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I remember the night I realized you hated me. I wasn’t particularly surprised. I already had my suspicions, although I had always thought that it was something I was doing wrong, that it was my fault. I now know that that’s not true. But that night when it became so obvious that you didn’t love me and you didn’t even try to hide it, it hurt me more than I care to admit.
That night had started with a trip to the grocery store down the street. As we walked through the parking lot, you said to me, “You remember the rules right?”
I nodded nervously. I knew the rules all right. They had been explained to me when I was eight years old. While my father shopped and bought the things that were too hard to smuggle out of the store, I was to stuff the smaller items into my pockets. If I were caught, I would say that I was acting of my own accord and that my father knew nothing about it. We had been doing this for over a year now without getting caught.
As you perused the aisles, I was busy shoving smaller items into the pockets that were hidden on the inside of my already very puffy jacket. So far I had acquired a rather pathetic collection of yogurts and packaged sandwich meat. I often wondered if it was even worth the risk to steal these items. On a good day we saved maybe ten bucks. But I did what I was told because I wanted to make you proud of me. Back then it seemed that most of what I did was for that very purpose.
Over the past year I had gotten pretty good at being discrete when I took various items. However, that day I got sloppy and didn’t notice the store employee that was restocking the freezer at the end of the dairy aisle. He turned his head just as I was putting one last pudding into my jacket.
“Excuse me young man,” the employee said very loudly, striding towards me, “Did you just take something?”
My heart was thumping in my ears and I could feel my face become instantly red.
“Please empty your jacket.” The man demanded. He wasn’t getting any quieter and he was starting to draw the attention of people nearby. I looked up to you for help but you only wore a look of bewilderment as you pretended you had no idea what was going on. I began to cry as I did what the man had told me.
“Don’t you know that you’re not supposed to take these?” The employee asked and I swear he was trying to attract as much attention as possible. People were looking at me now and my cheeks were hot with embarrassment. I looked up to you again and now you wore an expression of complete disappointment. I was suddenly seized with fury and my scream was barely understandable through my sobs.
“You were the one who told me to do it!” I shouted and pointed at you. “You made me do it!”
You immediately became flustered and laughed nervously as you explained to the employee that I was just a kid trying to make an excuse and that we would leave immediately.
As we walked through the parking lot, you held my arm with a vice-like grip. I put up with the pain, knowing better than to complain. When we reached the truck, you shoved me to my door without restraint and I hit my face on the window. I let out a cry and clutched my nose, which was now bleeding.
“Shut up!” You yelled. Then in a quieter but just as angry voice, “Don’t get any d*mn blood on the seat.”
We drove home and you screamed at me while I desperately tried not to get blood anywhere on the car. By some miracle I succeeded, but it didn’t matter. When we got home you made me sit at the kitchen table while you grabbed a beer out of the fridge and continued yelling at me. Mother was at work that night so she could not come to my rescue and my sister had run right up to her room once she realized you were in a bad mood. I tried to follow her lead but you pushed me pack onto the seat and yelled, “No, you sit the h*ll down and LISTEN TO WHAT I HAVE TO SAY.”
So I sat there for over two hours, bleeding, and listened to your shouts about how I wasn’t a man and how I could never do anything right. At different points in your rant you would pause to add, “And don’t you get no god-d*mn blood on my furniture!”
You downed beer after beer until you didn’t have any left, which was also somehow my fault, and you shouted until your voice was hoarse. I cried through most of it but towards the end I had run out of tears and just sat there, absorbing everything that you had to say about me. Committing each verse to memory because in your drunken state you repeated most of it. And that was when my utter despair turned into complete hatred and I knew that I would never love you the same way again.
When you were finally done, you said that I could leave as long as I apologized, face to face, like a man. I stood up and stumbled over to where you sat. I looked you in your bloodshot eyes and said in a shaky voice, “I’m sorry.”
You leaned in and said, “I’m sorry, what?”
I knew that this was the part where you expected me to say “Sir” or “Dad” but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. You were no longer my father.
“I’m sorry, David.”
Your eyes nearly bulged right out of your head and you stood up, towering over me.
“What did you just call me?” You shrieked.
I so badly wanted to stand there and be brave, but there was something in your eyes that I had never seen before and it terrified me. I turned to run away but you grabbed my arm and that’s when I felt the first strike. Your gigantic hand hit my face with such force that I couldn’t even see or breathe. I collapsed to the ground but that wasn’t good enough for you. You struck me again and again until I completely blacked out. The last thing I remember was muttering, “Please don’t kill me.”
You didn’t kill me, but for almost a week I wished you had. I was in so much pain; I couldn’t even get out of bed. Mom tried to take me to the hospital but you wouldn’t let her because you were afraid of getting in trouble with the law. I eventually healed, but our relationship remained ruined. No matter how much you tried to make it up to me, no matter how many tears you spilled, I didn’t believe any of it. Because I finally knew how you really felt.
To this very day your words replay in my mind whenever I get upset. I will never forget them.