Secret Shame

March 16, 2008
By rachel ausura, Newport News, VA

I keep telling myself that things can only improve at this point, but maybe I need to be more realistic because my life doesn’t have a very good track record for improvement. It seems like things have been going down hill since I was born. You might try to tell me that I’m just too pessimistic, but you don’t have to live my mostly dreadful life. Yes, I said dreadful and no I’m not exaggerating. Don’t believe me? Then maybe I can prove it to you.

Today my father left. He left my mom, my sister, and I alone in our tiny house. In many ways he already abandoned us years earlier. When I try searching my mind for good memories of him, it draws a blank. The few memories I even have of him are faded and vague. This is probably due to the fact that he never really did or said anything to us. For many teenagers, this most likely sounds like the ideal parent. But believe me it’s not that great having a dad who acts like your invisible, who goes straight for the secluded basement every time he comes home, and has no idea who you really are. My sister and I were just two blond-headed burdens, unworthy of his time.

I had to watch my little sister strive for attention from boys at an unhealthy level because she never had a father who gave her the love she needed and deserved. I, however, found myself pouring my time into books rather then boys. I would consume them in a desperate attempt to escape my life, with its distant dad and bitter mother, and enter an alternate world. But I could never bring myself to read those sappy, sentimental ones about loving families and daddy’s little girls. Instead, I usually chose the darker books and tried to make myself feel better by comparing my life to the over exaggerated ill fortunes of the characters. This method only made me feel a little better though, and most of the time I was forced to face my bleak reality.

Sleepovers, usually greatly anticipated by girls, were a complete nightmare to me. Hosting them, not attending them, is what terrified me. I had no problem going over to a friend’s house and letting myself imagine that I lived in their cozy, carpeted vision of family serenity. It was the prospect of girls coming to my house, seeing my family’s dysfunction, and judging me that terrified me to the core.

I would have been horrified if anyone knew that my mom slept upstairs while my dad slept on a sofa in the basement. And this was not just a casual occurrence of a man turned out to the dog house. This was something else. It was a chronic, dysfunctional occurrence and it was his choice. He slept down there on that stupid sofa every night. I can remember kissing my mom goodnight and how her breath had that usual sent of alcohol on it, but cannot remember kissing my dad goodnight. Sad, I know. But even sadder is that I can’t recall, to a certain extent, ever feeling that I should expect anything more than the tainted picture set before me. I had become so accustomed to the suffocating shadows that clung to our little house that anything else, such as a story of a happy family, seemed like a distant fairytale. And my life was by no means a fairytale.

When my dad left, I felt sad at first. I got a phone call from my mom that afternoon telling me the news. I came home from school shortly after, saw my mom spread out on the couch, vodka in hand, and thought to myself, "he finally did it, he left." The feeling that began to pour over me was a sad one, yet it was sadness touched with something close to relief. My mom saw me come in, glanced over at me, and said in a low, raspy voice, "I’m so sorry." "No mom, don’t do that. Don’t apologize for him," I said as I walked over to her. I held her close while the overwhelming sent of alcohol invaded my senses. Her tears streamed down her face, soaking my shoulder.

She was in love with him. I do not know why but she ultimately was. Or maybe she was in love with someone else, the man who had left years earlier, the man she always said, "Used to be so different. He would take me out to dinner every Saturday and bring me flowers home from work. And you girls, he use to take you both to the park on his days off and play with you until it got too dark to see." She told me about this version of him often, but I honesty don’t remember ever witnessing it. All I remember is his cold aloofness and his constant disregard for his wife and daughters.

My mom kept crying. I knelt there, holding her, until my legs started to go numb. I gently let her go and walked back to my room. My little sister was not home. She was most likely at her boyfriend’s house since she spent the majority of her time there. My mom usually didn’t care to notice that she was always gone. I dropped my book bag on the floor and plopped down on my bed. I sat there starting at the big, babyish cat poster adjacent to me. "I really need to take that down," I told myself. The room I shared with my sister was small but clean. A bunk bed sat in one corner and two sets of drawers sat in the other. There was a small beige rug in the center of the room and the rest of the floor consisted of old, rough wood. My overflowing bookshelf rested at the end of the bunk bed. I did not feel like reading though. I didn’t really feel like doing anything. I just laid back and stared up at the wood patterns under the top bunk. My name, along with some other scribbles, was etched into the plywood.

"He’s really gone," I murmured to myself as I lay there. Somehow, saying it out loud made it seem more real. But why was I so shook up about it? Were things even that much different? If he was at home, he’d be in the basement which seemed just as far away as wherever he was now. For some reason though, I still had that feeling of sadness. Tears began to trickle from my eyes. First they came slowly, reluctantly but soon they began to poor down my cheeks in thick streams like those of a waterfall. They slid from my face, making my hair, and the blue pillow it rested upon, sopping wet. I closed my eyes but the tears persisted. "Why am I crying? He didn’t even care about us, and I don’t care about him," I muttered to myself. I wondered why it should even bother me that a stranger had left us. That’s all he really was, a stranger.

I couldn’t stand the fact that he was making me cry. I told myself to suck it up and deal with it. I would be going to college next fall. I had received a full scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania and soon I would be leaving my depressing little house back in North Carolina where it belonged. But even the thought of a bright future could not stop the tears. They flowed until my eyes burned and my face was splotchy red.

I eventually got up, went straight towards my drawers, and began rummaging through them. At the bottom of the third one down, I found you. You had never been used and the blankness of your fresh, white pages enticed me to write, to get all of my confusing emotions out on paper, and hopefully clear my head of all the mess piling up inside. So I grabbed a pen, sat down on the rug, and began the process of release.

And that’s how I ended up here writing to you, a leather covered journal. It’s probably strange that I’m addressing you like a person, but I don’t care because it makes me feel like I have someone who wants to listen. Maybe I should see a shrink, but then again maybe not. All I know is that it has to get better from here on. I don’t know how, but I now know that it will. Somehow life will start to improve. He is gone and, despite my tears, I am starting to feel that his leaving is a good thing. There is no longer a shadow hanging over the house, no longer a secret shame lurking in the basement, no longer anything to hide.

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