We had gotten into an argument the night before. That happened a lot. Mom’s worrying when he was away made her space out. She let herself go and let the house go too. And myself, it was hard adjusting to him being home. He hadn’t been in my life for almost 2 years. I had grown independent. Much too independent for his liking apparently. He didn’t receive the Hero’s Welcome he expected.
He had been high strung since he came home. “Home” wasn’t as he remembered it. “Home” was somewhere out there in the desert, thousands of miles away. He was agitated easily, frightened by the slightest noise. Snapping if the slightest thing went wrong. Coming back to a world that wasn’t so tense or regimented was something he had trouble adjusting to.
We took him to a doctor last month. They thought it was stress. Stress from the war. Stress from trauma. Hard days at work, hard days at home. Dealing with me and my troubles, mom and her laziness, and everything that came with running a household again. A little vacation was all he needed. Take some time off. Go somewhere with the family. Just us three. Get acquainted with each other again. Perhaps to a beach resort, maybe a cabin in the woods somewhere. Anywhere. But he didn’t budge. Said getting back to work was too important. Too many things to do. They gave him pills to calm him down. He wouldn’t take them. Said he didn’t believe in taking pills because nothing was wrong, leaving us to deal with his problem.
His outbursts were too random, too nonsensical for anyone to say it was just stress. He was imbalanced in every way; chemically, emotionally, and mentally. He would throw dishes around, slam the mop into my moms chest when there was a spot on the floor he didn’t like. Pushing me into my room when I was “grounded” for not listening to him. I didn’t feel safe at home. I didn’t feel safe for myself or my mother.
I was getting sick of it. Sick of not being comfortable in my own home. Sick of mom having to deal with his bullshit. I loved my father more than anything, but this man was different. The hugs were replaced by bickering badgering about the smallest things. I got tired of walking on eggshells all day. Minding my words trying not to set him off. So I countered his anger with my own prescription for his problem. I gave a few snide remarks here and there, sarcastically acting like I cared about what he was angry about at the moment.
Last week I came up to him to talk. “You’ve changed a lot, Dad. Realize that, please.” Inside I begged for him to wake up.
“If I’ve changed, it was for the better. YOU need to realize THAT. Is it so wrong for a man to want a clean house when he comes back from fighting for everything that is in it? Is it wrong for me to have a son that obeys my commands at all times?”
I didn’t have an answer. It didn’t matter anyway. Nothing I could say would get through to him. He wanted an army regiment of a house. That’s what he was used to, and that was something he wouldn’t get from us.
“Don’t clang those dishes to loudly, Mom. Dad might duck and cover.”
I just kept being a smart-ass. Its all I could think to do. Those remarks grew into something inside both of us. Something just waiting to explode.
Last night he came at me with some crap about leaving the lights on when I went to sleep.
“Unless you plan on paying some bills or moving out, you best leave that goddamn light off when you go to sleep son.” I didn’t want to hear it. I snapped and plain told him to fuck off; to get the hell out of my life. His face turned red, beads of sweat running down his forehead, greenish snot leaking out of his nose. His fists were clenched as tight as a vice and his head and face were vibrating in rapid tremors. He looked like he about about to burst. I wasn’t angry at that moment. I was scared.
A wall of obscenities made his way from his mouth, piercing my ears like they never had before. I glanced at Mom. She was sitting at the kitchen table, eyes bloodshot and her skin as pale as I had ever seen it. She was scared too. Scared that she didn’t know who her husband was anymore. Maybe she didn’t know he I was neither. Either way I knew she didn’t feel safe. We never knew where his next outburst was going. She lit up a cigarette and tapped her foot rhythmically as I turned my attention away from her and back to the conflict.
About half way through the tirade I made my way for the stairs and ran up them as fast as I could. I could hear him pounding each step behind me, the flow of obscenities still flying past my ear with every stomp. I got into my room and closed door behind me, throwing myself on the bed. I could still hear his screams, only slightly muffled by the cheap piece of wood separating me from that monster. I half expected him to burst through the door and hit me right there. But he didn’t. I heard him thud a way into his room shortly after, slamming the door with enough force to shake the whole structure. I cried myself to sleep, still in fear.
“You will never disrespect me like that again! You hear me1? Never again!” I could still hear my fathers growly voice spewing those words out, invading my dream. I was awake, but I tried to keep my eyes closed hoping to get rid of the thought, return to my sweet dreams, escape from reality for just a few more moments. But the effort was fruitless. His words kept ringing in my ears and I gave up trying to go back into a slumber.
I stumbled out of bed, rubbing my eyes to get rid of what seemed like after-image of a bright light obstructing my vision. I took a few moments to catch my bearings. I shook my arms and legs, bent backward and forwards. I even ran in place a little bit to help loosen up like I had every morning. I couldn’t help but take notice that I felt stiff and I had a sharp pain shooting in my abdomen. I gave one final full body stretch and let off a huge yawn, bigger than normal, like I had been sleeping for a lifetime. That didn’t help my torso much. I hunched over as the pain seemed unbearable, clutching my right side to try and compress the discomfort away. I remembered that I hadn’t eaten dinner in my haste to get away from him. The hunger must have been hitting me. It finally started to slightly subside after a few moments, enough for me to posture back up.
Something didn’t seem quite right. There was a different air about the room. It was a place where I normally felt free. My only sanctuary away from him. But now the atmosphere seemed to weigh me down. I was still weary from my rest but I could see that the television was on, turned to ESPN just like it had been every night. I must have forgot to turn it off. The Bernie Williams poster hanging on the door was torn half off, a shredded strip of paper giving way to a patch of paint where his head used to be; casualty of the wars between me and him. The cracks in the walls seem to be deeper and wider, like his rage caused the building to shift overnight. The door was was slightly opened even though I had slammed it shut during the argument. Mom probably came in to check on me, I thought.
I made my way out of the room into the upstairs hall, leaning to the right as the pain in my abdomen was still enough to effect my movement. Although the lights were off, the small gaps in the hallway window shades allowed small beams of the morning sun to bleed through, only half illuminating the area. The wallpaper was ripped, speckled with a black lace design that hadn’t been fully recognizable in months. It was turning brown from the years of dirt layered on the once white color. The carpet lining the floor hadn’t been cleaned in months. Coffee and and wine stains were hardened on the walls, marking where he had thrown cups and drinks in previous events. My mother was too worried about keeping the family together. She couldn’t bring herself to do housework anymore, so the filth built up with the tension in the house.
I felt sorry for her the most. She couldn’t be at peace in her own home. She would sit there, watching me and my father go at each other. She would yell at us to calm down, say we shouldn’t be like this. She would sit there and cry after realizing she couldn’t help. I could see the wrinkles in her face get deeper, more prominent after every episode. The bags under her eyes turning another shade of dark with every passing day. My conflicts with him were breaking her down slowly. I still loved her but barely had the mind to show it or tell her. My every ounce of energy went towards the battle against him and that killed her inside and I needed to save her while I had the chance.
I needed to check on her, see how she was doing after last night’s blowup. I know she saw another side of him like I had. One that had to have scared her as much if not more than it scared me. We had to leave now, and I needed to tell her that. We had to move somewhere far away. Anywhere, as long as it was away from him. It was the only way to end the war. The only way to save her. The only way to save US from this demon living in our homes.
“Mah.” I called out to her with a raised voice. Enough for her to hear me if she was awake but low enough to not wake her or the beast up if they were still asleep. There wasn’t a response.
“Mom.” The silence was starting to get to me. It was eerie. I listened hard for something, anything. On closer listening I could make out the feint sound of the faucet running in the kitchen, the smell of ammonia now apparent to my nose. It was enough to lure me over there.
I lurched down the stairs still clutching my side because of the slowly dissipating pain and walked through the swinging door to the kitchen. The pain in my side reminded me I needed to eat something. I grabbed a piece of bread from the counter in order to subside the pain. There was a half-smoked pack of cigarettes laying next to the package of White Rose. Smoking had become a habit of mom’s. I’m sure there were a few more already empty and thrown in the trash bin. I swallowed it down in a few bites and headed over to the sink to take a drink to wash the bread down before turning the faucet off. Water was spewing into the sink, splashing off the dishes left in them from the night before. Mom must have forgotten about them when the argument erupted. Dad wanted everything clean but our squabbles didn’t help that matter much either. I reached to turn the faucet off, but the red tint of the water in the filled up sink caught my eye. A sponge sat on top of the dirty dishes, releasing the blood that had saturated it as the water took its place in the pores. I stood in confusion and shock as I deep thud caught my attention. It came from above me.
“What are you guys doing up there? Mom!? Dad?! What are you doing!?” I half-expected my father to run downstairs, re-ignite the flame that had torn through us the night before. Finish what he had started. But there was still no response. The quietness was angering now.
I ran up stairs, the pain once shooting through my stomach now completely gone. The bread must have hit the spot, but I still felt weak. I turned at the top, holding the ornament on the tip of the banister to aid my movement. I could make out a dark figure slumped on the floor, only partially illuminated by the sunlight still obscured by the shades in the hallway. As I got closer, the light became bright enough for me to make out a faded pink night gown resting on my mother’s petite frame. Blood spotted the cotton fabric all over; a deep dark stain obscured the flower print around her chest.
“Mom. You okay?” I knelt down beside her and began to shake her. I could see a hole in the gown where the blood had been leaking out of. I felt it with my fingers but the blood did not stain my hands. “Wake up. Please wake up.” I shook her violently. Not a motion or breath came out of her body. It was lifeless. I didn’t save her in time.
I turned around as the sound of footsteps caught my attention. My ground level eyes saw a pair of feet covered by slippers slowly walking out of my room. It was my father. My eyes scanned their way up slowly, cringing at the site of his blue pajama pants, blood streaking down the right leg. His shirt wasn’t any cleaner. His face was stark, almost as if made of stone. He was staring off into the distance, dragging a some object behind him. It was something you’d only see in a movie, but the reality was all too encompassing. I could hear that thing scraping against the carpet. I was angered at the silence before but the sound now drove me insane.
My anger concentrated itself onto him. I tried to muster of some courage. I had to say something. Do something.
“What did you do? WHAT DID YOU DO!?” That is all I could get out. I got in his face. I yelled my lungs out as tears streamed down my cheek. I took a swing at his face. I tired to push him, kick him, anything I could do to hurt him. Nothing phased him. He kept moving forward. I wasn’t anything to him now. He kept walking forward dragging that thing. Nothing I did caught his attention. It was like I wasn’t even there. I kicked and prodded and punched and yelled until I was defeated. What his anger couldn’t do before, his cold demeanor did now. I dropped to my knees as he stopped walking.
I couldn’t leave him alone. I antagonized him. I prodded him. I finally made him snap and it was her that had to pay the price for it. My mind exploded with guilt as the tears cascaded off of my face and into nothingness as I couldn’t see the little spots they were supposed to leave on the carpet.
He dropped whatever he was dragging where I was slouched. I pulled my hands away from my face and opened my eyes. Through the tears I could make out another wavy figure laying on the floor in front of me. I wiped them away with a shaky hand so that I could get a better look. Socks covered the feet, tattered blue jeans covered the legs. A blue championship around the torso, several puncture holes on the lower right of the figures abdomen. The face was all too familiar. It was mine. I didn’t know how to react. I sat there for an eternity, staring into my own eyes as they stared into forever, soulless and lifeless.
I decided to get up, to take one last swing at that devil! But something caught my hand as I reached back.
“Its okay honey. Let it go.” I recognized the voice. It was soothing. Calming. It was a voice of reason. A voice of love.
“Let it go honey. We don’t have to deal with him anymore.” My Mom put her hands on my cheek and in a moment I released it all. She was right. We were safe now.