James Meaney is currently a student at Full Sail University pursuing his Bachelor's degree in the field of Creative Writing. He hopes to work in the tabletop gaming industry in the future. James is a veteran, he served in the US Army for seven years, deploying to Iraq twice. He is married and has three children (20, 15, and 10), they are his motivation for his future endeavors.
HER FATHER’S SHADOW
After tucking their kids in bed, the young couple sat down for an evening of electronic free conversation. It began as most conversations do.
“How was your day?” He hated to ask because she would come home every day with dreadfully long stories about a subpar day that sounded so miserable. Through numerous twists and turns the conversation somehow found its way to their parents and childhoods, a usually taboo subject. “We were middle class, never had too much, sometimes never enough. My parents always made it work though,” he described his mediocre childhood, not bad, just not a fairytale.
She scoffed at the story. Is that all you’ve got? “My father would beat me, mercilessly, with anything he could get his hands on, belts, electric cords, spatulas, anything.” she said. “He would hit ALL of us for one of us doing something wrong. Talking back, that got you choked. He would come home drunk and that’s when the verbal abuse would start, he’d wake us up from a sound sleep to make us feel like less than nothing. All the while my mother would sit there and watch, the silent witness. Sometimes he made her hold us down.”
Paralyzed by her words, mouth agape. He had heard bits and pieces but never like this, never so raw. His closest friends, the love of his life all had these familial skeletons in their closets. Ashamed for any lackluster thoughts about his own childhood. It’s like survivor’s guilt. He went to her side and embraced her, gently stroking her hair, as she started to tear up. “It’s in the past and we will never treat our children like that, ever,” he said. As her sobbing slowed, his mind began reeling with questions. Our parents are all about the same age/my grandfather died around that age/could she ever forgive him? “What if he called tomorrow and said he was dying, that he was sorry for all the things that happened when you were younger, and that he wanted to have a relationship with his daughter and his grandchildren. What would you say?” he said, not really thinking about the repercussions of such a deep question.
Her eyes narrowed to slits as she gritted her teeth. “Are you stupid? How could you, after all that I’ve said, even suggest that. He’s a monster. He deserves to die alone,” she said, the words escaping her mouth so fast and sharp as if they were premeditated. Upset all over again “He doesn’t deserve a relationship with me or our children.”
“He is still your father,” he said, trying to defend this faceless, evil man that he had only met once, knowing deep down he was a monster, but still a father.
She had joked for years that she was adopted. “He’s not my father. I don’t have one of those. Fathers don’t force daughters to get abortions, tell them they are garbage, and treat them like they never wanted them in the first place,” she said, now red in the face.
You really did it this time, didn’t you, Dummy. He watched as she stormed into the kitchen and started fumbling through the drawers. She pulled out the corkscrew and reached for a bottle of wine. All those years earning those coins wasted, no don’t say that you idiot. “Are you sure that’s what you want to do right now?” he asked.
“Oh, screw you! Are you that much better than me that you think you can judge me right now?” she said.
That wasn’t much better actually. “Look, I’m sorry, I’m sorry I said anything, I’m sorry I let the conversation go that way. I should have known better. The subject is off limits for a reason. Come back and sit on the couch and let’s talk about something else, anything,” he pleaded with her. No, no, dummy, it’s too late.
She slid down the counter and sat on the floor, bottle in one hand, wine glass in the other. “Leave me alone, go back to your perfect Mommy, you can be her perfect little momma’s boy again,” she said as she cried, her makeup ruined.
He just stood there, watching as she poured glass after glass and drank herself into a stupor. Eventually smashing the glass on the floor. She hates him so much that she is willing to become him. What if one of our kids asked a question like that, just curious about their absentee grandparent. Would she hit one of them. I AM their father, it’s my job to protect them. She needs counselling but will refuse. She needs to go back to AA but will refuse. I can’t live like this again. It’s not fair for my kids.
“I can’t bear to see you do this to yourself again, to our family again. In the morning, I’m taking the kids and moving out, we need to take some space for a while,” he said as he walked out of the room.