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"Welcome" read the mat I stood on in the dimly lit hallway, waiting for my father to answer the door of his apartment. I nervously fingered the cuff of my jacket. Dad hadn't answered the phone in almost a week, and I had begun to worry - worry that he'd again returned to his old ways.
I stood staring at the chipped gold numbers. Mom had driven me to the complex and was waiting outside. An awkward silence filled the long, empty hallway; the flourescent light flickered as I rang the doorbell again. This time I heard a crash inside.
"Dad?" I called.
After a moment the door slowly opened a crack. A bloodshot eye peered out and, recognizing me, the door opened to reveal a man who looked the worse for wear: his hair was disheveled, and he obviously was in need of a bath. His maroon T-shirt was wrinkled and dirty with old food. His puffy face seemed drained of color, with droopy eyes hidden in the mass of pale flesh struggling to focus on me, his only daughter. This was my dad. This is my dad - an alcoholic.
A puzzled look washed over his face.
"Ww ... Wha ...?" he sputtered.
"What am I doing here?" I finished his sentence. "I am here to see you, silly." I spoke soothingly, but my face betrayed me as I swallowed hard, a sudden surge of empathy filling my heart.
He's just a baby. All I wanted to do was pick him up and rock him to sleep. A smile tugged at my lips as this absurd image ran through my head. How ironic, I thought, as I realized that I no longer played the role of daughter, but mother.
As soon as I could get him onto the couch, I would tuck him in and kiss him good-night.
"Daddy, why don't we step inside?" I asked gently, walking into his apartment. Trash lay everywhere, unopened bills covered the kitchen table and moldy food sat on the countertops. There was a reek of cat litter and vomit.
Dad attempted to follow me, but could not keep his balance. He stumbled toward the wall for support, breathing heavily.
I strode toward his slumped body and looked up into his face, only to have a dull gaze meet mine.
"Whhha ... ?"
I was struck with emotion. "Oh, Daddy," I murmured, as I swept him up into a hug.
He awkwardly copied my gesture.