Chapter Seven - Found a Dad, Lost a Dad
1989 - Mom is 40, Scott is 15, I am 12
A year and a half ago, my dad called me on Christmas Eve. It's the first time I had ever talked to him. I was 10 years old then. I was so happy, but wondering why he waited so long. We were at Grandpa's house for Christmas, like every year. My Mom said someone was on the phone for me. I didn't believe her because nobody ever calls me, especially there. She covered the phone with her hand and said "It's your dad, Julie. He wants to talk to you. Do you want to talk to him?" I didn't know what to do. I wasn't sure he really existed. I didn't think he loved me, or wanted me, if he did exist.
"Hello Julie, this is your father." Really? I wondered. He didn't feel like a father just because he said it out loud. But how was I supposed to know what a father felt like?
"I love you very much, Julie. How are you?"
"How's your Christmas this year?"
"Where have you been and why are you calling me now, on Christmas?" This is not what I had planned to say, if I ever I did meet my dad, but it just came out.
"That's a fair question, but I don't think we have a lot of time to talk about it right now."
"Well, it's Christmas, and I'm sure you have a lot of people there to spend time with, right?"
"I just wanted to tell you that I love you and I've missed you very much. I'm so happy to be talking to you now. You are my little princess, do you remember that?"
"I don't remember anything. I was only 2 when you left. Do you remember THAT?"
"Yes, Julie, I remember that. Like I said, we'll have to talk about all that stuff later, when we have more time."
"Okay. Here's my Mom, she wants to talk to you again." I had to go find her. I put the phone down on the floor, walked slowly into the livingroom, and sat on the couch next to Scott. "Mom, he's still on the phone, will you talk to him now?"
That was the first time I ever talked to him. Scott put his arm around me on the couch, and I leaned into his shoulder and cried. He held me for a long time, until I fell asleep. And even then, he wouldn't move. Eventually, my Mom woke me up and led us both to our beds. I told her I had a dream that my dad called me. She said it wasn't a dream.
Now, Scott and I are visiting him in Pennsylvania, for the second time. Last year we came for a week right before my birthday. It was great. We went to a water park, played games, and he taught us how to bowl. He works in a bowling alley, owns a bowling pro-shop with balls and shoes and gloves and stuff. He taught us how to play cribbage. Scott didn't really like it, so my dad and I would stay up late and play for hours together. It was a fantastic visit, so I was really excited to come back this year. Scott wasn't so excited, but I didn't know why. Until now. Scott's much older and wiser than me, and somehow he just knew what was coming I think. I had been dazzled, blinded by fun stuff and presents last time. I didn't see what Scott saw. Until now.
There has been no fun stuff this time, no games. Scott and I have been put to work painting my dad's shop. We clean up the house every night. We have abundant chores, more than we ever have at home. My step-mom, Robyn, is pregnant, and besides waiting on her and doing EVERYTHING else, we are also forced to say "I love you, mom" to her every night before we go to bed. My dad has not stopped talking about how horrible our family is back home. How much of a big alcoholic, abuse factory they are. He has given me books about alcoholism to give to my mom. He has trash-talked my Grandma and Grandpa. He has turned mean and scary. And I hate him. Tonight, it was my turn to clean the dinner table, and Scott's turn to do the dishes, so I cleaned up quick and came upstairs to our room. I just want to go home. I need my Mom. I am laying under the slippery pink comforter my dad got for my bed the first time we came. He got Scott one with zebra stripes on it. It is freezing in here, as usual, and I'm exhausted. There's still paint in my hair, and under my fingernails from working at the shop today. I just want to go home. My dad knocks and comes in our room.
"What are you doing?"
"Laying here. I'm cold. I don't feel good."
"I need you to come downstairs. I have something to show you."
"Yes, right now." I roll my eyes and get out of bed. I follow him down the stairs and into the dining room. "Do you see THAT?"
"What?" I say, "I don't see anything." He is pointing at the table. He tells me to look closer. I look closer, I bend down, turn my head to the side, and see what he's pointing at. There's a smudgy, greasy spot on the table I missed - it's about 3 inches wide. In the grease he has written "clean me" so small he must've used a toothpick.
"Are you serious? You made me come down here for THAT? REALLY?"
"You need to do your chores, and do them correctly. Do it over."
"No." He picks up a dishrag, grabs my hand, and forces me to take it. Scott has stopped doing the dishes and is holding his breath, I think. He is watching us like he's ready to pounce. Ready for anything. I can feel his energy, I look at him, look back to my dad. "NO." I throw the rag down on the table, turn and run toward the stairs. "CLEAN IT YOURSELF", I scream back at him.
"Jesus, Julie, you run fast!" Scott was right on my heels, and came into our room just as I was slamming the door behind me. I opened the door as far as it would go and slammed it shut as loud as I could.
"I'm not gonna clean it again, Scott, I'm not gonna do ANYTHING for him anymore, I hate him, he's a slave-driver, I hate him, who does he think he is, why does he think he can treat us this way, let's go home, Scott, please, let's just go home." I can't even breathe, I'm crying so hard and spewing these words out faster than I can even think them up. I have a pretty limited cuss-word vocabulary, but I know "fuck" is the worst, and I'm ready to use them all. "He's a fucking asshole, Scott, I can't believe he's my dad, I don't want to be here, what if he won't let us go home, what if we have to stay here and be his slaves forever, Scott, he doesn't love us, he doesn't love anyone, I'm so sorry Scott, you're gonna get in trouble too because of this, I'm so sorry, I hate him, please don't let him near me, I'll rip his fucking head off, he's so mean, who thinks it's okay to be mean like that, what a fucker, I fucking hate him, I can't believe this, how are we gonna call Mom, the phone is downstairs, fuck, fuck, fuck, Scott, I'm sorry I'm saying so many bad words, but fuck, Scott, I can't handle it, I just can't handle it."
"Try to calm down, Julie, you're gonna make yourself sick. I'll take care of it. I won't let him near you. I promise. It'll be okay, I promise." Just then our door flew open, and a very big man with a very red face was standing in our room with a dishrag in his hands. And he was coming for me.
"DON'T YOU MOVE ANOTHER INCH! GET OUT OF OUR ROOM! NOW!!!" Scott had jumped up, and between us, and was ready to kill for me.
"Scott, get out of my way, this is between me and your sister." The calm in his voice was eerie, terrifying.
"I'm not going anywhere, and either is she. Leave." He pushed Scott out of the way, and against the wall, hard. In an instant, he had me by the arm, up off the bed, dragging me out of the room. I bent down my head and bit him as hard as I could on the arm, started kicking and flailing and screaming. I tasted blood in my mouth, sour and hot. Tears and snot were all mixed up on my face, everything a blur.
"DON'T YOU EVER FUCKING TOUCH ME AGAIN! I'LL FUCKING KILL YOU, YOU BASTARD! LEAVE. ME. THE. FUCK. ALONE. OR I'LL FUCKING KILL YOU!" I have never said even one single cuss word in the presence of an adult, let alone straight to one. I am standing now, head and shoulders tall, waiting to be beaten or killed or worse. I simply don't care anymore, I've had it.
He left the room. Two days later we flew home. When Mom was driving us home from the airport, we told her everything. Even the cuss words. She was proud of us both. I looked in my backpack for the BubbleYum I got at the airport, and what I found were two pamphlets and a book on alcoholism that my dad must've snuck in my bag before we left. I showed them to my Mom and told her all the things he said about her, about our family. She tried not to, but started to cry. We all started to cry. She told us she was sorry for ever asking him to call us at Christmas. I didn't know she asked him to do that. I thought he just called, because he wanted to, because he loved us. But, as it turns out, she had to search him out, find him, and call him. She hoped it wouldn't turn out this way. She was sorry. We rode along in tears for a few miles. I looked at the pamphlets and book, still absently in my hands, and some of the fire came back.
"Here's what I think, Mom." She turned to me, and my brother sat up in the back, leaned forward to see what I was doing. I rolled down the window, and page by page, I tore up that book, and those pamphlets, and threw them out. "I love my big alcoholic family, so there! And I love you, Mom. Forever. You're all I need."