The first night of my mother and father’s reconciliation, my father cooked the best dinner I’d ever had in my life. The grilled steak, mashed potatoes, and green beans tasted like heaven to my stomach. Junk food had been the staple of my diet since my mother and I started living by ourselves. I beamed with happiness as I ate and dominated the conversation. I had so much to tell my dad. The fact that we were all together at the same table seemed like nothing short of a miracle.
I found out my parents were getting back together about a week before our special dinner. My father called me and told me he was moving to New York and would live with me and my mother. Not only that, but he and my mother were getting married as soon as possible. I pictured her in a gorgeous wedding gown walking down the aisle to my dad. In my fantasy, he was wearing a black tuxedo and smiling at my beautiful mom as they joined hands. Maybe I’d be a bridesmaid or the flower girl or something nice like that.
At least my mother had stopped her continuous crying. Before my dad moved in, she’d been all broken up over her ex-boyfriend, Richard, the man who lived in our house before my father did. My mom, Richard, and I originally moved into the townhouse together even though she knew he wasn’t my favorite person. As a peace offering, she let me have the bedroom with the double doors that was almost as large as the master. She was right, I loved my new room, but I never really warmed up to Richard. It wasn’t the first time he had broken my mother’s heart.
It thrilled me that Richard and his memory were behind me now. For three years, I’d been away from my father after my mother left him and took me from California to live with her parents in New York. I counted every day until I could see my dad again because I’d been an unabashed Daddy’s girl since the day I was born. It amazed me that now I could talk to him anytime I wanted after agonizing over his absence for so long. My dad told me my mother had been the one to propose to him, and I could tell how excited he was about the wedding. I knew he secretly loved my mom no matter what, almost as much I believed he loved me,
My father got a job working in a motel as the daytime manager but promised he’d be home for dinner every night. I didn’t want to let him out of my sight, but I understood that working wasn’t optional when it came to taking care of his family. About two weeks into my dad getting hired, I began to get used to the arrangement of school during the day and my daddy at night. My normal daily anxiety started to calm down, and life seemed pretty perfect with my wounded family back together again.
Everything changed in one day when I got off the school bus and walked down the long street to our townhouse. The door was cracked a tiny bit open, and I wondered if my mother forgot to close it all the way. My pulse quickened as the thought that somebody might have broken in and could possibly still be there. I thought maybe I should walk over to my friend’s house across the street and get one of her parents to go inside with me. As I was about to leave, I heard my mother’s voice coming from upstairs.
She was shouting at someone, her anger reverberating through the whole house. I hadn’t heard her yell that often in my short life, but hearing it made me start shaking. Tears suddenly sprang to my eyes. I stepped into the foyer and heard somebody barreling down the stairs.
“What’s wrong?” I called out, thinking it was my mother.
All at once, Richard appeared at the bottom of the steps. Seeing his face made me both confused and furious. I’d never planned on laying eyes on him again, yet there he was in my mother and father’s home. What are you doing here? I wanted to yell at him, but the words wouldn’t form on my lips. We stared at each other for a minute, then he shook his head as if he felt sorry for me and walked out the front door.
My mother was still shouting alternating with sobbing, and I went upstairs to find her sprawled on her messy bed.
“GET OUT!” she shouted at me. Stunned that she would talk to me like that, I left the townhouse and went over to my friend Anne’s house. When I got there, I told Anne and her mother what had happened. The mother gave me a hug and offered to check on my mom while I stayed with them. As grateful as I was, I didn’t understand why my friend’s mom came back five minutes later and opened her refrigerator, taking out a six-pack of Coors.
“Hair of the dog,” my friend’s mom told me. I had no idea what that meant, but I trusted she knew what she was doing. She gave me half of a wan smile and hugged me again. “Your mother is going to be just fine.”
Thus began a regular routine with Richard at our house during the day and my father there at night. I feared telling my father what was happening because it would break his heart and because I didn’t want him to leave. When I hinted to my mother that I thought what she was doing to dad was unfair, she stiffened up as if she’d just been slapped in the face.
“If you tell your dad, your life is over,” she threatened. It was enough to get me to shut up. It was also enough to make me afraid of her.
My mother stumbled around the townhouse, often slurring her words and wearing the same red tracksuit for days in a row without washing it. I’d learned enough to realize that she was drunk most of the time, especially after I found empty beer cans hidden all over the house. Instead of freaking out, I didn’t say a word to my father because then I’d have to tell him her drinking was the least of his problems. I became sullen around the house and didn’t laugh anymore when my dad made his funny jokes. When my father asked me what was wrong, I’d tell him “nothing” and try to put on a brave face.
My mother’s lies came to light on a Sunday afternoon. I was roller-skating down in the basement because it was raining out and also because I loved how the smooth concrete allowed for jumps and twirls. It was one of my favorite things to do. On that Sunday, my dad was waiting for me as I got to the top of the stairs.
“Hey, I need to show you something.”
I thought it might be a present or something he cooked for me, so I smiled and followed him. He went into the small downstairs bathroom and opened the cabinet below the sink. Inside were close to twenty empty beer cans, not a surprise to me but clearly a shock for my dad.
“Has your mom been drinking?” he asked me as he leaned closer.
“Yes,” I answered, choking back tears.
My dad hugged me and knelt down until we were eye to eye.
“Is anything else wrong?” he asked kindly.
I took a deep breath and told him. “It’s Richard. He’s been here every day while you’re at work.”
My father looked like somebody suddenly punched him in the stomach, but he regained his composure quickly. Tears were starting to roll down my face. My dad hugged me tight and told me not to worry.
“I’ll take care of everything,” he promised. “It’s going to be fine. Why don’t you go skate some more? I’ll come to get you after I talk to your mother.”
I nodded my head and did as he instructed, even though I didn’t feel like skating anymore. Still, it felt good to glide across the basement and spin over and over again, almost taking my mind completely off my troubles. I skated forward and backward and with one leg stretched out behind me. It felt like freedom.
“Glenna,” my father called a bit sternly, “you can come upstairs now.”
I followed my dad into the living room. My mother sat in our giant rocking chair with her legs folded Indian style. Her face looked like a combination of scowling and pouting. She didn’t look at me as my father spoke.
“Okay,” my dad announced, “I’ve talked to your mother. Richard isn’t going to be coming over ever again. Your mother is going to a hospital where she can get the help she needs. You’re going to stay with me. You should have never been left to deal with this at your age.”
I’d never heard my father talk that way before. He sounded like he was in charge after letting my mom run the show for so long. My mother continued to look at the floor as he turned to her.
“Susan, don’t you have something that you want to say to Glenna?”
My mother turned to me with such hatred that it nearly took my breath away. “I’m sorry,” she said in a sarcastic voice that told me she didn’t mean it one bit.
I sat down on the carpet and began putting my skates back on. My dad gave me a tiny smile. I tried to smile back as I headed for the basement once again, but the fear in my eyes gave me away. Before long, I was downstairs skating as fast as I could, trying to forget the last few months and the fact that my mother now hated me. It consoled me to think of staying with my dad and being safe with him. Maybe my mother really could get well and join our family again someday, but for now at least I’d be safe with my dad.
From that Sunday through the rest of her life, my relationship with my mother changed forever. I never trusted her again, stayed afraid of her, and barely even talked to her. Seeing the hate for me in my mother’s eyes that day made her dangerous to me. My mom and dad were never together again, although he stayed in my life just like he promised. I thought he was lucky to have gotten away, which didn’t happen for me until I grew up and got married.
By then, there was further damage in our relationship. She remarried a new man and moved to Missouri, and I didn’t see her for the next ten years. Whenever we were together, we formed a toxic combination. I didn’t completely forgive her until after she died two years ago and I finally let go of the past. When my father died, I’d been sitting beside his hospital bed for days. He was in a coma, but I talked to him as if he could hear me. When the nurse finally convinced me to go home and get some sleep, he let go of his life on Earth as if he didn’t want me to see the moment it happened.
He always protected me that way. He loved me unconditionally, which is a rare find. I loved him the same way.