August 2, 2008
“Leave me alone!” Mom screams as she makes her way to the kitchen, tears swarming down her face.

Dad is after her, anger burning his eyes and controlling his every movement. “You’re never going to make it! You’ll lose your job, and you’ll be out on the streets! You won’t succeed!”

Mom is plugging her ears, but I know she heard because I see her cringe. “Shut up.”

Dad doesn’t stop. He just gets worse. I hear words like hate; cheater and liar spurt out like a dragon spitting fire.

So I rush downstairs to get away from it all.

I don’t understand it. I don’t want to know what could make my dad turn like this. How could he say such awful things about someone he cared about?

I shake my head, and watch my eleven-year-old sister Kacey study the TV immensely. She doesn’t seem to notice I’m there, not even when I sit next to her on the couch.

Kacey flips the channel.

“I was watching that,” I speak softly, and motion to the TV.

Kacey turns around and apparently seems shocked to see me sitting there.

“I didn’t know you were there.” She looks up at the basement ceiling. “They still at it?”

I sadly shake my head. “There’s no telling when they’ll stop.”

I loved both my parents. I really did. But when they got like this, I try not to take part. The look of hatred on Dad’s face is unbearable, and the frail look in Mom’s eyes gets me gulping back tears. They weren’t the same people when they got this way.

“So who are you going with?” I figure since we’re on this topic, I should make sure I clarify a few things.

“Whatever you decide,” she tells me.

This wasn’t the ideal situation I wanted to be in. I didn’t want my parents to separate. I wanted them to be together and very much in love. I didn’t want to have to choose.

Mom comes downstairs, her face is damp. “He hurt me.” And she shows Kacey and I the mark on her neck.

The next day, Mom calls from the police station. “I’m just here to file a report.” Mom explains to me when I ask what she’s doing there. “To let them be aware of things, just in case Dad comes up to them with some big fat lie that could get me put away.”

“Just a report though, right? Not too serious?” I hated the idea of my dad being sent away for something that wasn’t entirely his fault. He can’t help what he does. He never really meant to hurt Mom. He couldn’t have.

“Exactly. Nothing will happen.”

And I’m stupid enough to believe her.

It is 5:00 a.m. I hear voices. Angry voices. I don't have to think twice to know where it's coming from. I try to ignore it and go back to sleep. But it only gets louder. I hear the sound of quickened steps scurrying down the hall and then running up the stairs. Then I hear Goliath-like steps pounding after the timid footsteps, yelling. The owner of the small steps yells back, but not as loud. I plug my ears as the voices draw closer and closer yet. I wonder if maybe I'm in a nightmare in which I can't awake. The door to my parents’ bedroom door slams, but I know that it’s far from being over.

The police take my mother’s words seriously. It’s been hours since he came home, and the food I heated up for him has gone cold.

Sighing, I put the food away while looking at the clock.

With every second that goes by, I find my eyes always end up reverting back to the clock, wondering if Dad is ever going to come home.

Mom calls to tell me he’s at the police station. But I’m still confused. Why was he up there for so long? What could they possibly want with my Dad?

I go for a walk hoping to pass time. The fresh air greets me as I make my way out of the door, shifting my hands in my jean pockets constantly.

Looming oak trees rise above me while bright yellow petunias sprout out from below me. I feel as if looking at nature, breathing in the clear atmosphere, should improve my mood and help me to relax, but it doesn’t.

When I get home, Mom’s there.

“Where’s Dad?” I ask, not even bothering to take off my shoes.

Mom doesn’t look surprised. She’d been expecting that question.

“At the police, like I told you. He’ll…he’ll be there for quite awhile.”

“How long is awhile?”

“They’re keeping him for the night,” Mom says matter-of-factly.

I breathe in a sigh of relief because for some reason this makes me think that he’ll be home the next day.

But Mom regrets to inform me. “They’re telling me that the courthouse will order him not to come back here for awhile. It’s the Law. If I had known…I wouldn’t have gone…I …I…didn’t know it would turn out like this.”

Affection I had never before felt for my dad overwhelms me, and causes me to feel bitter resentment towards my mother. I turn and hurry out of her sight.

My Dad had always been tough, never shedding a tear in all the years I had known him. My mom, on the other hand let go of her tears like a waterfall. Sometimes I would catch her crying on the couch, trying not to let it show. My dad would see the tears running down her face, but he would either pretend he didn't see or give her a stern look, as if the reason why she was crying was her fault. To my dad, everything that went wrong was her fault. It could never be his.

I had never really known what it was like to be embarrassed by my mom and dad expressing their affections for each other. Every time I saw them together, they were arguing. They never held hands, never kissed, never even hugged. If they could talk to one another without saying anything obscene, it was a miracle.

Sometimes my dad would go out of his way to be nice by buying my mother flowers or calling her beautiful. But if he ever did any of those things, it was usually because we were in the midst of company or he was trying to make up for a previous night when he made her cry.

At the beginning, my mother didn't seem to mind.

"Couples make up and fight all the time." She would tell me.

Not everyday they didn't, I would think to myself. I knew she knew this too when I saw the flowers my dad had bought for her wilting on the counter from the lack of attention.

As the days go on, I learn that Dad won’t be allowed to come back here for a couple of weeks. I see Mom thrusting a bunch of his clothes into a dark green duffel bag. She tells me she’s going to go bail him out.

“A lot of my best girlfriends are telling me I’m crazy because I’m helping him out like this. But I never meant for this to happen. It makes me sick just thinking about all of this.”

All I really want to do is talk to my Dad, and I ask Mom when I can.

“Don’t worry, you’ll talk to him. Just wait awhile, okay?”

I nod.

Kacey doesn’t seem affected by any of this, but for the next two days, she stays over at a friend’s. Mom thinks it’s because she can’t stand to be in the house after all that’s happened. I’m not sure what to think.

Soon enough, Mom hands me the number for where Dad will be staying.

“He’s staying with a relative. This is his number, and if you want, you can call him at work too.”

For awhile, I look at the slip of paper in my hand, not knowing what to do.

And then I pick up the phone and the repetitive ring tone drones in my ear.

A lady with a soft-spoken voice picks up the phone. “Hello?”

“Hi, may I speak to Sam Johnston please?”

A few seconds later, I hear Dad’s familiar voice, and I already feel myself breaking out in tears.


“Uh-huh. Kacey?”

“No, it's Rachel.”

“Rachel!” His voice fills with surreal happiness. “How are you?”

“I’m fine, thank you.” I can barely speak.

“How’s Kacey?”

“Good.” I try to swallow up all the tears that are struggling to make their way out. “So how are you?”

“I’m doing great!” But I sense a slight tremor in his voice.

There’s silence for quite a long time, and I find myself fidgeting with the phone’s cord handle.

“In the morning,” Dad breaks the silence, and I realize that I have been holding my breath. “Read your Bible, okay? I want you on your best behavior.”

I hear his voice start to quiver, and my stomach constricts when I realize that he’s crying.

“Dad…Dad? Please…Don’t cry.” I try to stay strong, but I know I’m only kidding myself.

“Read your Bible. Don’t forget about God.”

A sudden swell of emotion overtakes me. “I…I…love you.”

I don’t remember ever saying that to my Dad since turning sixteen. It seemed that everything my Dad ever said or did was wrong. I barely ever talked to him or did nice things for him. The only times I felt happiest with him was when we’d go out and play tennis every now and then. It was like we had this special connection that only came with a nice game of tennis. Just the two of us.

I have to admit I wasn’t all too close to my Dad because sometimes he would just say things to me and Mom and instead of letting it go I would hold it against him. The feeling that came with the lack of a relationship with my Dad was one where my heart felt like it was wrapped tightly in rope so that I couldn’t breathe or feel. It got to the point that I would often wish that I wouldn’t have to see him anymore.

Now that my wish had finally come true, it didn’t satisfy me at all. It just made me feel worse.

“I love you too,” Dad says on the other end of the line.

Then reluctantly, we say our goodbyes, and even well after he hung up, I still have the receiver in my hand, staring at it blankly, as if in a trance.

Mom catches me with the phone still in my hand, "Was that your father?" she asks me quietly.

I hang up the phone. "Yeah."

"How's he doing?"


There is a question I want to ask her that I already know the answer to, but I need to hear her say what I know is the truth.

"Did you love him?"

Mom looks at me in surprise, "Well…of course I did!"

"Mom, you don't have to pretend. I'm old enough to know."

"No." she says after a moment's hesitation. "No, I didn't. He hurt me too much for me to ever love him."

The silence that follows is threatening, allowing the words just spoken to linger and take root. Mom looks guilty and turns away as if wanting to hide.

I am about to leave her alone, when she starts speaking again.

"Your dad and I were very different people. Too different. He would want to stay inside, I would want to go out. He wanted silence, I wanted a little noise. Nothing was ever right."

“He hurt you Mom.”

Mom tries to remain composed but she won’t meet my eyes and walks over to the kitchen.

I remember my mom talking once with her friend a few days after my dad was called down to the police station. My mom was talking about the insults Dad had hurled at her time after time, whether it was because she had lost her job, spent too much money on clothes, or she had forgotten to cook Dad dinner. The names were placed on a scale in terms of the severity. Sometimes he’d say she was dumb, in worse times, she was a witch, a failure. Those ones had made me cringe.

“If he really loved you, he would never had called you those names. He wouldn’t have wanted to see you suffer.” Her friend had told her in her thick Jamaican accent.

From that moment on, I knew that what my parents had could no longer be considered love. No matter how much I wanted it to be.

“How come you and Dad were together for so long?”

She smiles and places one hand on my right shoulder. "Because of you and Kacey. I didn't want you two to have to grow up in that situation. But I guess the situation we put you through wasn't that great either."

Mom takes Dad's flowers—the ones that have been sitting on the counter for ages, now withered and scraggly—and thrust them in the garbage bin, where they belong. When she faces me again, her cheeks are stained with fresh tears.

I go over and embrace her, and we both just stand there crying and holding each other tight.

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