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We Are Free
It was an unusually sunny day and I could feel the sweet warmth of the sun pounding down on my back, pushing me further and further into the ground, each step falling slower and slower behind the other. I gazed around, the heat swirling across the grass, caressing my face, and I could see the roses, wilting in the summer heat. I reached out and grasped one between my two fingers and held it up to my nose. Sweet and intoxicating the white flower taunted me, begging me to wrap myself up in its warm embrace, pleading for me to stay here, here where I was safe.
I shouldered my pack and continued on. I would not allow myself to get distracted, after all I was on one of the most important missions, a mission only I could complete. Everything was weighing on me, and the pressure suddenly seemed overwhelming, constricting me with its responsibilities. Breathe, I thought silently, just breathe.
It didn’t matter that I was silently stalking through enemy territory or that I had a target plastered to my back. I knew that I was an outsider here, I knew that I didn’t belong, I didn’t need someone to tell me that I didn’t fit in here. I pushed forward and before I knew it I stood on the threshold of the dragon’s lair. I hesitantly brought my hand down and knocked. Panic flushed through my system, my heart raced against my chest, my throat seemed suddenly dry.
“Hello?” A dark voice bellowed out from behind the slowly opening door.
There stood a middle aged man, a mop of dark brown hair, so dark that it almost looked black, strangely tousled. His hand rested on the door knob, the other rested lazily in his jeans pockets. A smile spilt across his face, white and slightly crooked. It almost made me forget why I was really here, what I had to say, and why I had to say it.
“Kourtney, come in.” He wrapped his arms around me and pulled me into a tight hug. For a moment I let my head rest against his chest, the soft swell going up and down, up and down. “I’m so glad you’re here.”
He lead me through the spacious living room and to the kitchen. On the way, we passed my old room, clear down the hall farthest to the left. Now it was my baby sister’s room, bright pink and perfect for their perfect daughter. She was the princess at this house and I, the pauper. Make no mistake, I thought to myself, there is a social hierarchy in this house. One so stifling that you’re swimming near the bottom.
“How are things going up in Park City? Getting much snow?” He started tidying up, his face getting all red from the embarrassment from the mess, putting week old dishes into the sink and unloading the dishwasher. All the while he muttered about the weather and his schooling, never stopping to let me utter a single sound. Of course I nodded when appropriate but I couldn’t help but feel tense. The constricting feeling of not belonging.
“There’s always a lot of snow in Park City.” The sentence hung in the air and he looked up from what he was doing, like he couldn’t actually believe that I had said anything at all. After all, this mission was purely diplomatic. It was all political and rehearsed, no true emotion being revealed anywhere.
“Well, that’s just great.” He muttered as he silently smiled to himself.
I stood there awkwardly next to the white counter and shuffled from foot to foot. I didn’t know where to sit, piles of children’s toys and clothes were everywhere so I continued to stand. And nobody seemed to notice. I knew that I was invisible here.
“So why did you come? There’s nothing going on this weekend.” He was honestly curious, my visit was strange. I usually would only come down when forced, when there was a birthday and I owed it to the family to make an appearance. There was no such event.
I twisted my hands together, my stomach a knot of nerves, and I looked anywhere but at my Dad. I didn’t want to see his disappointment, I didn’t want him to see how cruel I am. I didn’t want to see.
“Do you love me?” It slammed into him with physical force and his face looked like he was slapped. If I looked hard enough I could almost see the small handprint appearing red on his left cheek, but I knew it was just my imagination, I knew I would never touch him. I could never touch this man who gave me life and who, so suddenly, had ended it. He stopped scrubbing the dishes and looked at me, his face filled with sadness. Why would his own child have to beg to know if he loved them? It must have torn his heart apart, into tiny little pieces littered across the floor.
“Kourtney,” He made his way around the island and tried to establish a connection through touch. He laid his hand on my shoulder and the other cupped my face. Tears sprung into his eyes and streamed down his face, small rivulets of pain. “Of course I love you. You’re my daughter. How could you even doubt that?”
I closed my eyes and leaned against him, just one last time, I pleaded, let me love him one last time.
It wasn’t at all what I had expected. I had underestimated how much I wanted my father’s unconditional love. I didn’t realize how much I had been wanting his acceptance. I never knew how long I had been waiting for this very moment to happen. I had miscalculated the coldness of my own heart. This moment was perfect, I almost lost myself in the possibilities of impossible.
Remember why you are here, I tried to harden my resolve, remember.
I pulled away from his embrace and wiped the tears from my own eyes. I hardened my gaze and looked him directly in the eyes. Come on, you can do this.
“How could I doubt your love for me?” I crossed my arms in front of my chest, building up a wall of ice, a separation between me and him. “You were never there. You were always hiding behind them.” I spat out the last word, it spun around the room like poison.
He stood there running his hands through his hair, shocked. He wasn’t used to confrontation, it wasn’t this family’s style. We would do everything we could to sweep everything under the rug, like the fact that my uncle had died before I was born and still no one talked about him. It was like he had never existed. When my father found something that he didn’t like he would gingerly take it in his hands, look at it for a while trying to understand it, then he would calmly bury it in the ground, never to dig it up again. It was history, old news, why cry over spilt milk?
“You know that’s not fair. I didn’t hide behind Jenny and Sophi. They’re my family and you’re going to have to accept that.” His face was flushed, but he remained calm.
You’re on a mission, I thought, you have to go for the kill.
“You’re family? I thought I was part of your family? I’m your daughter!” I pushed past him and headed for the door. I swept past the french doors, eloquently decorated making it seem like this family had everything. But I could tell that the glass distorted everything beyond those doors, that this family wasn’t perfect, that they didn’t have everything. This house was a sad reflection of what living was supposed to look like. I reached my hand out and grasped the door.
A firm hand on my shoulder was the only thing holding me there.
“You misunderstood me, please, come back and let’s talk about this.” His voice was disparate and his eyes were wild with the thought of loss.
Peel it off fast like a band aid. Fast.
“There’s nothing to talk about. I made the mistake thinking that I was part of your family. You made the mistake thinking that you could do whatever you wanted to me because you thought that I would always come back no matter what. But I’m not your little girl anymore, Dad. I’m grown up and I realize that I don’t need a father anymore.” I paused and chanced a glance at him. He looked absolutely destroyed.
Finish what you started, I coaxed.
“I don’t want you.” I yanked open the door and raced out. The sun beat against my face, the wind tickled it, and a smile spilt it.
Don’t look back, you don’t want to see.
I kept walking down the long asphalt drive way nearly reaching the end. When I figured that I had gone far enough that I wouldn’t be able to see the details I looked back towards my dad. Even from where I stood, nearly at the edge of the world, I could see his crooked smile and his tilted head as if in salute.
Mission accomplished, I thought.
It seemed like we were both free.