the pool key

well padre… you are at least good enough to inspire some creativity out of your middle daughter… and technical middle child {as far as I know at least}… this one was real fun… (I think I was 12…. maybe even just 11)

This was the summer of our worst time in California. I remember when we finally got home, I no longer said the word California like it was something my friends should be jealous of. To me, California, San Jose area specifically, was a wasteland of pain and shit and even the hills reflected it in their constant brownness. We sought shelter in our mother’s arms, her body so dented from so many years of providing us shelter from you, but she stood real strong that time, even though we knew her heart broke. We couldn’t contain it that time, couldn’t sanitize your shitiness, we cried constantly and tried so hard not to outright beg to come home… and all we had to do was survive one week with you.

Forgive me if I don’t get the order of these events quite right, that’s how a traumatized brain works, I’ve learned. Scrambles shit up like outdated eggs, and it just stays with you until you find the courage and the strength to reprocess it all.

One Week –

We saw your model airplanes left around the apartment and every time our little feet walked anywhere near them, we held our breath and prayed to all the gods we didn’t believe in, but Grandma Anne promised us existed, to keep us from falling or tripping. Because we knew you loved those models more than us and they had to stay in tact so that we could… and luckily they did.

I finished the jar of mustard. it was dinner time and you had just come home, tired and stressed from your 3 days in of solo-parenting, so when I told you the mustard was done, just like I would have told my mother to help her, you snapped at me with venom, reminded me of what a fat, ungrateful cow I was… always eating the last of everything… and maybe I could have saved some for you. I think I was barely in the 50th % (really closer to 30th percentile for weight because – as all the kids at school always pointed out, my legs where more like toothpicks than bones). but I didn’t argue and we all stopped any giggling. We called our mom that night and tried not to cry – I don’t remember if we were successful.

You had a girlfriend this time and she had kids that we were old enough to babysit… so you were kind enough to let us babysit her shitty bratty kids 4 of the 7 nights we were there…

And the finale of the trip – the one that made us break our code of silence to our mother, was the pool key incident… you had made it so clear that we were not to lose that key. I swear, still to this day, it wasn’t our fault. But that was never a possibility you entertained. It was the twins’ fault – those twin girls that lived in your building and were close to our age so we played and swam with them when we could. We think they took our key on accident and when you came home, asked us where it was and we couldn’t produce it, you freaked. You got so angry that you would have to pay $75… and we all knew very well what $75 would have meant to our mother, who worked so damn hard to be mildly insulated from you… but you – you made close to 6 figures and lived by yourself and didn’t have to have 3 jobs all the time. Your counters weren’t covered in worksheets of how to stretch not enough money across a full month.

It was the day we were all going to go – with your girlfriend and her shitty kids – to the waterpark for the day. You had gotten free passes from work, but we were still expected to shower you with gratitude. But, your anger seethed from you dark Italian eyes and we could not figure out how to feel safe with you. I remember wishing we could just evaporate in the hot humid air and float back to Minnesota…

You put us in the back of your pickup… and the entire ride, you sped up…. then slammed your brakes. Each time, our heads knocked back into the partition of your cab. Thud. You did it again and again and again. So many times that my big brave sister put her hands behind our little sister’s head. At the time, she was the only one who got migraines – and with the hot California sun and little confidence you knew or cared anything about hydration, we wanted to make sure she didn’t get a migraine.

It took us 20 minutes or so, and probably at least 10 sudden stops and thuds, before we got to the park. You ushered us out, not looking at us, because vacancy is the ultimate punishment, and when your girlfriend and her shitty kids met us, you instantly smiled and gave us that special look so we knew, without argument, we’d pretend everything was fine.

That was the last time we visited you in California. I think that’s the last time we’ve seen you…We didn’t mourn you, we didn’t grieve a father we had to let go. We each sunk further into ourselves, and sadly, not into each other.

©2017 erin hoffman – all rights reserved


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