Four Voices, Part I

FOUR

VOICES

A novel based on a true story.

In loving memory of my father, Stan Hayes, 1924 – 2005

Written by
V.J. Knutson

Part I

Endings and Beginnings

“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.”

                                                                                                       – Robert Frost

Betty-Ann, 1975-6

“Dad?” I strain to hear the voice on the other end of the phone. Bad Company blares in the background, the lead singer’s gravelly voice belting:

Bad company,

          And I can’t deny

          Bad company

          Till the day I die,   

           Oh, till the day I die,
till the day I die.

I cup the receiver and call out: “Can somebody turn the music down?”

“Turn the music down!” echoes through the townhouse, but the guests are all too stoned to comply.

“Dad?” I try again, raising my own volume.

“Betty-Ann? Is that you, Love?”

Not Dad. Liz! I hesitate. What to do now?

A rough hand grasps the back of my neck, and the warmth of sickly sweet breath in my ear whispers: “Come back downstairs, baby.”

“I am not feeling well!” I blurt.

“Do you want to come home?”

“Ah, Babe, the night is young,” I feel the thrust of Ray’s pelvis against my hip- a slow seductive invitation.

This is so awkward. Ever since I found out about Liz, we’d had a pact that I wouldn’t come home when she was there. The agreement was that I would call home first and stay out until she was gone, but tonight I can’t do it.   I crave the comfort of my own bed.

“Is it okay?”

Liz wasn’t the one to set the conditions of our agreement. It was all me. The adults in my life let me rule in this situation. I hadn’t foreseen that there would be times when I wanted to be home early.

“It’s entirely up to you.”

My head is throbbing as I push through the throng, making my way to the front door and out into the night air, dragging Ray with me.

Life is so complicated, I moan to myself. Too complicated.

“You just need to relax…. Have some of this.”

I turn away. Roy and his friends seem to have an endless supply of pot and have been passing it around all night. I am not into that.

“You’re beautiful, you know?’ Ray says, cupping my chin in his palm and pulling my face towards him.   “Don’t you like me?” He grasps my sleeve and I wonder if he’s going to make a scene.

Truth is, I’d had a crush on him for two years. He is my Heathcliff – dark and mysterious – I have fantasized about him from the moment I first saw him. But tonight, surrounded by his friends, loud music, and way too many drugs, I just don’t feel comfortable. Although I crave love and affection, something about his advances feels wrong. I wonder if he even knows it is me he’s talking to, his eyes are so glazed over.

“Of course I like you.” I reassure him. “I am just not feeling well.”

“I could make you feel better.” His hand starts to travel again.

“It’s girl stuff.” Firmly, I push him away.

“That’s okay, baby. Haven’t you ever made love during your period?”

I hadn’t even made love, period! This is not about to be my first time.

“Goodnight Ray.” I break free and head for the car.   He stands on the porch and watches me leave, a silly smirk on his face. I can’t tell if he is angry or amused. It occurs to me that he may not call me again, but that is the least of my problems.

It is 10:30 on a Saturday night, and I am headed home.

Liz is there!

* * *

Mom is waiting in the doorway as I pull into my parking spot. She has a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other. She smiles at me as I approach the house.

“Your mother is being a devil,” she slurs.

“I see that.”

Mom positions herself in the doorway to the family room as I stop to remove my shoes. Just beyond her I catch the glimpse of a stockinged foot elegantly poised in mid air. It extends from what I recognize as a robe my mother had sewn for my father. Mom follows my gaze and readjusts her stance. This situation is obviously as awkward for her as it is for me.

“I’ll leave you to your party.” I rush past, head down, avoiding the spectacle in the other room. “Good night all.”

“Good night, Betty-Ann,” comes the chorused response.

I lie on my bed, heart pounding. Why is my life so fucked up?

* * *

Liz is my family’s deep, dark secret. Mom says every family has secrets, some not as bad, some worse. The point is no one, and I mean NO ONE, is EVER to know about her. I don’t even want to know about her. I told them so, too! But it is difficult to live in the same house as someone and pretend they don’t exist. Most of the time that’s what I do – pretend she doesn’t exist.

Obviously, that doesn’t always work.

It’s not that I have anything against Liz personally – I really don’t know her. It is my Dad that I hate for ever having brought her here, and my Mom for letting her stay.

And I hate that we’re never, ever allowed to talk about it. Liz is part of the family and that is that.

Are there other Liz’s out there? Do other families live like ours? I’ve never heard of it, but then again, they would be like us – mouths sealed.

I know it sounds selfish, but I have no idea how my siblings cope with this issue. I am the only one that has deliberately turned my back on her, the rest are more accommodating.

We never talk about it.

LIZ IS TABOO!

Laughter from downstairs brings me back into the moment. My siblings are still out, likely avoiding the display as well.

I toss and turn on the couch-turned-bed where I sleep and pull the covers over my head.

Make this day stop! I scream inside.

It’s safer to think about Ray.

That first day that I spotted him at my new high school, I couldn’t help but notice how classically handsome he is: his straight dark hair, parted neatly at the middle, falls just below his chin, framing his long face and accenting his perfect features. Dark eyebrows draw attention to his equally dark, brooding eyes.   I would catch myself staring at him, and then when he walked into one of my classes and sat right in front of me, I thought I was going to die. How would I ever concentrate?

He had a girlfriend back then, though – a cute, little blonde, from whom he was inseparable. I should have known. She fit neatly under his shoulder and his smoky gaze lit up whenever she was around. That could never be me, I thought. My nicknames include Moose, Tree, and Stretch, not exactly the petite type that boys seem to fall for.

I was only at that high school for a year and a half before they politely asked me to leave. Ray and his girlfriend seemed like a solid couple. I hadn’t given him any thought since.   Until he showed up in the Hardware store where I was working.

Not sure if he’d even recognize me (he’d never acknowledged me before), I politely rang his purchase through giving him as bright a smile as I could muster – my heart was beating so profusely. He glanced at me, grabbed his parcel and lumbered away. His mind was clearly on a purpose that did not involve me.

I sighed and watched his departing back, and then it happened. He stopped; whirled around, caught me looking at him and his face broke into a wide grin. He strode back towards me.

“Betty-Ann, isn’t it?”

“Hi, Ray. “ My face felt hot and flushed.

“I haven’t seen you around school lately.”

“I…I moved.”

He glanced around and then leaned in. “Do you get a break or anything?   Want to get a coffee?”

It just so happened I was due for a break! I found my replacement and happily accompanied Ray to the Food Court.

Looking back on it, I don’t even remember what we talked about. My head and heart were whirling with a lovesick stupor.   Ray was talking to me.

“Do you want to go out sometime?” Ray asked as I stood up to indicate my break was over.   “I could pick you up after your shift.”

I looked down at my Home Hardware uniform and realized I’d not brought a change of clothes.

“Uh, how about a little later – I kind of need to change.”

We both laughed and the date was set.

I am going out with dreamboat Ray!

* * *

Life is so up and down. One moment you’re feeling good and the next you are tossed on rocky waters, your heart in your throat.

I hate life right now.

The evening didn’t start out so bad – I met with a couple of friends from my old school and we went to Fryfogle’s downtown.   We’ve been going to Fry’s for a couple of years now, even though I am still technically underage – but they never ask. Fry’s has the best blues music around, and we have seen many acts like Muddy Waters, Downchild Blues Band, and Valdy.

Tonight was a band I’d not heard of before, but they played great dance music, so we were happy.

I wore my usual turtleneck sweater, Levis jeans and platform shoes (I know I’m already tall – but it’s the fashion). My friends favoured the more contemporary look of thin-strapped disco dresses with four-inch heels. They have the bodies for it; I do not.

Finding a great table right next to the stage, we ordered our first round. As usual, I ordered a draught (thirty-five cents is all I can afford). Everyone else ordered Singapore Slings or Tom Collins, or something more exotic. When the order came the waiter set a Sling down in front of me.

“Excuse me,” I shouted over the loud music. “I didn’t order this.”

“I know,” he mouthed back, “It’s from a secret admirer.”

Hoots exploded around the table.

My next drink again came au gratis, and I started to get curious, and tipsy. The drinks were flowing much more quickly than I was used to and I found myself making frequent trips to the Little Girl’s room, past the bartender with whom I kept up a hilarious repartee.

“No, really,” I said to the waiter on the next round. “Who is this admirer? I’d like to thank him.”

He returned with a hand-drawn note signed “The Tooth Fairy”. We were all intrigued.

“If this Tooth Fairy is feeling so generous, how about the rest of us?” one of my friends suggested.

“You haven’t been out with Betty-Ann before have you?” My best friend Gayle said. “Things like this always happen to her.”

“They do not!” I flashed.

“Do so!” Gayle sassed back. “Remember The Noodle Factory?”

“Oh yeah,” I backed down. The bouncer at the Noodle Factory promised to seat us with a group of guys if I saved him a dance – and he was good to his word. He asked me out afterwards and since I am underage I had to say no, so we don’t go there anymore.

The waiter came back with a tray of B-52 Bombers.

“Oh my God!” I giggled. “I am going to be bombed.”

“I think that’s his intent,” the waiter responded.

“Ah come on, tell me. Is it the drummer?” The band had a table on the opposite side of the dance floor, but the drummer had chosen to sit at a table just behind us. The waiter looked up and shrugged.

“Could be!”

I picked up my drink and staggered to the table behind, plopping down in an empty chair.

“Thank you,” I smiled raising my glass.

The drummer raised his glass in response. “You’re welcome. What are you thanking me for?”

“The drinks. Didn’t you send them?”

“Wish I had, but, no, it wasn’t me. I could take you to a party later, after our gig, if you’d like.”

Embarrassed, I stumbled back to my seat. “Oops! It wasn’t him.”

“Wasn’t him!” I told the waiter, who returned a few minutes later with another note.

I’m the Tooth Fairy, the note showed a caricature of the bartender. Can I take you out for pizza after my shift?

By now we were all rolling over with laughter, but I started to sober up. If I said yes, he’d find out how old I am and the gig would be up.

Gayle gave me the evil eye.

I stopped at the bar this time and introduced myself.

“You have made my night,” I gushed. “But I have to work in the morning.”

Then realizing the lie would mean I have to make a place of employment, I quickly added: “Can we do this again sometime?”

He slid a piece of paper and pen across the bar to me and I wrote down my name and a fictitious number.

Flashing a drunken smile, I leaned across the bar and kissed his cheek.

“Didn’t think I should let you embarrass yourself anymore,” he laughed indicating the drummer.

“I appreciate that,” I said, picking up my drink with the intention of rejoining my group. Then a thought occurred to me.

“Do you mind my asking, ‘Why me?”

“Why not you?”

“Well look at me – the epitome of conservatism, turtle-neck and all – while all my friends look gorgeous and girly.”

“That’s just it! Girls like your friends are a dime a dozen. You stand out.” He looked me up and down and let out a low whistle. “Believe me. You stand out!”

“Really? Okay!” I beamed, swaggering back to my table.

We laughed all the way home, stopping for our traditional Hot Fudge sundaes on the way, and then heading our separate ways.

I was still glowing when I walked through the front door and right into my parents’ little soiree, still in progress.

“Betty Boop! My father’s voice, a dangerous mushy tone, greeted me. “Come in here and say ‘hi’ to all my friends.”

On a quick glance I could see that the women were conspicuously missing from this gathering – likely having escaped downstairs.

“Hi all!” Giving a little wave and a smile, I started towards the stairs.

“Get back here, young lady! Give us a proper hello!”

Not wanting to disobey and cause a scene, I reluctantly stepped into the room.

“Nice to see you, Betty-Ann!” An arm drew me into a smoky embrace then held me back for appraisal. “My how you have grown. She’s filled out quite nicely, right fellows?”

A chorus of whoops and hollers followed. I suddenly felt dirty, the glow of my evening fast dulling.

“Come see your ol’ Dad! Show these men how much you love me.”

It’s a trap.

“I love you, Daddy!” I muster my most sincere voice, but keep my distance.

“No, no, no. Come over here and tell me.”

The laughter in the room subsides, and a hush tension rises, all eyes on me.

If I resist, it will get ugly. If I comply, it will also be ugly. Not wishing to draw out the scene, I step forward.

He grabs my wrist as soon as I’m in reach, twisting my arm to make me turn away from him. I face the men, head down. He tightens the grip.

“I could break this arm,” he purrs in my ear. “Don’t you forget it.” Then to the audience, “Tell these men how much you love your Daddy.”

“I love my Daddy.” Try as I might, I can’t conjure up the enthusiasm he’s expecting.

He wrenches harder. “That’s not good enough, Betty-Ann!”

Wincing and through gritted teeth, I yell: “I love you!”

It is all awkwardness now. I see my Uncle Charlie in the corner and our eyes lock. Jolly Charlie starts to clap. “Well done, Betty-Ann! Look at that, she loves her Father.” He chuckles in an attempt to break the atmosphere.

“Not enough for me,” my Father is in the zone now – his drunken, you-will-do-as-I-say zone. “Who does everything for you, Betty-Ann? Who works sixteen hours a day, gives you this nice house, and buys you all those fancy clothes.”

I wanted to say I do, where the clothes are concerned, but this wasn’t the time to pick that battle. “You do.”

“Louder!”

“You do! You are the best Dad ever. I love you!”   I am careful to keep all emotion out of my voice. I repeat it like the programmed rabbit I am.

He releases me with a shove and I fall to the ground at the feet of one of his old friends, who helps me up with a wink. “Well done, Betty-Ann,” he assures me, as if this is a perfectly normal performance of father and daughter.

I don’t even bother to say ‘Good night’ I am so enraged.

In the safety of my bedroom I crumple.

I hate him! I hate everything he stands for and everything he does to me!

And I hate me. I hate that I haven’t got the guts to stand up to him. I hate that I let him hurt me time and time again, and I don’t fight back. I am a coward. I should let him break my arm and see how he feels!

God, I hate this life!

* * *

Ray has treated me like his girlfriend right from the beginning, and as flattering as that feels, I am unsure about our relationship. A few things have happened to make me question.

I heard through an acquaintance, who had no knowledge of my relationship with Ray, that his former girlfriend left because Ray had thrown her through a plate glass window. When I asked Ray about it, he said they were just fooling around when it happened, no malice intended. He laughed convincingly and said that is how rumours get started. Of course, I believed him.

Except, when he took me home for the first time, his older sister pulled me aside and asked me if I knew about Ray. Without any details, I assumed she was talking about the window incident and nodded that I did.

“He told me everything,” I said as if that should make it okay.

“And you’re okay with that?” She looked at me incredulously.

I nodded again, and she just said to be careful.

Ray doesn’t show any signs of violence around me. He does more drugs than I’d like, but he always seems more like a cuddly pussycat than an abuser. I can’t see why his sister would make such a big deal about it.

I think my insecurities stem more from wondering why a guy like Ray would want anything to do with a loser like me.

“Nobody will ever love you!” Every boy I’d ever broken with up had told me.

“You’re obnoxious, and frankly out of control,” my latest ex had elaborated.

I fear they were right. I am not loveable.

How long will this relationship last before Ray finds that out?

* * *

Trying to balance work, school, and a boyfriend are exhausting, but I am happy. Having someone like Ray in my life just makes it all the much easier. It doesn’t matter how tired I am, I feel like smiling.

Tonight, I stop to check in on Mom and Dad before heading up to bed. Things seem calm at first, but then Dad starts.

Silent, with eyes fixed on me, Dad sets an empty glass on his knee, balancing it while moving his leg back in forth. This is supposed to be my cue. I ignore him.

“Ahem!” He nods and gestures to the empty glass.

I continue to ignore him and ask Mom about her day.

Clink, clink, clink. He is tapping the glass now.

“You’re legs worked fine the last time I saw them,” I remark coolly.

His eyebrows rise in displeasure. “I worked hard all day. It’s the least you could for your old man.”

“I worked hard all day, too. Get your own drink!”

Mom jumps up and moves to pick up the glass.

“Don’t you dare, Mom!” You worked equally as hard all day. Let him get his own damn drink.”

“Is this the thanks I get? All I want is a simple drink from my own daughter, and she won’t even get it for me.”

It’s the point of the thing. My father is the epitome of the male chauvinist pig. It’s his home, his castle, and everyone and everything is supposed to pander to him. It makes me mad.

My mother stands by, hesitant.

“It won’t hurt him to serve himself once in a while.” I turn the argument on her.

She sighs. “You’re not going to win, Betty-Ann.”

My father leers with satisfaction.

“Not if you keep giving in.” It’s a hopeless plea. My Mother always gives in. Doesn’t she realize I’m on her side? That I am doing this for all of us?

It’s not just about the drink. It’s about all the times he’s put her down, humiliated her and never apologized. It’s about how he always has to have the first helping of pie, and it has to be flawlessly served (no broken pieces for him). It’s about how every time we women try to watch a movie together, or have some fun, he comes home and insists on changing the channel, even though he has a set in his own bedroom- where we are not allowed to go. He is the King of the Castle, as he keeps reminded us. As if we need reminding.

For once, I want to win. I want to prove him wrong. See him back down. It’s not going to happen.

I get up and grab the glass. There is no winning against my Father. He knows it. She knows it. I seethe inside.

* * *

Mae is moving out! Finally, I get my own room! Dad promised me my own room when this house was being built; I even got to pick out the flooring and paint colours, but we hadn’t been in two weeks when Lily called to say that she and Cindy were coming back to town and needed a place to stay.   They got my room and I was ousted to the fold-down couch in Mae’s room, where I’ve been sleeping for the past six months. Now Lily and her daughter can take over Mae’s old room and I’ll get my own back!

Ray is helping Mae move; they get along really well. Ray is a drummer and Mae plays the guitar so they have music in common.   Ray is even taking me to a George Harrison concert next week! Although he’s not my favourite Beatle, it’s pretty cool that I’ll be seeing one in person. Mom isn’t pleased about it because it’s on a school night, but mostly I just think she’s happy when we’re out of the house. It makes it easier for Liz to be around, and when Liz is around, Dad is a happier person.

I work as much as I can because I’m saving up for a trip in the spring – to France! I’m going with the school. It’s so exciting!

Ray has been saying some odd things, lately. He is obsessed with The Who, and thinks that he will play with them – knows it in his gut, he says. He has been sending them letters and trying to make phone contact, all with no response. I’ve never actually heard Ray play, and since he isn’t part of an actual band, I am pretty sure he is going to be let down. Ray is very upbeat about it though.

He has also been on my case about how much I am working. I have had to ask him to stay away from the store, as the Manager has complained. He knows this job is important to me, but he just doesn’t seem to pay attention to that. I’m thinking about breaking it off with Ray.

* * *

We just got back from the George Harrison concert! In Toronto! At the Maple Leaf Gardens!

I can’t believe I actually got to see one of the Beatles, live!

George Harrison isn’t necessarily my favourite Beatle, but I did recognize some of his songs. Ray sang to me all the way home:

Something in the way she moves
All I have to do is think of her
Something in the way she shows me
I don’t want to leave her now
You know I believe in how.

Harrison did a lot of other stuff too, that was pretty far out – East Indian music blended with his. The crowd was lighting up a lot doobies for that set!

I really like the lead act, even though I’d never heard of him before: Billy Preston. His high energy got the crowd rocking right from the get go.

Nothin’ from nothin’ leaves nothing’

                 You gotta have somethin’ if you wanna be with me….

That song is stuck in my head.

Thank you Ray for a memorable evening!

Life is good!

* * *

Okay, Ray is out of here!

As soon as Mae gets her car back that is. Ray borrowed Mae’s car to drop off Christmas cards to all the churches in town. It’s a nice gesture and all, but a little more than crazy. When I asked him about it, he said:

“Look at me, Betty-Ann! Who do I look like?”

I wasn’t sure what he was fishing for, so I didn’t respond.

“Jesus Christ!” He beamed. “I look just like Jesus Christ! Don’t you see? I am the Second Coming!”

I had to admit he did look quite a bit like the depictions of Jesus, minus the beard, but this was over the top.

Now, I’m just waiting for him to come back with Mae’s car, and then I am dumping him. Enough crazy for me!

* * *

“Betty-Ann?”

I recognize the voice immediately. It’s been months since Ray and I broke up; I thought I’d heard the last of him.

“Hi.”

“I needed to talk to someone. I miss you.”

“What’s going on?” I know I will regret it, but I haven’t got the heart to hang up.

“I went to visit my Dad. Did I ever tell you about my Dad? Well, anyway, I did, and it wasn’t good. Betty-Ann?”

“I’m here.”

“I stabbed him Betty-Ann. I stabbed my Dad.”

“You what?! How? Why? Is he okay?”

“It was a really bad scene – you’ve got to believe it. I wouldn’t do it otherwise. It’s just really messed up. Betty-Ann, I’m sorry. I know why you broke with up me…I…”

“Ray, where are you?”

“They put me away. I won’t be hurting anyone for a while. I just wanted to let you know. I really liked you, you know. You kind of understood me. You were good for me, Betty Ann.”

Even though it’s late and against house rules, I call Mick. Mick is my latest boyfriend.

“I just had a disturbing phone call,” I tell him. I’m not sure what I thought Mick could do about it, but I need to hear a sane voice.

“Do you want me to come over?”

“No!” I blurt. “My Dad would kill me. He’s going to kill me anyway, ‘cause I’m on the phone so late, but I can’t sleep, especially now.”

“Are you still excited?”

I am leaving for France tomorrow! “Duh!”

“Don’t let this creep get to you, Betty-Ann. He can’t hurt you from where he is.”

“No. I don’t think he’d hurt me anyway. It’s just upsetting. Thanks for being there, Mick.”

“No problemo. Any time. You want to talk some more, ‘cause I’ve got a test tomorrow and really should be studying.”

“No, it’s okay. I’ll call you when I get back.”

“I can’t wait to hear all about you. Have a great time, Betty-Ann, and make sure you think about me.”

“I will!”

Mick is the antithesis of Ray – just a little taller than me with short buzzed blonde hair and blue eyes. He has the kind of freckled face that makes him look like a little boy, but with a boxy head, full lips and a crooked nose, he also looks a bit like a prizefighter. He’s really smart too. We went to the gifted school together for the last three months before my family moved away. When we met up at a class reunion, we immediately started dating.

My parents love, love, love Mick. “He’s a keeper!” they tell me.

I don’t know about that. What I do know is that Mick can’t keep his hands off me and it’s all I can do to get through each date unscathed. I’m just not ready for sex right now, and Mick doesn’t know how to take ‘no’ for an answer.

But, that’s not my problem right now. Right now I have to try and get some sleep. Tomorrow, Paris!

* * *

“France is amazing!” I exclaim, hopping into Mick’s waiting car. I’ve only been back an hour, but he insists on seeing me.

Mick plants a long, sloppy kiss on me. “I’ve missed you so much!”

“I missed you too, Mick, but I had the best time!” I continue to prattle on about the trip as Mick drives through town, turning into a narrow lane downtown and coming to a stop in a small parking lot.

“Where are we going?”

“Thought you might miss Canadian food, so I’m taking you for pizza.”

“I am definitely up for pizza. I’m actually starving!”

Mick orders us a deluxe and a couple of cokes and I carry on telling him all the highlights of my tour.

“Paris was okay, but the people were pretty cold,” I tell him biting hungrily into the first slice of pizza. “I prefer the countryside. Do you know that when people found out we were Canadian they invited us in and fed us these crazy, multi-course meals? It was awesome!”

I don’t tell him that I’d been paired with a guy for the trip, because the planners wrongly thought that he was female. (His name was Sienna.) He and I became best of friends and traveled everywhere together, and because of the mix-up, usually got assigned to suites so we wouldn’t be in the same room together. It was sweet.

“The chateaus were crazy,” I continue. “I’ve read all about them in historical novels, so to actually be there was something else!”

Mick just listens intently, scoffing pizza and smiling at me.

Dinner ends and we climb back into his Volkswagen Beetle. It is mid-April, but there is still a chill in the night air. I shiver.

“France was colder than I’d expected,” I tell him. “I don’t feel like I’ve been warm in forever.”

Mick takes that as an invitation to warm me up. He reaches across me and unlatches my catch sending the seat back down and me with it.

“What are you doing?”

“Getting you warm,” he smiles, maneuvering his body over mine, then covering my mouth with his.

I am overtired, still buzzing from the trip, and wishing I’d at least showered before coming out. I try to respond to Mick’s advances – he’s been so nice to me – but my mind is elsewhere.

A tap on the window, and a shout: “Are you okay in there?” Brings me around. With horror I see that both Mick and my jeans are pulled down, and his erect penis is pointed right at me. We scramble to pull ourselves together and nod at the two men outside the car.

“Mind your own business!” Mick yells, clearly miffed.

I smile and nod with embarrassment. One of the men is actually a boy from my school. I am mortified.

Silence fills the space between us now. What was Mick thinking? We were having such a nice evening and he had to go and spoil it with sex. I can’t believe he thought I’d do it with him just because I’d been away for two weeks! I’m not that kind of girl. The look on John’s face haunts me – by tomorrow it will be all over school. Damn!

Mick pulls into the driveway and doesn’t make a move. Just looks down at his lap.

“Mick,” I start. “I like you a lot, but you want something I can’t give. If you just want to have sex, then I suggest you go find a hole in a tree stump or something, I am not going to serve that purpose for you. “

He tries to speak, but I cut him off.

“Every time we get together, I spend the whole date trying to fend you off! That is not love, Mick. That is horny beyond control. I want someone who loves me.”

“Betty-Ann, I…” but I am gone.

I don’t even pause to see who’s at home, just rush directly to my room, where I bury my face.

* * *

The sweet smell of Mom’s baking draws me into the kitchen. It has been a super long day at school, and I am still jet-lagged.

A batch of Hermit cookies is cooling on the kitchen table, and mom is just pulling an apple pie out of the oven.

“Smells good, Mom!” I say, snitching a cookie off the tray. “I am beat.”

“I bet you are,” Mom acknowledges me. “Your father and I got a phone call last night.”

“’Oh yeah? From who?”

“Mick. He says you broke up with him. He is quite upset.”

“I guess he is, to have called you guys.”

“He’s a nice boy, Betty-Ann. And you’ve only just got back from your trip. What could possibly precipitate this break up?”

“We just don’t see eye-to-eye on some things,” I say quickly, wanting the matter to drop.

“Has he beaten you?” I can tell Mom is not going to let this go.

“No, Mom, nothing like that.”

“Your Father and I think he’s such a nice young man, and he’ll go places, Betty-Ann. You can’t go wrong with someone like that.”

The comment stings.   Parents think they know so much, but they have no idea.

“If you must know, your sweet, ‘going somewhere’ boy is a sex hound, Mom!” I blurt out. “He couldn’t keep his hands off me.”

Mom hands me another cookie and gestures for me to take a seat.

“Betty-Ann,” she starts. “Desiring sex with you is not the worst thing a boy can do. I think is good to try out sex before you get married.”

This last comment stuns me into silence. What?!

“Well, you wouldn’t want to buy shoes without trying them on first, would you?”

I can’t believe I am having this conversation with my mother!

“Are you telling me you haven’t had sex yet?”

“No, Mom, I’m saving myself.”

“For what? Oh, Betty-Ann, don’t tell me you are saving yourself for marriage. This is something you need to know about long before you are married. Look at my situation. Do you think I would have married your father if I’d known?”

The elephant is in the room. My chest starts to cave in and my throat closes. I need to find my inhaler.

“Not now, Mom!” I scurry out.

The phone rings just as I pass and reflexively I answer it.

“Betty-Ann?”

Not Mick, thank goodness.

“Hi Ray. How are you?”

“I can’t stop thinking about you Betty-Ann,” his voice sounds funny, robotic. “I just want to warn you – when I get out- I can’t be sure what I’ll do. Stay away from me, Betty-Ann. I am thinking about you and I just might stab you too. I’m capable of that you know. You don’t want me around.”

I slam down the phone. Was he just threatening me?

“Who was that, Honey?” Mom calls from the kitchen.

“No one, Mom. Wrong number.”

I am back one day and life is already out of control.

* * *

“I hate this god-damn house!” My sister’s voice travels up the stairs, slamming her bedroom door behind her.

“Get back down here, Lillian!” My father blasts. Then, when she doesn’t comply, I hear his heavy step on the landing. “Lillian! We are not done talking!”

I hear a door open and then mine as little Cindy slips in.

“What’s going on?” I ask her, although this is not out of the ordinary, and quite frankly I could care less. Lily is as volatile as Dad.

“She didn’t line our shoes up at the front door,” Cindy whimpers.

“Ah, the old “Be considerate of others” speech,” I smile. I straighten my back, square my shoulders and thrust out my chest, then imitating my father’s voice announce:

“Be considerate of others above all else. Don’t do as I do, do as I say!”

Cindy giggles, and relaxes. I show her the sketch I am working on. “Want me to draw you?”

“Sure!” she responds, posing.

Mae is actually the artist in the house, but I like to play around with caricatures. I quickly draw Cindy’s big, blue eyes, exaggerated for effect, then sketch in her pouty, full lips, and add a button nose. I add tons of waves to her hair and create an undersized body to complete the effect.

“Let’s see,” I murmur, “what should you be doing?”

Looking to Cindy for inspiration, I think how truly sweet she is, and how it sucks that she was born into this life. I draw a greeting card in her hand, with a big heart that reads: “ I love my Mommy.”

“Cute!” Cindy exclaims grabbing the paper and hopping down off my bed. “I gotta show Mommy.”

We both pause to listen. Things have quieted down, so I nod at her to let her know it’s safe.

“Dinner!” Mom’s voice echoes through the house. Doors open and we all emerge, filing into the kitchen and taking our seats around the table. Lily’s face is red and still steaming, but she looks down, not daring to engage Father any further. The rest of us remain silent.

Conversing at the dinner table is forbidden in our house. Father demands to enjoy his supper in peace. As is customary, Mom sets his plate before him first, and then serves the rest of us. Taking one bite of food, he pushes the plate away, declaring, as always, that all she has to do is cook his meals and she can’t even do that right. Point made, he pulls the plate back and continues to eat, his anger an ugly cloud in the room. Before the rest of us have finished, he takes his tea and adjourns to the family room, flopping in his lazy-boy, which he reclines and precedes to take his post-dinner nap.

I did this job when Mom worked downtown, and hated it.   Father was opposed to her taking a job, but Mom ignored his protests and went to work anyway. Lily and Mae also worked full-time, so I would come from school every day and cook dinner. It was a thankless job, and I was happy when Mom switched to working part-time so she could resume her household duties. Now I only do it once in awhile, when Mom picks up extra shifts.

None of us dare look at each other, as the forced silence bubbles up inside threatening to cause bursts of laughter, which would definitely bring down the wrath of Father. It is the same every dinner. His Majesty arrives home at 4:38; demands supper on the table immediately, eats two bites, and then takes his royal nap before returning to work for the evening.

When he does leave, the pent up energy spills out in a cacophony of female voice:

“He’s such an asshole!” Lily exclaims.

“Is there more pie?”

“Do you know what happened at school today?”

“Who’s on cleanup tonight?”

We talk over one another, making up for the past hour, laughing, and ranting. It’s my turn to help Mom, so the others ungraciously make their exit, heading for the recreation room and our one communal television set.

“Why doesn’t Dad let up on Lillian, Mom?”

“Your sister isn’t any easier to live with; she brings it on.”

I can’t argue with that. Lily is eleven years my senior, but sometimes she acts like a petulant child.

“Why do you put up with her, Mom?”

“What am I to do, Betty-Ann? You know your sister has a heart condition. Now that she is a single mom, your Father and I feel responsible. We’re just trying to give her a boost. She hasn’t had the easiest life.”

She looks at me over her glasses, with that “You on the other hand, have everything” look.   It infuriates me. Lily treats them both with nothing but disdain, and they keep going out of their way for her, bailing her out time and time again.

“Lily always gets her way, is all.” I grumble.

“Why don’t you just move out?”

“Yea, like it’s that easy!” Sometimes I agree with my father, Mom can be so stupid.

“Why not? You have a good job. School’s almost over.”

“And I have car payments, Mom, did you forget that?”

“Well you make good money now that you work at the restaurant. You should be able to afford both.”

“What about school next year?”

“Oh, Betty-Ann! Why don’t you let that go? No one else in the family has a university education and we all do just fine. Why are so obsessed with staying in school. Don’t you just want to get on with your life?”

“Are you suggesting that leaving home and forgoing university would be the best thing for me, Mom?”

“I just think it is an obvious solution to an ongoing problem, Betty-Ann. It is your only hoping of escaping this insanity.   Move out, and get on with your life. You’ll be much happier.”

* * * *

“Who knows the definition of deviancy?” Mr. Brady has written the word on the board and is now perched on the edge of a vacant desk, chalk poised to write the response.

“Anything that is different from the norm,” someone blurts out.

He writes normal on the opposite side of the board. “How do you define normal?”

“By what is socially acceptable,” I offer. I love this class. Mr. Brady leads us in such interesting debates.

“How does society get to determine norms?”

“It’s majority rules,” Bruce adds. “It’s how we know who’s weird and who’s not.” He snickers looking around the room for approval.

“So if I behave differently than, say, Bruce here, which one of is behaving normally?”

The class laughs. Bruce is a loudmouth and often inappropriate and we all know it.

“I ask you again. What determines normal?”

Voices collide against one another as we try to come up with an answer.

“Truth is,” Mr. Brady holds up his hand for silence, “Normal is a concept, not a measurable quantity. It changes as society changes.”

He approaches the board again and writes sexual in before deviancy.

“Heterosexual!” Bruce yells out before Mr. Brady can ask the next question. “That’s normal!”

Mr. Brady writes heterosexual under normal. “Where would you put homosexual?”

“Under deviancy!”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah, my dad told me it’s criminal.”

“Actually, it’s not,” another student jumps in. “It was de-criminalized in 1969. Pierre Trudeau says that what happens in the bedroom is not the business of the law.” Janice’s father is a lawyer. She would know.

“What?! No way!”

“Janice is right. Homosexuality is no longer considered a criminal act, when conducted between two consenting adults within the confines of their own bedroom.”

“Ewww!”

Mr. Brady chooses to ignore the reaction. “It is however, classified as a mental disorder. Do you agree?”

I try to picture it in my mind: two men holding hands, kissing. It definitely isn’t normal, but who am I to say? Different, yes, but not a mental illness.

“What about bi-sexuality, hermaphrodite, transvestite, asexual, polygamy?” He throws the terms out at us in rapid progression.

“Oh, man!” Bruce exclaims. “They should all be shot! That’s so perverse!”

I sink down in my seat, wanting to disappear. Suddenly the discussion is all too close to home. Letting my hair fall over my face, I pray that no one looks at me. Surely, they would be able to tell. I glance at the clock. Ten minutes. Get me out of here!

I don’t even stop at my locker once the bell goes. I walk down the hall, vault the stairs and break out the side door. Mr. Brady said it in class. He spoke my reality out loud. Does he know? Was he targeting me? How can I go back there again?

The sky is dark, as low hanging clouds gather gloomily, threatening rain. I pick up the pace. My heart is beating loudly and I feel as if I want to climb outside my skin. I want to go somewhere, anywhere, but there is no place to go, no solace to be had. I head for home, pushing forward in an effort to beat the storm, but am unsuccessful. Cold, piercing sheets of rain pelt me, drenching me, and I submit, knowing this is my lot in life: to suffer, to always suffer.

* * *

It’s my night to cook dinner, so I throw some sauce in a pot and put on another for the pasta. My mind is still spinning, and I know I have to get ahold of myself, so I run to my room and write. Getting the thoughts and feelings down on paper helps me cope – it always has.

I smell the burning at the same time that I hear the front door open. Oh no!

“Betty-Ann!” my Father’s stern voice calls from the kitchen. I leap the stairs, rushing to the kitchen where he has already turned off the burner.

“Sorry Dad, I’ll make more.”

“No time for that. I have to get back to work. I’ll eat later. Clean that mess up. You’re a goddamn good for nothing. This wouldn’t happen if your mother didn’t insist on working.” He is raging with self-righteousness. “Can’t anyone around here do anything right?”

“Don’t make too much noise,” he adds as I attempt to salvage the pot. “I’m going to take five.”

He leans back in his chair and sighs with contempt.

Crash! The pot slips out of my soapy hands, spreading suds everywhere.

“Jesus Christ, Betty-Ann! What is the matter with you?”

I am crying now, and my own anger is rising to match his. Despite my better judgment I turn on him.

“I know what you are!”

I can see my Father’s impatience. “I don’t have time for this nonsense, Betty-Ann. “ He turns from me. “Are you on your period?”

I want to hit him, but instead I continue, eerily calm: “We learned about it in school today.”

“Learned about what?” He checks his watch and makes to leave the room.

I step in front of him; look him in the eye. “You are a deviant.”

I have his attention now. “You are a de-vi-ant. A deviant!”

I see the muscle in his arm twitch as his hand comes up in a fist. I step back raising my arm instinctively, but he does not strike.

“Don’t you ever talk that way to me again! I am your Father, and you will not question how I conduct myself, is that clear.”

He takes a step toward me, rising to his full height – bullying, always bullying.

“Do you hear me?”

“Yes.” I mutter with a small voice.

“Say again!”

“Yes, Dad.”

“Don’t you forget it!” The door slams behind him. “I will not stand for this insolence in my own home” I hear him rail as he walks away.

Maybe Mom is right. Maybe it is time for me to leave.

* * * *

I can’t seem to motivate myself to go to classes. I get up each morning (there would be hell to pay if I didn’t) and I drive to school parking lot, but I just can’t seem to make myself get out of the car and face my peers. Most mornings I sit behind the wheel until the last bell sounds, then drive out of the lot and head mindlessly for destinations unknown.

Today, I have chosen to sit by the river. The clouds of winter have blown off, and a clear blue sky brings promise of warmer weather. Despite the lingering chill, I raise my face to the sun, close my eyes and pray to a God I have never really known.

“Will there ever be an end to this misery, God?” I ask. “Is it something I’ve done? Have I brought this on myself?”

I try to remember a time when I have just been happy, but each memory is clouded by darkness, and I feel my chest clench. I drop my head letting my hair fall over my face and drawing my knees close to my body, sob.

I know I should be in class right now, making that last ditch effort to raise my marks so that I can win a scholarship. I am capable. I haven’t read one novel all semester and yet I’ve maintained an eighty-six in English, and my math marks are in the high nineties. If I really put my mind to it, my other subjects would be the same. But why bother, when even my family thinks it’s a waste.

“No one in this family has a university education and we all do fine,” Mom had said.

Mom wants me to get out on my own and make a living, find a good man and settle down – I get that. Both Lily and Mae quit school after grade eleven, and they have good jobs, working for the telephone company. Lily even got promoted to manager recently.

Am I just kidding myself about going somewhere in life? Am I pretending to be something that I am not?   The guidance counselor had said that I should be a psychiatrist. I did one of those career aptitude tests and he said everything pointed in that direction. When I said I wanted to work with children as a teacher, he shook his head and said psychiatry was the way to go.

“Someone with your brains and personality should go all the way,” he said. “Not many are cut out for it, but you’d do very well. Don’t waste your time on teaching. Anybody can become a teacher.”

He doesn’t know me very well, I’d thought. “I am interested in psychology and how the brain works,” I’d answered politely. We signed me up for psychology and sociology at university. Is that what I really wanted? I wish I knew.

What about all those promises I made to Mom to quit school and find a job to support her so that she can leave Dad? Is that what Mom is afraid of – that I will desert her?

The wind has picked up and the river before me rushes past, twigs caught in its path hanging on for dear life. I am like the twigs, I think. Life is moving all around me, pulling it with me and I just want it all to stop.

Absentmindedly, I drag the car key over my wrist, carving scratches in my pale skin. How easy it would be to end it all. It’s not that I haven’t thought of it before. I’ve thought of it plenty of times. But then who would look after everyone. How would Mom get along without me?

Shivering, I rise, brushing dirt from my jeans. I start the car for heat and turn my thoughts back to the issue at hand. What will I do when school ends?

My job at the restaurant does pay well, in tips. On a weekend night I can make up to two hundred dollars. Would it be enough for an apartment? If I don’t go to school, I could find a day job too, and maybe Mom could move in with me.

I try to imagine Dad without Mom. She does everything for him. He may be a tyrant, but he would be lost without her. And what would happen to our relationship if Mom left? Would I have to pick sides? Could I not see my father anymore? He makes me angry, all right, and there are times when I hate him, but he’s also my dad, and I don’t know if I could hurt him like that.

“Give me a sign, God; let me know what I should do.”

I put the car in gear and drive back to the school. Time to face the music and get back to class.

* * *

It’s the first of April and the forecast, according to the radio announcer who woke me up, is going to be great! Three more months of high school left and I can’t wait. I’ve been working on the school play – at the suggestion of the attendance counselor – and one of the actors has asked me out. Well, not officially out, like on a date or anything, but he did ask me if I played tennis and if I would like to play him some time. Of course I said yes. He’s really hot, and all the girls in his class are crushing on him. He’s a year behind me, but since I accelerated and all, he’s not technically younger than me. I can’t believe he asked me.

I bound down the stairs to breakfast and find Dad sitting at the table looking at me expectantly.

“I wondered when you’d show your face,” he mutters with a scowl. “Although I wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t.” He holds up an envelope, opened, with my name on the address line.

“Hey!” I say, grabbing for the mail. Is that a university stamp on the upper left corner?   “That’s mine!”

“And being the caring father that I am, I took the liberty of opening it.” Is that a twinkle in his eye? “What do you have to say for yourself, young lady?”

“I didn’t get in,” my voice drops, the buzz of the morning fading.

“No, you did not, and do you want to know why?”

Not really, but here it comes anyway.

“They said it is because of your attendance record.”

Bam! Just like that my future decided.

“Your marks were okay though,” he says waving the envelope in front of my face, unwilling to let it go.

“Really?” I grasp the envelope and tear out the letter enclosed…

“Thank you for your application…blah…blah…blah…we are pleased to inform you…”

“What? I have been accepted.” What kind of cruel joke is this? I look up to see my father beaming down at me.

“April fools!”

I hit him with the envelope; grab a piece of toast and head out the door.

“Where are you going in such a hurry?” Mom calls after me.

“I’ve got a life to live!”

I’ve been accepted to University!

* * *

By the time school ends, the weather has turned to grey overcast skies, with the definite threat of a storm. So much for the weatherman’s report.

I dash to the car to avoid getting wet and drive the short distance to home. Rehearsal has been cancelled for today, so there’s no point hanging around. Maybe I’ll actually put some time in writing that essay for English class. Or study for Chemistry tomorrow. If I’m going to university, I need to learn self-discipline. My high school habits will not serve me there, my teachers remind me daily.

In the short ride from school to home, the sky has turned black as if night has fallen.
I pull in next to Mom’s car. You should be dancing, yeah the Bee Gees are singing on the radio. I’ll be dancing soon, I think. Big fat raindrops hit the windshield and I hesitate to step outside the safety of the car. Glancing at the house, I notice that Mom hasn’t turned any lights on. Odd, I think. She must be inside. I decide to go for it.

Shielding my head with my books, I sprint through the rain and through the unlocked front door.

“Mom?”

No sound comes from within. The house is eerily silent, save for the now pounding rain. I note an absence of smells coming from the kitchen. Even though it’s early afternoon, Mom is always in the kitchen baking. Something is wrong.

“Mom?” I call out again. Then I see her. A shadowy figure, shoulders slumped, sits on a chair in the living room. I shake off what I can of the rain, and step softly into the room, typically reserved for guests only.

“Mom?” I say again, this time trying to keep the panic out of my voice. I turn on the table lamp beside her and the light captures the absence in the eyes that stare back at me. I drop to my knees and take her hands in mine. They are cold and lifeless.

“Mom, what’s going on? What’s happened?”

Her head gives a slight shake and I notice she is trembling uncontrollably. It is not the first time I have found her this way, and my mind travels back to five years ago, when a twelve-year-old me returned home to find a catatonic mother.

I rush to the kitchen to get a glass of water, turning on lights, as I go, wanting to banish the bleakness.

Holding the glass to her lips I ask, “Is it Dad again?”

She responds to the offer of water then distractedly wipes the dribbles away with the back of her hand. A small nod. I squeeze the hand in mine.

This is all my fault. How could I have been so selfish? I urge her to take another drink then set the glass down, asking her if she needs a sweater.

No, her head says. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” she manages. “I can’t stop shaking.”

Awkwardly, I try to put my arms around her; we’ve never really hugged, my mother and I. I pat her back and tell her it will be all right. I tell her I won’t leave her, and as I did was I was much younger, I reassure her that I’ll get a job and look after us. We’ll be just fine.

And in that moment, I know it to be true. It’s decided. I find a sweater and wrap it around my mother’s shoulders and help move her to the couch where I lay her down, all the while patting and consoling.

“I’ll get dinner,” I say. “You just rest. We’ll sort this out tomorrow.”

* * *

“Two things we’re going to need, Mom: an apartment and a lawyer. I’ve been looking through the newspaper and they’re a couple of apartments for rent that will be big enough for you and I and Janie. If you are up to it, I’ll take you to see them. Otherwise, you’ll have to trust me.

“I don’t know, Betty-Ann. It all seems so rushed.”

“Mom! You are not able to go on like this. You said so yourself.”

“I know, I know, but you father will have a bird.”

“He will get what he deserves, Mom! You need to look after yourself for once. Will you at least go see a lawyer if I set it up?” I see her hesitate. “Find out what your rights are, Mom. Every woman should know that.”

She agrees. I make some calls and set up an appointment for next week. In the meantime, we’ll need somewhere to go. The idea of staying in the house and asking Dad to leave never crosses our minds; he’d never agree. Besides, he and Liz can have the damned house. We’re getting out!

When the school attendance calls, I tell them, honestly, that my mother is unwell and I am looking after her. I’m not sure when I’ll be back.

Mom stills wants to go to work. “It keeps me sane,” she argues, so I drop her off and come back to do some planning.

If I sell my car, I’ll have more money to put towards rent. Rents are a bit higher in this area, but we’ll want to stay in the neigbourhood for Janie’s schooling.   There’ll be no trouble getting full-time work at the restaurant – the manager is always wanting me to work extra, but I’ll need another job, too, for safety. I scour the help wanted ads. What, I wonder, would I qualify for? It seems a shame to drop out now, so close to graduation. I don’t even know if Mom has any money set aside for moving expenses. I’ll have to ask her.

By the time I pick Mom up from her four-hour shift, I have the plans laid. We won’t tell Dad, we decide, until Mom has seen the lawyer.

“I want you to finish out your school year, Betty-Ann?” We won’t move until then.

* * *

The envelope from the university still sits on my dresser and for some reason; I haven’t had the heart to move it. Mom and I have quietly been taking inventory and deciding what we will need to take with us to the new place.   We haven’t told anyone else about our plans. It will cause too much unnecessary drama we agree.

The lawyer says that Mom has lots of rights and that she doesn’t deserve to live the way she does. He gave her the number of the battered women’s shelter and explained that abuse comes in many forms and by the sounds of it she has been psychologically abused for a long time. (And she didn’t even tell him about Liz.)

I am proud of Mom for finally taking a stand. She is going to tell Dad tonight, after we kids have gone out.

I am worried about her, but she says she’ll be okay. She tells me she is feeling stronger now, and I believe her.

I just don’t know how Dad will react.

* * *

“Betty-Ann, can you come home? I need you!”

Bob and I were just settling in for a night of popcorn and movies when the phone rang.

“I’ll be right there!”

Kissing Bob good night, I give him a what-are-you-going-to-do shrug and hightail it home. Bob’s family only lives two blocks from us, so the jaunt is short.

I don’t recognize the car in the driveway, but by the way it’s parked I can guess that its occupants were in a hurry to get inside, too.   I run inside calling for my mother.

“Down here!” she calls out from the basement stairwell. She waits for me half way, grabbing my arm frantically her long, manicured nails cutting into the flesh. “It’s your father.”

As we turn into the recreation room, I see him on the floor, his body curled into a fetal position. He is rocking violently, emitting a low, animal-like moan.

“Is he okay?” I ask stupidly. I glance around at the people gathered – Tony and Rae – Dad’s best friends.   What are they doing here? I wonder.

“Your Dad called us,” Rae offers in her soft Scottish lilt.

“He told us what’s happening,” her husband added, solemnly shaking his head. “Who would have believed it?”

“He’s been like this all evening,” my mother says, her voice weakening. “He just keeps begging me not to go. What do I do?”

A flash of anger overtakes me. I want to slap my father; tell him to smarten up; act like a man.

“How much do they know?” I ask my mother, ignoring our guests. “Everything?”

She shrugs. No then. He will make her look like the bad guy.

“If you don’t pull yourself together, Dad, I’m going to let the cat out of the bag!”

My Dad quiets at this, but continues rocking. “Squeegee, is that you?” he whimpers. “Did you know your mother is leaving me?”

I want to kick his backside! I know my father can be manipulative, but to stoop to this!

“I know because I’m helping her Dad.”

He stops rocking. “Is it true? You’re turning on your dear ol’ Dad?”

“I am sorry my father has dragged you into this,” I address the witnesses to this pathetic scene, “but let me reassure you that he has had it coming.”

“Please, Betty-Ann….”

“My mom has suffered greatly at the hands of this man,” I gesture to the crumpled lump on the floor unable to mask my disgust.

“Well, now, that’s not always true,” I hear my mother backing down. “He’s been a good man in many ways, it’s just that…”

“It’s just that you can’t take it anymore, Mom. It’s okay to say that.”

“Your Da’s hurting, dear,” Tony interjects. “I’ve known him since we were wet behind the ears, ya know, and he’s a bugger at times for sure, but he loves yer ma’am, and that’s a fact.”

Dad sits up, his tear stained face a horror show. “I know I’ve done wrong, Betty-Ann, and I promise to make it up to her. Just please, please, talk some sense into your mom.”

“Is that what this is all about, Dad!” Not wiling to let go of the anger, I rail. “This is just another one of your ploys to get your own way. Well it’s not happening this time. I’m the one who called the lawyer, Dad, and I’m the one that found us an apartment. It’s me who’s helping her Dad. Don’t you see?”

I catch a glimmer of rage pass over his face, but he won’t hit me – not with others present. He sits up a little straighter, though, and I can see him bracing for a fight.

“After all I do for you,” he begins. “After all I do for you, this is the thanks I get.”

“That you’re a provider is not in question, Dad. That’s you’re an abuser, is.”

He grabs me by the wrist and pulling himself up looks down at me, as if considering me for the first time.

“I loved you once, as the day loves the sunshine,” I have never seen my father so wounded, so tortured, and it’s scary. “You were my sunshine. No one loves you like I do. How can you be so hateful? What has happened to you to make you so cold.”

He releases me with a push, and steadying myself I take in the scene once more.

“My father is a master manipulator. If you want to help our family, then help my mother escape.“

* * *

She is not going.

“I’m not strong enough to break away from your father,” she finally admitted. “I know that my marriage is less than ideal, but your father loves me in his own way.”

I guffaw.

“But you don’t need to stay, Betty-Ann. Get out while you can.”

Her words linger in my mind as I sit aboard the bus headed for the University. Western has offered a complimentary bus ride and tour of the campus for all incoming students.

I feel so powerless in the face of my parents’ struggles. No matter what I do, I can’t seem to right their wrongs. The frustration is overwhelming, but at least, I have a decision – I’m going to university!

The bus is full of students like me, nervous with excitement. I look up to see two girls across from me, a newspaper between them, scanning the classifieds.

“Excuse me,” one asks catching my eye. “Can you tell us where this street is?”

“We just passed it,” I point. “Are you from out of town?”

“We are. We had arranged room and board with a family in Westmount, but didn’t realize it was so far from the University. We’re hoping to move closer, if we can find an apartment that’s affordable. How about you?”

“I’ve lived here all my life.” Unfortunately, I think to myself. “I currently live at home, but I’m looking to move out.”

“Really?” The girls glance at one another, then back at me. “Want to be roomies?” they chime in unison.

“Yes!” I answer at once. Then we all break into laughter, tripping over ourselves to exchange names and numbers, and discuss the particulars.

“Are you coming back this way after the tour?” I ask my new friends. “We could get off at that apartment back there and check it out.”

“Let’s do that!”

And just like that, my new life beckons!

I am moving out.

Liz, 1957

Liz was born into a middle class family, in a modest village on the outskirts of Manchester in 1924.   Her mother, who came from a small, and rather pampered family, was a sweet woman, given to ‘spells’ and obviously unaccustomed to the life and toil of a brood the size that she would bear. Her father, a man of considerable intelligence, had a reputable job as a health inspector, a position that would absent him from home often, sometimes for weeks at a time.

One of many sisters, Liz was certain that her father had anticipated a boy and decided upon seeing her that she would do, for he called her “Lad” and treated her as such for much of her growing up years.

From as far back as she could remember Liz felt that there was something wrong with her. Everything about her seemed to be a disappointment. She even despised her given name and when asked would refuse to give it. ‘Liz’ was a moniker she’d adopted for herself. Not that she ever told anybody. Mostly, she kept her feelings to herself. It just seemed safer that way.

Liz’s fondest memories of childhood were centered on her mother’s room – the smell of her mother’s rose-scented perfume, the feel of her gloves sliding over her hands, and the soft warmth of her mother’s woolens.   Rare were the moments when she could sit at her mother’s dressing table and drape herself in her mother’s pearls or try on her perky hats, and yet, at such times, she felt most like herself. She would, she told herself; grow up to be a fine lady one day.

Mostly, Liz and her siblings would be expected to participate in household chores, cleaning the ashes from the coal fireplace, or sweeping the sidewalks after the deliveryman had been. Her mother was fastidious about her house and none of them dared messed it for fear of reprisal when their father came home.

Weekdays were for school, an obligation that Liz regularly dreaded. Lacking the feminine wiles of her sisters, Liz’s lanky limbs and boyish figure made her an outcast with the girls and a subject of ridicule from the neighbourhood boys. “Laddie” they’d call her, mimicking her father, and on more then one occasion she would come home with a black eye, or scraped knees after having attacked a tormentor.

“Now, now,” her mother would scold her. “You are smarter than this. Don’t waste that brilliant mind of yours on such trivialities.”

While her sisters’ bodies filled out and gained curves, Liz’s just seemed to get taller, her slenderness remaining, until she could no longer stand the sight of herself in the mirror. At the age of ten Liz started cutting school and joining up with a few undesirables, who didn’t seem to mind her, and took up smoking. As her mother had pointed out, she was smart enough, and she didn’t need schooling.

“What are you?” a boy asked her once. “A boy or a girl?” Liz dropped him with a quick punch to the nose.

It was in these early pre-pubescent years that Eli came into her life. Fearless and tough, Eli understood Liz more than anyone ever had, and protecting her gave him a purpose he seemed to need. Eli made her feel less vulnerable, and more valued. He became her eyes, her voice, and her mind, embracing the world with a confidence she had never felt. With Eli, she felt that the world was a little less hostile and that even when it was she would survive. Eli would become the son her father never had. He would champion her sisters, and do heavy labour for her mother. Eli, Liz knew, had saved her.

When war came, and Eli made the decision to join up, Liz was heartbroken.

“I can’t take you with me,” Eli had announced. “And Liz, it’s time for me to let you go. I need to make a life out in the world. When the war is over, I’m not coming back.”

It was the closest Liz came to ending her life.

* * *

Edith did not like Eli in the beginning and she told her mother so when he eventually got around to asking her out.

“He is a braggart and a drunk!” She told her mother.

“He is a man willing to date a woman with four children, whose no good husband has deserted her, ” was her Mother’s response. “Does he work?”

“Well, yes.” He worked with her brother; actually was his boss.

“And he’s never been married?”

“Not to my knowledge.”

“Well then I don’t know what the hell he wants with you, but if I were you, I ‘d be putting on my best dress, and treating him like a king. You’re not going to getting too many other offers Edith!”

Even though Edith knew her mother was right, she had misgivings. There was just something about this man that made her skin crawl. He was good-looking, and a sharp dresser, and she knew other women swooned over his British accent, but she’d never fallen for his type. Her mother was right though, what choice did she have?

Edith suspected that her brother was behind the set up. Charlie had been boarding with Ozzie and her since they’d moved to town, and he’d been her rock since Ozzie left. She knew Charlie wanted to help all he could, and he idolized Eli.

“There’s nothing he can’t do, Edith! The man’s a genius! He’d make a really good husband, too!” He winked at her giving her a little nudge with his elbow.

She playfully hit him back. Charlie was sweet, but just so naïve. She knew the crowd he chummed with; they were Ozzie’s friends too, and they were all alike: salesmen. Smooth-talkers, fast movers, and cheats! And Eli was the head honcho.

“I’ll go out with him once!” she resolved. “Maybe after that everyone will leave me alone!”

Eli showed up ten minutes early, dressed to the nines – his suit trousers carefully pressed, a crisply starched white shirt, tie, and freshly polished leather shoes. His dark curls were trimmed short and gelled in place. He is a fine looking man, Edith had to admit to herself, and very put together considering he’s a bachelor.

Eli had even taken care to have the car cleaned and polished before the date. He wanted to make the best impression, even if he was just doing this for Charlie. Everything he’d heard about Edith, she deserved a little pampering.

“You look beautiful this evening, young Edith!” He appraised her, opening the door and ushering her through. Edith had a striking beauty that Eli was not immune to: her flaming red hair was looped back from her face in massive curls. He noted that she had taken time to apply nail polish, and that her slim figure belied the fact that she had given birth several times. She wore a form fitting china blue dress that cinched at the waist then flared past her knees, revealing a slender pair of calves and dainty ankles. Sensible black pumps finished off the look, and Eli thought to himself, She could do much better than that with me. To Edith he said: “Hope you are up for some dancing.”

Edith flashed her approval with a wide grin.

Hard to say whether it was the wine with dinner, or the adrenalin from Jitter-Bugging all night, but Edith and Eli found themselves in bed that night – an awkward, heated, rushed exchange of bodily fluids, after which Eli made his excuses and departed, leaving Edith feel ashamed and repulsed anew.

When her ‘friend’ did not appear a few weeks later (it was always like clockwork), she grew concerned. At six weeks, she knew for certain. Although she and Eli had seen each other casually since that night, neither one was pushing for a more committed relationship.

“It just didn’t work out,” she’d told her brother and mother. “He’s not my type and I’m pretty sure I’m not his.”

Pregnancy changed everything. She told Eli first. He listened intently, and then took her hand in his and looking her straight in the eyes told her he would do right by her.

“It’s the right thing to do, Edith.” He reassured her. “It will all work out.”

It’s the same thing he told Liz later that evening. She stood before the mirror, preening, as she loved to do, wishing she could be as convinced as Eli sounded.

“Edith is a good woman, and her life is already hell. She doesn’t need me adding to her problems. I can do this. Besides, maybe she’ll make an honest man out of me.”

Liz smiled a wry little smile. An honest man? She doubted it.   How did they get here? She wonders. Was this how it was all supposed to work out?

Eli knew Ozzie long before he actually met Edith. Ozzie, a local musician, was well known for his antics with women. The two men met when Ozzie was playing at the club where Eli was bouncing – in the early days. Both men were young, but where Eli was driven by ambition, Ozzie was laid back and careless. Eli’s job was to weed out any trouble in the place, and Ozzie was usually on the bad end of trouble: flirting with guys’ wives, playing the women one against the other. Eli knew Ozzie had a wife and kids at home, and he’d even remarked to Liz on several occasions that he couldn’t imagine what kind of a woman would be married to a scum like that, and now here he was about to marry that very woman!

Liz just shook her head. “I don’t Eli,” she scolded. “I think you might have got us in way over our heads. How do you think Edith is going to feel about me?”

“Well, that’s just the thing, Liz. She’s not to know about you. You’re going to have to go.”

Liz applied her lipstick without missing a beat. She knew that was never going to happen. Eli might insist on keeping her out of sight, but she wasn’t going anywhere. She was Eli’s dirty little secret and that was the way it had always been, and that was never going to change.

“One day,” she told Eli, then repeated for emphasis: “One day, you are not going to hide me anymore.”

Eli didn’t answer. They’d been down this road before. He thought he’d left her behind when he went off to war, but then he’d come back home and there she was: waiting for him; the same ol’ Liz, still needing him, still as vulnerable and fragile as before.

He tried to leave her again, when he’d signed up for the Merchant Marines, but he knew he didn’t have the heart. She was lost without him. Without him, she was just a shell, she’d said as much.

“Give me some time,” he told her. “I’ll figure it out. I’ll find a way for us to be together. When I do, you can join me.”

Liz had no choice but count on Eli. If she was ever going to escape this life she had come to despise, Eli was the one to get her there. Ever since he’d left for war, she’d withdrawn and become a recluse. No amount of coaxing could bring her out of herself. Everyday was a tortuous reminder that she didn’t fit in the world. She was unloved and unlovable.

Eli was her only hope for survival. Now he was talking about getting married.

 

Eli, 1958

Charlie was right about Eli: when he set his mind to something he got it done.

Edith still wasn’t divorced from Ozzie when the ‘accident’ happened, an issue that needed to be resolved before she and Eli could tie the knot.   Ozzie dug his heels in, refusing to cooperate with any of the couple’s offers for dissolution. As much as Eli wanted to take Ozzie out to a back alley and ‘finish him off’, Edith appealed for a more civil solution, so Eli hired a high powered lawyer and assured Edith he’d find the money. One thing Eli could do was make money.

Divorcing Ozzie was not the only concern. Eli needed to find a house big enough for all of them to live in (all seven of them!), and on top of everything else, the eldest daughter, Lily had a failing heart, which saw her in and out of hospital, with mounting medical bills. Eli also insisted that he would adopt the children once they were married, so that they all had the same surname. He knew Edith felt ashamed about her life situation, and he was committed to doing everything he could to smooth it over for her.

“The good Lord will provide,” Eli repeatedly told an anxious Edith. “It will all work out in the end.”

It didn’t quite work out in the end exactly as they’d planned it. The lawyer Eli hired did manage to push the divorce through the courts on time for them to have a hasty marriage before the baby arrived, and he did win them full custody of the children, however; after hearing the decree, Ozzie became so enraged he ripped the baby out of Edith’s arms and dragging their other son away, stole off with the two boys before anyone could catch him. He just drove away and kept on going.

Eli’s new family was wrought with anguish, and there was nothing he could do. Between the house, the divorce, and Lily’s medical bills his resources were tapped out.

“I’ll hire a private detective,” he offered. “We’ll get them back.”

Edith shook her head. “You don’t know Ozzie,” she cried. “He’s relentless. We can’t afford it, Eli.” Then gently, with affection, she added. “You’ve done enough. I can’t possibly to thank you for all that you’ve done.”

Even if they had wanted to pursue it further, there would have been no time. Less than three weeks after the said “I do”, a baby girl pushed her way into their lives.

* * *

The new house, it turned out, was just the distraction the family needed to balance out their woes. Eleven-year-old Lily would have her own room, as per doctor’s orders. Eli and Edith were told that her time was limited, and as little stress as possible in her life would help delay the inevitable, so they were set on giving her everything she wanted. Seven-year-old Mae would eventually share a room with the new baby.

Since Ozzie had taken all the furniture when he’d left (just backed a moving truck up one day and left Edith and the children destitute), and Eli’s bachelor apartment offered little that would suit a family, they bought a package that would furnish the whole house, to be paid for in monthly installments. Eli sent his girls out with a credit card to buy paint and material for decorating. Having grown up with five sisters, Eli knew what made women happy. He could tell that Edith wasn’t used to all this extravagance, and promised her there would be a lot more of the same once they were able to get the expenses of late behind them.

It wasn’t long before they fell into a routine, with Eli working sixteen hour days, and Edith spending her days tending to the house and sewing new draperies and bedding, while Mae and Lily went to school. Eli felt proud of his new family, and grateful for this new purpose in his life. And then it all changed….

Eli was just getting ready to return to work after the evening meal, when Edith sat on the edge of the bed, doubled over.

“It’s happening, Eli. Time to go to the hospital.”

Springing into action, Eli advised the older girls to take care of the house and themselves, and packed a little case for Edith’s stay.

“Don’t forget the baby’s outfit!” Edith reminded him.

He was nervous, proud, excited and very mindful of the now labouring Edith.

“I’ve been through this before, Eli!” She kept admonishing him, bristling at his attempts to coddle her.

The pregnancy had been difficult, with bleeding throughout, and both Edith and Eli had resigned themselves to the fact that the baby could abort at any time. Caught up in the whirlwind of their life, he hadn’t actually given the baby much thought – other than practical matters.

Suddenly, the reality struck him full force. They were really going to have a baby!

With Edith settled in the hospital, Eli paced the waiting room. If it was a boy, he wanted to call him Robert – they had decided that much.   Edith felt pretty sure it was a boy, and she should know. Robert. Bobby. Rob. He’d teach him how to swim, and skate, and throw a ball.   Just the two of them – best buds!

Patience was not part of Eli’s character – he was a man of action. He drank coffee after coffee, and made phone calls to pass the time.

“Nothing to report. She’s still in there. How long do these things take?”

And then the nurse called his name.

“You have a baby girl. If you’d like to come in now, you can see your wife and daughter.”

A daughter? He had a daughter! But…

Edith held the baby up to him as he approached the bedside – a tiny pink bundle with a little face peeking out.

“Support the head,” she cautioned.

“She beautiful!” Eli exclaimed tears rolling down his cheeks. “She is absolutely perfect.”

“Not a Robert,” Edith said matter-of-factly.

“No, not a Robert.” He couldn’t stop staring at this miraculous little creature – a miniature replica of himself – with long dark eyelashes and a receding chin.

“Quite the head of hair,” the nurse remarked.

“No wonder I had such heartburn,” Edith laughed.

The baby opened her eyes and stared straight into his own and Eli felt a surge of love he never knew was possible. “My little girl…” he choked. “My precious little girl.”

“We’ll have to think of a name,” Edith reminded him.

“Elizabeth Ann!”

* * * *

“We named her after you, Mum!” An excited Eli told his mother later that day.

“My name is Vera,” she informed him coldly. “Your father just called me ‘Liz’ after the Princess. It was a nickname.”

He’d never known. Not wanting to let his Mother burst his bubble, he gushed: “You would adore her Mum, she is definitely a Hayes. Very bright, I can tell already!”

“Well, I have to admit, I’d never thought I’d see this day. You must be very proud. How is Edith fairing?”

“Like a trooper. I was thinking though, Mum, that it would be nice if you could come, you know… maybe help out for a while… get to know my family.”

“Well, I wouldn’t want to be in the way.”

“Oh, you wouldn’t…not at all! I’ll send you a ticket, Mum! You can stay as long as you want! I’ll call you back as soon as I make the arrangements.”

Imagine, he thought as he hung up the phone. Me, the family man! He knew his mother was probably thinking the same thing, and although she never mentioned it he had been prepared with his answer:

She’s gone, Mum. I’ve sent her away. I know I’ve said it before, but this time it’s for good. It has to be this way. I’m a father and a husband now, Mum. I’ve got my life together. Finally, I’m a real man.

* * *

The desire to win his mother’s approval was so deeply ingrained in him that Eli had conveniently forgotten how difficult his mother could be. It had, after all been near on two decades since he’d lived under her roof.   Very shortly after his mother’s arrival, Eli had to concede that her visit was not going well.

“I’m sure she means well,” he tried to reassure a distraught Edith.

“Eli, she found dust on the top of the door frame. Who looks there? Does she not realize that I already have my hands full?”

“Mother,” he tried to be as tactful as possible, “while we appreciate your help, please understand that Edith is doing the best that she can.”

“Standards, Eli! It’s about standards. Without them a household falls apart. I’m just trying to instill a sense of pride about the place, dear! Edith is a lovely woman, but she just needs a few pointers.”

He knew it was futile to push the matter.

“Try not to take anything she says or does personally,” he begged Edith. “Just keep the peace.”

Tired eyes met his. The sound of the baby stirring disrupted the moment.

“I’ll get her!” Eli offered. Sweeping his daughter out of her crib, he cooed and sang: a grown man instantly transformed into a babbling idiot.

“I’ve never seen a man so besotted by a baby,” Vera remarked.

“Neither have I,” Edith agreed. “He dotes on her.”

Eli just beamed. As long as he was home, no one else had to tend to the baby – he changed diapers, fed her, burped her, cuddled her and kept her entertained.

“The sun rises and sets on that child,” Edith added wearily. “You’d think no one else had ever had a baby.”

“Well, it suits him,” Vera added.

“There is no baby like my little Betty-Ann, is there Cutie-Pie?” Eli purred. “Who’s Daddy’s sweetheart?”

Eyes fixed on her father’s, the baby cooed in response.

“Daddy’s going to look after you, and provide for you, and protect you from the big, bad, world. What do you think of that, Betty-Ann?”

“And spoil you rotten!” both woman chimed at the same time, breaking into shared laughter.

* * *

Vera ended up staying for the better part of a half-year, rallying to help as Lily’s health began to fail, and Edith had to take on a job to help supplement Eli’s wages.

Most of Lily’s days were spent in hospital now, and the prognosis was not good.

Just as baby Betty-Ann was reaching the six-month mark, Edith and Eli were told to say their goodbyes to Lily. The doctors had done all they could.   The nuns offered to pray through the night for the dying child, and even though they were not Catholics, the Hayes’ agreed.

Then the miracle happened. News came that surgeons had successfully performed open-heart surgery in Toronto. Although the surgery was performed on adults only, there was a local surgeon willing to try the procedure with Lily. It was agreed.

It was an agonizing, and yet bonding day and night for Edith and Eli while they awaited the outcome of Lily’s surgery.

“We thought we’d lost her,” Eli would tell others afterwards. “But then she rallied. Our Lily is a real soldier!”

It would be another year and a half before Lily would be able to come home for good, and they relied on the goodwill of friends and family to help them get by. Vera, impressed by the turn around in her son, passed on the news to his siblings at home, suggesting that one of his younger sisters, Dora might also find renewed perspective by moving abroad. Dora was a bit of a misfit in her family, leaning more toward more typically masculine interests, having been a bobby, and a chemist before choosing to follow her brother. Eli and Edith welcomed her with open arms, and she soon became an older sister for the girls.

The strain on the family was telling. Eli’s vision of the perfect family slipped further and further out of his control, and he found himself drinking a little too heavily, and losing his temper more frequently than he liked.

As much as he wanted to be the husband that Edith deserved, he found his mind wandering to the point of obsession. Day and night, he could think of only one thing – Liz. Liz was the balm he needed to soothe his soul. Her energy, her compassion, her dependence on him – Eli was not complete without her. He hated himself for it, but he found himself plotting, devising a way to bring her back into his life.

No matter what, he knew, he’d have to keep their relationship hidden.

Beth 2016, New Year’s Day

I am finally coming to understand that I can only live my life one day at a time now Dad. I cannot tell you how hard I have worked, striven to overcome the legacy of our relationship, and how sorrowfully I have come to realize that I have only entrenched myself deeper and deeper into the patterns that destroyed us.

Ours is a story, as tragic as any Shakespeare had ever concocted, of a father and daughter, whose love for one another was shattered in the face of unavoidable circumstances and misunderstandings. Through it all, I both loved and hated you, and I am sure you felt the same.

I like to tell myself that if it had happened nowadays – in this age of enlightenment – we would have shared a different experience, but I’m not sure that is true. There were so many other complicating issues that it is impossible to say how it might have all turned out. Maybe we wouldn’t have made it as far as we did. Maybe I would have followed my impulses and walked out of your life for once and for all, and never looked back. Hard to imagine I would not still be suffering though. The bond we shared in my early childhood years was too strong and too real to deny – the pain that came with losing that ever raw.

This year it will be ten years since you died, and still I write to you. I write to you in hope that one day I will feel whole, healed, and that somehow you will be too – fantastical, I know – but if there is life beyond death (and I believe it to be so) then maybe there is still something I can do to heal the rift between us.

I wish I could report that I am happy Dad, but the truth is that I battle with depression constantly, and my health has failed greatly over the past two years adding to the conflict. As a typical adult daughter of an alcoholic, I have continued to marry into the pattern in an attempt to make it right between us – classic pathology (it’s in all the psychology books). I catch my joy when I can, mainly through my children and grandchildren, and try to harness the rage that still burns inside so that it doesn’t interfere or crossover into my marital relations. (Not doing so well in that department these days, thus the one day at a time conviction.)

I have been writing a book, Dad, about us.   It’s a form of fictionalized memoir in which I attempt to understand the many sides of our dilemma. I’m calling it Four Voices, a voice for each of the players in our story: the child, the father, the ‘Mistress’ (as I called her), and the adult woman still coming to terms with the fallout. Like most stories, there are many sides to be told, and a truth that lies somewhere outside anyone’s comprehension. Hopefully, through writing, I will uncover some of this truth. Forgive me for taking liberties with your side of things, and certainly for daring that I could ever understand ‘the woman’s view’. I am conscious of the fact that no matter how hard I try to see all viewpoints, I am biased. I’m human, after all. I hope you will find merit in the effort. I hope I am able to come to a compassionate and healing conclusion.

I am sorry that you are not here to give me input. (Mother, by the way, has been encouraging. She wasn’t at first – thought that it would be too harmful to dredge up the past, but now that she has read the opening bits, she insists that I tell more of her side as well – thinks it should be “Five Voices”, and I have had to remind her that the story is just ours, and the only one I can really tell, although she is helping me with some of the missing details.)

As difficult as our story is, I am sure it is not unique and for that reason, I have been trying to find a way to tell it for years. Up until recently, though, I was only able to write a version that cast you in the role of monster and me in that of pitiful victim, and that is not what I wanted to create. I wanted to write something therapeutic, something provocative, and inspiring – a piece that would help liberate others experiencing similar shame – burdened by a family secret.

 Several things have happened since you died, Dad, to change my perspective, and I now feel that I am equipped with enough information to write the kind of novel that would set us both free, had we had the opportunity to read it. No such literature existed in our time. No such scientific, or psychiatric conclusions existed either. The world has changed in the almost ten years since you’ve been gone, and rapidly at that. I am only sorry that you didn’t get to see it.

Instead, you died a man tortured, never having known the gift of acceptance, whose shadow cast a pall of shame over all who shared your home. I asked you once, towards the end, if you had ever felt peace in your life, and you responded that you had not. You revealed to me that as far back as you could remember, you thought God was punishing you because you’d done something wrong, and that you doubted He’d be there waiting for you on your final day. Knowing what I know now, Dad, I am certain that He was there, and that he commended you for your bravery and courage in face of all that you suffered, and held you when you cried for all the pain you passed on to the rest of us.

 I hope there is salvation in Heaven, Dad, but my soul longs for it every bit as much as yours did.

Love always,

Beth.

P.s. I am also writing poetry again, Dad. Thought you might like this one (maybe it applies to both of us?)             

  Run!

Spent most life running,
obligations stepping stones
spanning the endless abyss,
desperately seeking bridges.

Inescapable is darkness –
pathways crumble, falter,
delusions disintegrate –
I have fallen, am falling

Alone. Starkness blinding,
rawness of soul exposed,
like an inverted negative,
surreal, unexpected truth.

Answerless questions arise,
I breathe, am not received,
no reflection to validate me,
matter suspended without

Purpose, so fleeting, fickle
I am shadow, shelved,
inconsequential, nothing
silence painfully throbbing

Riddled by abandonment –
victim or perpetrator – God’s
design or fantasy’s failings:
either way, I am cast aside

Endlessly floating, undefined
losing grasp, untethered,
hopelessly longing for legs
that I might run again.

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