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On the porch with my father

by H. Reilly 2 months ago in grief
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a memory

photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pat_ossa/

We aren't exactly close.

I'm sitting late at night on the porch of a house I didn't grow up in, drinking a beer I don't really like. There's a man calling my phone every few hours to yell at me, I've turned my phone off finally this evening to sit here with my dad.

My family has rallied around me to get me out of this abusive relationship, even as I sit silently with my first one. My dad is trying to convince me to move in here with him and his new neat-freak wife who hates me, in order to not live with the yelling man anymore. Him and his new wife live in a different town now, in a new house, so there's room for me here without the ghosts of memories of where I grew up.

I start law school in the fall, in New Jersey, so upstate New York, where this porch is, is not a practical move. It's about to be summer and I need to prepare.

He offers me a second beer, rising from the Adirondack chair next to me in the cool night, and I nearly trip over myself to rise as well. It's what I'm used to; running to fetch him a beer. It feels awkward when he insists I sit down. I feel the tears streaming down my face silently and try to still my voice to thank him.

My father is an alcoholic, though it seems he has hidden some of it from his new wife. He didn't become one until my mom left him, or maybe he was all along and I was too young to remember, or not subjected to it as much with the protection of my mom's presence. I spent ages 8-15 fetching him beers while he sat on the porch with friends watching the world go by. He still is that angry man I remember, though right now the anger isn't entirely directed at me.

The place where my dad broke my collarbone aches, it's going to rain tonight. It's always more sensitive up here, in the wilds of upstate New York. It's as though the concrete of the city can protect me from the changing of weather when I am crashing on my mother's couch or working there but up here it's like a live wire. Sometimes I wonder if it's just the proximity to him, the first man to hit me, gaslight me, force me to be many things a little girl is not.

Everyone has left for the night. My mom and her new partner are in their hotel room, my brother, who I raised when I lived with him and my father, is in his apartment in the next town over, even my evil step mother has gone to bed. It's just us, and the crickets and my tears.

Even as my phone is off I am fearful. I know that there are phone calls and texts coming in, yelling, accusing me of abandonment when I was thrown out of the home me and the yelling man shared. I know the consequences to this action might be worse than ever and not worth the few minutes of peace I'm, in theory, trying to have.

Abuse makes you coil like a snake ready to strike at any moment. You must be on guard but even when you are, you are never really prepared for what will happen next. So often I had tried to steal myself for the house not being clean enough, dinner not being good enough, my homework not being perfect or my appearance and attitude not being right, but I could never be ready for what I'd done wrong, because that's not why it happens. I could have been perfect, hell, I probably often was perfect, and there would always be some defect to find and hit me for because that's what he wanted to do.

The yelling man doesn't hit me, not that often. His main forms of abuse are often psychological or attempting to work me into the ground with chores. My days with him start at 5am and end at 2 or 3am because I need the 5am start to study for the LSAT or prepare for law school and he will drink until the early morning hours, expecting me to stay up with him. To be fun. Sleep deprivation is torture, but it is nothing compared to the damage you can do to yourself with power tools while experiencing it.

The worst thing the yelling man has done to me, however, is corrupt my finances. He's taken tens of thousands of dollars from me, or from my credit cards. I am deeply in debt and this is one of the places where my father is angry with me. Why would I have given the yelling man all that money? he wonders, and all I can think is, How could I have stopped it?

My father mostly chose to hit me, though I know I don't remember the worst of it. I have scars, and I've seen the x-rays of my adult self; broken ribs, collar bone, fingers and toes. I have some memories, going to the orthodontist because my braces were smashed through my face, but I can feel more buried there, and am glad my brain has shielded it from me for the moment. He also told me it didn't happen after I ran successfully away to my mother at 15, finally. I suppose I've spent much of my life being gaslit about it.

Can I blame my father for the abusive relationship I have at this moment in time? Can I sit on this porch and not feel the way he primed me for choosing this in a partner?

Can I accept his offer to run away and stay here? Would that even be a safer choice?

He's trying to intimidate me now, even as he's trying to help me. Trying to scare me into doing what he thinks is right. I decline his offer as graciously as I can and make excuses to go to bed. This interaction leaves me scattershot, possibly more than before.

Parents are supposed to love and protect you. My father is trying to do that now, I suppose, even if it feels much too late. The yelling man has had my life in the balance for almost two years, I feel crushed beyond the point of recovery.

In the morning I will leave, go back and eventually be extricated from the situation by my friends and live on my mom's couch for six months before moving into various run down apartments throughout law school, moving almost every 8 months for years on end.

I will wonder what it is like to have a normal father. I will wonder what my life would have been like if it had been full of love rather than fear. Many men in my life will fill the father figure roll partially, but never entirely, never well or without ulterior motives.

I realize now, many years away from this memory and the porch and the last conversation I willingly had with my dad, that I don't even know how to tell a story of a good father. I hope someday I will learn or that I will get to tell the story of the father of my future children and how good he was to them.


About the author

H. Reilly

I've never actually read The Old Man and the Sea, but I do love salt.


Reader insights


Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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