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I will always remember the day I acquired my first fear. Mom was driving me to my grandmother’s house, where my dad’s side of the family would be. That meant I would have to listen to Vanessa, my dad’s wife, and I would have to eat the horrible slop my grandmother cooked for me. Though I hated going to see them, I did not beg to my mother to not go. Mom hated taking me as much as I hated going.
I always dreaded going to meet my father’s side of the family. They were foul people. The yellowing wall, the cracking wall paper, the stained carpet, all of it was foul. I would come home to my mother after visits with them un-bathed, wearing dirty clothes, and smelling like cigarette smoke, the scent of cigarettes swimming through each and every individual strand of hair. On one occasion I came home covered in flea bites and infected cuts. I was miserable for weeks. Their house was always surrounded and filled with a whale sized cloud of smoke.
My father’s side of the family drank, and drank heavily. My father was an alcoholic. It started when he went overseas in the army and became very depressed. Instead of seeking help, he self-medicated with alcohol. Mom never drank, except for the occasional fuzzy navel, a fruity drink barely classified as alcoholic. Mom didn’t smoke either, so as you can imagine I felt out of place with my father’s side of the family. Mom was always the positive influence in my life, the one I felt comfortable with, and the one I loved. It’s difficult to love a person that is never around and that never puts any effort into the relationship. My father was that person.
My grandmother on that side of the family cooked the greasiest food I’ve ever encountered, and on that particular afternoon she served me what I perceived as a plate of fat and animal parts not usually eaten by civilized beings. I would later find out it was oatmeal filled with chunks of butter, something I never saw before that day. I sat in my chair looking at the plate, fearful to breath incase I inhaled some of the slop. I wouldn’t even play with the food, the bowl spelled danger to any child to come in contact with it. My grandmother went to rest after cooking, and I was alone in the room with Vanessa, my step-mother, and my father.
Vanessa was a heavy, homely woman. Though she was originally a brunet she dyed her hair a crayon color red. Her clothes never fit and the few times she wore makeup it was messy and heavy. When I looked at her I saw a scary clown fitted to appear in Steven Kings It.
“Go ahead and eat,” Vanessa said. I stared on in silence. The pressure was building up, and Vanessa grew angrier every second I sat in protest.
Time went by and brothers and sisters got to play outside as I sat in the kitchen with the oatmeal in front of me, completely untouched. Finally Vanessa grew impatient and yelled, calling me names. My dad did nothing. I began crying and the more I cried that more frustrated and angry Vanessa got. The angrier she got, the more she yelled and the more I cried. It was a vicious cycle.
In my head I thought of things to say, “You can wait all you like, you can even call the president on me, but I’m not eating,” then I imagined I would look up defiantly, but all I could do was cry. I looked up and saw the look in her eyes. She grabbed me roughly by the arm and pulled me out of my chair.
“Ouch! Stop it!” I cried. It didn’t matter; she had made up her mind. She dragged me across the cold linoleum floor towards the bathroom, and pushed me in. with a quick sweep she shut off the light slammed the door and locked it. The first thing that hit me was the smell. Someone had obviously used the restroom not too long before. The stench was overpowering. I put my hand to my nose and mouth like a mask, but it was useless.
My heart was racing. Fear filled my lungs and the pressure built up till I could take no more. I screamed to release some of that fear. Out came a rush of screaming and pounding on the door, the ground, anywhere. I wanted, no, I needed out. I reached for the light switch, but was to short, too small. I was locked in that bathroom for what seemed like ages. I began imagining things, a creak here a scratch there. Those sounds turned into vampires hiding behind the shower curtain, and monsters waiting underneath the sink. Both things I seriously considered being true.
As time passed the fear grew, and the danger seemed to multiply. My thoughts raced and I wished for light. Though it was morning there were no windows in the bathroom and with the light switch turned off I was in complete and utter darkness.
The door opened and the light flooded in. I rubbed my eyes, and strained to see. First, only an outline of a woman, but as my eyes adjusted I realized that it was my mother. The only person’s presence I really needed and wanted. She took me out to the car, buckled me in and promised she’d be right back. She locked the door so I couldn’t leave, and went back inside.
“Why don’t you pick on someone your own size!” mom yelled. “If you ever lay a hand on my daughter again I will kill you!” It was the first and last time my mother ever threatened to kill. “Keep that b**** away from my daughter,” she yelled at my dad.
Mom was gone for a long time and I had no idea what was going on. I could hear yelling through the screen door, but I didn’t realize it was over what happened to me.
Later that night I would lie in bed, lights on and sound asleep. That would be my routine for years to come, and I wouldn’t venture to turn the lights off until high school. Even then it would take some time to get over the anxiety. I never had a problem with the dark until that day, and it’s the earliest memory I have of being afraid.
As a result of instances such as my mistreatment under my father’s care, and his lack of interest in me, I went most of my life without my biological father. I was happy without the visits and the unjust punishments. That incident was neither the first nor last time I had been mistreated under my father’s care. Sometimes is was Vanessa and sometimes it was my dad, but more times than not I always ended up being punished in unjust ways.
Sometimes I sit and wonder why he did nothing every time Vanessa was cruel to me. I find myself making excuses for him but always come to the same conclusion. No matter how drunk he might have been, no matter how intimidated he was of Vanessa, there is no excuse for the fact that he did nothing as I cried and sat silently as he watched Vanessa lock me in a bathroom. I haven’t spoken to my father in around 15 years, until recently when I chose to reinstate contact. I am finding out who my father is and to be completely honest, it is sad. He is getting a divorce from Vanessa, who is bullying him and making him move out of state. Of course he legally doesn’t have to move, but he is so pathetically intimidated by her that he gives in. I think deep down, he finds it easier to give in and say “but Vanessa made me!” After all, if Vanessa is the reason he can’t see his children, it’s not his fault. He doesn’t take responsibility for his actions and inactions. He never has.