, and answer to, all life's problems," he'd always say. At that point there was no changing my mind, it was set and there was no questioning that I needed to find out what was up there.
This weekend should have played out differently. My younger sister was supposed to be here with me, too. Visits with our father were never as bad when she was around. Maybe he didn't want any other witnesses besides me and him; his word would be against mine. She hadn't come to spend the nights with us because she wasn't feeling well. Luckily for her, our mom kept her to take better care.
The TV was blaring with some show playing idly in the background as I sat at our prehistoric monitor screen of a computer playing games online. When realizing the noise of running water was coming from our place and not our upstairs neighbors, it dawned on me. Now was my one chance I'd have until the next day to figure out what he was hiding, and not an inch of my being wanted to or could wait.
I scurried to the kitchen and hoisted myself on the countertop because there was no way, even on my tippy toes would I reach the top. I stood up on the counter, balancing myself against the cabinets, careful not to knock over any empty bottles that were haphazardly placed by the sink, and reached my arm upwards. Immediately my hand felt something. I pulled it down and it was a clear plastic container. When peering inside, instantly I saw some questionable possessions, but I didn't fully understand what everything was at this young age. Contained inside were a half empty carton of Pall Mall Blues, a polished silver lighter in the shape of a middle finger, and a small baggie of a white powder. While still examining all the contents and kneeling up on the countertop, the water from the shower had stopped running. I was so entranced and questioning why he would be hiding these things up here that unlucky for me, I left myself open and vulnerable. Before the few seconds to put everything back in its proper places had passed, I was on the floor. He had come out of the shower and crossed the hallway in two large strides. His voice echoing throughout the house; he was yelling at me. I felt his hands push me off the counter. My jump down from curiosity had turned right into being knocked down.
I was falling, and it felt like an eternity until my body hit the kitchen floor.
“Did I not tell YOU, TO NOT TOUCH MY THINGS?” his voice grew louder as each word escaped through his cracked lips. “My things are MY FUCKING THINGS.” I backed away on all fours while he was still yelling, tears were welling in my eyes. Standing up I ran to my room, closing the door behind me. The moment the door shut I told myself I wouldn't tell anyone about what had just happened.
Sitting on the bed, I let my shoulders relax the tiniest bit and as soon as they did, I crumbled. Salty tears poured out, and the pain of my left arm was finally realized as it was throbbing with immensity. A headache, no amount of pain medication would fix had arrived with such force there was nothing else left to do except lay down in bed, with eyes closed, praying this nightmare would end.
I cried a lot at his house. Looking at the way he treated me, you wouldn’t be able to tell. He knew how to put on a good show for others.
If someone else were a fly on the wall in the household, they would see someone's daughter, someone's sister, someone's friend, sitting on her bed day or night and asking God: "Why me?" You would see her ask what it was she had done in a previous life to find herself a child who's parent dared get physical. Had I been that bad? At ten years old, I had yet to find my voice, find who I was in the world. At ten years old, I didn't want to disobey, to disappoint old daddy dearest. Thirteen years later and the courage has finally come up and blossomed into a creatively beautiful thing. And for that, I am grateful.