Looking for Color – Andrew Jacono
November 11, 2021
What a shit weekend.
Woes started Friday night. I was sifting through bills in the kitchen when Natty skittered out of his room screaming as if his balls had been crushed. Figured it was just an ordinary night terror but this time he was running around and beating his head with his fists. I didn’t really know what to do, so I chased him through the house, trying to call out reassurances over his yells, until he tripped and pounded his knee on my bedroom floor. At that point words didn’t much matter so I carried him to his room and held him close and rocked him till he woke up.
He cried for a while. I spent the time smoothing his hair. When he was done he wiped his face and looked up at me with these terrified wide eyes. He said this time he saw a giant made of shadows. It was slow and it growled and when it moved the world shook. It was trying to stomp him with its feet. He said he kept calling for me but I didn’t come. Maybe because I couldn’t hear, he tried reasoning with himself. Maybe because I just couldn’t answer.
I didn’t know what to say. So I just swore to him that if he was in danger, any kind at all, I’d protect him, no qualms, no questions, because I loved him and I’d never let anything happen to him. I said it confidently enough that in the next few minutes he was back to snoring.
After about an hour watching him sleep my phone started blaring that grating samba ringtone I haven’t changed in five years. I knew who it was without having to look at the screen. I stepped out of the room and sighed into the speaker, trying to make it clear that now wasn’t a great time, but he was yapping before I could say hello. He said Bryan twisted his ankle and couldn’t come in tomorrow, so he needed me to cover the morning and afternoon shifts. I told him I couldn’t.
Why? he demanded.
Tomorrow’s Saturday, I explained. And my son’s turning six.
That shut him up for a while. Thought that meant I won. But then he started clicking his tongue all jolly the way he does when he knows he’s about to ruin something.
Well, he said, will you have enough time to pack your shit up Monday morning?
Had to bite my tongue so I wouldn’t call him a dick. I needed the job. So I said I’d do it. He said a calm Okay, but I know he hung up with his mouth stuck in its usual piss-yellow grin.
Yesterday I woke a couple minutes before sunrise and put on my uniform. I left a Post-It note in the living room wishing Natty a happy birthday and apologizing that I’d be gone. I also wrote that I’d be back by six to celebrate and explained not to turn on the new TV I’d bought and set up in the cupboard because I wanted to watch it for the first time together.
Before I left I took a gulp of the murk I keep in one of the kitchen cabinets. Burned like a motherfucker and made my breath smell like gangrene, but I felt nothing on the way to work.
I pulled into the garage fifteen minutes later and parked next to my security post. When I got out of the car I noticed a bunch of new graffiti streaks on the cabin window. One memorable design was the curly shape of a flaccid cock probably finessed by some hormonal twelve-year-old who thought he had a future in edgy street art. I might’ve found it funny any other day, but for some reason it made me grit my teeth. In hindsight, I think I took it as a cruel reflection of where my life had ended up.
I went inside, sat in front of the CCTV monitor, slid away the dick-window. Then I started my usual scope.
Didn’t do much for a while, just stared at the asphalt and concrete pillars and McDonald’s soda cups and used condoms strewn around the perimeter. Then in the next half-hour maybe twenty cars drove up to the cabin demanding parking and I had to haul away an old homeless guy who was waddling around the premises and yelling about how he could feel the proximity of God’s fiery judgment in his loins. I hauled myself back to my post wondering if this is what Bryan had to do every goddamned weekend and decided to reward my effort by taking a couple swigs out of the old flask I packed in my lunch sack. I set it on the cardboard footstool under my desk in case I wanted more.
I couldn’t count the number of people that swamped the place in the next couple hours. The little downtime I had I spent either anxiously tapping the camera monitor or sneaking flask pulls to prepare for the next horde of shoppers. I have no idea how much I ended up drinking but when I took my egg salad sandwich break at 3:00 I couldn’t feel my feet. I don’t think I’d ever murked that much in the cabin before.
I was sure I’d have a panic attack, but by 3:30 whole schools of cars started clearing out of the lot, and by the time five o’clock ticked on almost everybody was gone, and I could feel my feet again. So I decided to take another break. I wet my tongue and crossed my feet out the window and closed my eyes.
I got shocked awake when something knocked hard into my ankles. Thought a car slammed me but when I tilted my head up I saw my boss standing outside with this repulsive smile. He reached into the cabin and swiped the flask I’d left like a fucking idiot out on the desk and gave its opening a loud sniff like he was doing a line of blow.
He leaned in close. His breath smelled like bologna and cheddar cheese. We’ll talk about this inside, he whispered. Now.
Heart started going fucking wild in my ears. I gave a little nod and tried hard to look like I had my shit together as I stepped out of the cabin and followed him.
He was screaming before I could close his office door. Why the hell did he catch me sleeping, why the fuck would I once again choose to relieve my drunkard hankerings on the job, did I or did I not have any shame, should he or should he not teach me some. His double chin flopped around as he sped through just about every shortcoming he could see in me. Some I already knew. Some I didn’t. Too many of them to list. I didn’t interrupt him once. Maybe because some part of me agreed with what he said.
After what was probably five minutes but felt a lot longer he slammed his fat hands on his desk and looked at me like he was expecting an answer. I called him a miserable fucking cock-whistler. Probably what made him grab his nameplate off his desk and aim for my head. I smacked it away before he could throw and it knocked one of the cheap landscape portraits off the wall behind him. He stared at the broken frame so shakily I was surprised he didn’t have a stroke.
After what felt like an eternity he turned to me. I could count the veins in his forehead. He told me to get the fuck out or he’d kill me. I didn’t want to die, so I listened.
I was three tall glasses of murk deep at Edison’s when my phone rang. Was too lazy to look at the caller ID and grunted like a monkey when I answered. On the other end I heard a long crackle and then a worried voice.
Are you coming home soon, Papa?
Fuck. I looked at my phone. A quarter past seven, the wallpaper a recent picture of Natty sitting on a Harley Davidson, looking adorable, smiling without most of his teeth. Still his birthday. I’d forgotten. I scratched my arm hard and cleared my throat and spoke back into the phone, trying my best to sound sober, Yes, soon, soon. Got caught up at work, bud. I’m so sorry.
Another couple crackles. Then, That’s okay, Papa, like he expected it. He asked if he could order in a Giuseppe’s pineapple pie and if he could turn on the TV even though I wasn’t there, because he was bored.
Of course, I said. And listen, I don’t think I’ll be back before nine, so switch off the lamps in the living room before bed. Okay? I love you.
He said okay, happy as ever, that he loved me too, and then hung up. I dropped my phone and put my head on the bar. Guilt was tying a knot under my ribs and a bunch of questions I knew the answers to were spinning in my head. Why did I have to get sauced on his fucking birthday? How could I have forgotten about his fucking birthday? What kind of fucking father was I? Is this what my mother would have wanted? What Emma would’ve wanted?
When I looked back up there was a fresh glass of murk in front of me. As the bartender swept by I heard him say it was on the house. That was the last good thing that happened this weekend.
On the way home I ran two red lights and almost crumpled the back of an elderly woman’s equally elderly sedan. I had to get home, needed a late-night sitcom barely outrunning its demise to cool the heat in the back of my head, where I couldn’t stop picturing my doctor shaking his head.
I’ve told you before, he was saying. Stop drinking. Sleep more. Exercise, diet, fight the gut. Those are the keys to healthier grieving. If not for you then for, you know, your child.
Same lecture every visit. Almost verbatim. I usually brush off what he says without much thought, but this time it felt different. Might’ve been how shitty the day went, might’ve been the murk, probably both, but it stung. And it was wrong. Grieve healthier? What the fuck was he talking about? There’s no way to do anything healthily when someone who made you whole for a decade gets yanked out of your life like an electric plug and thrown off the edge of the fucking earth without so much as a breath. If there ever was a way to grieve properly, I would’ve found it. The day after she succumbed. An hour or two after her funeral, at worst. But I’ve been looking for over three years now. I’ve still got nothing to show for it.
I don’t know how long I’d been holding back tears when I turned onto my street. It was dark as death out so I didn’t need to be near the house to notice the off-yellow light spilling through its windows. I felt an artery in my neck swell. Natty hadn’t turned off the lights.
It shouldn’t have been even a minor deal, but something inside of me cracked. If it was the universe’s final test of whether or not it could break me, I think I failed. I tried not to pound the steering wheel as I pulled into the driveway.
Of course, Natty hadn’t thought to lock the front door, so I went inside practically breathing black smoke out of my nose. I stomped into the living room to kill the lights, expecting the kid to have been in bed already, so I was surprised to see him kneeling on the rug next to the TV cupboard.
Well, the cupboard where the brand-new TV had been.
The fucking thing had fallen out. One half of its screen was popping out of its frame and the other half was spilled all over the floor like a discarded batch of crystal meth.
I didn’t say anything, but Natty was quieter somehow. His face was all pale and clammy and he looked more distressed than anybody I’d seen in my life. He tried to hide his hands but I saw them.
Christ. Sliced up, glass fragments bedazzling the rawest spots. Blood dripping all over the gorgeous white fucking Moroccan rug my mother drained her savings for as a wedding gift for me and Emma.
Things got blurry from there. Got numb all over. Felt like I was watching myself from outside my body. I lunged at the kid, started babbling insane shit I can’t even fathom, and his face got all pinched and wrinkly, like he was sucking on some sour candy. Then he started crying. That, I didn’t expect. He doesn’t do that unless he has a night terror. He’s a tough kid. Tougher than I ever was.
I remember thinking of my boss, how punchable his face was, and then my palm drew back and landed flat on Natty’s cheek. The impact was loud but it wasn’t very hard. I know hard. Kids at school would hit me with three times the force when I was his age. My mother, when she was angry, four times. This was nothing. I wouldn’t have done it if I knew he couldn’t take it.
I backed away a couple feet. He was looking at me like I was the Antichrist come to tally his sins. I let him cry for a while and just stood there rubbing the ache in my hand. He eventually cupped his cheek, stood up, walked out.
It took me a while to regain control of my body. When I did I knelt beside the TV and scooped away some of the glass. Looked around. I noticed on the table across from the cupboard the box of pineapple pizza he’d ordered. He hadn’t eaten a single bite.
* * *
I’m six years old today. Six is a big number, and Papa always tells me it’s when boys become men and that means they’ve got responsibilities. I don’t really know what that means but I think he wants me to start cleaning my own room.
I get out of bed and brush my teeth and then go into the living room because Papa told me last night that there was gonna be a surprise in there. He was right. There’s a huge flatscreen TV in the cupboard where the little old one with the antennas used to be. I love it so much.
There’s a little yellow note on the table in front of me. It’s from Papa, and it says Happy Birthday, Natty on it, and there are lots of smiley faces and balloons around my name, and under that he wrote At work, sorry. Be back at 6:00. Don’t touch TV until I get back!
I really want to turn it on, but I don’t. Papa says I’m a good listener, and I want to make him proud. He’s a security guard, and I think that means he knows Kung-Fu or something, which is pretty awesome. My friends think it’s cool too.
So I run out the back door and roll in the grass and draw mazes and dig for treasure in my sandbox and fly on my swing. I climb up the big brown tree that Papa says is too dangerous for little kids, because now I’m not little anymore, and I come back down like a ninja. When I’m tired I go back inside and eat some of Papa’s yogurt from the fridge and then I play with Legos in the living room and build a pirate ship and get my Batman and Iron Man action figures and have them fight on the ship. Batman puts up a good fight because he’s got way bigger muscles than Iron Man but Iron Man has blasters and blows Batman’s face off, so Iron Man wins.
I give Iron Man a high-five and put everything away and then I look out the window next to the TV. The sky looks kind of dark so I check the clock and it says it’s five-thirty. Papa’s gonna be home soon. I wait on the couch and fall asleep accidentally. When I wake up it’s seven o’clock but Papa’s not home for some reason. He might be stuck in traffic. That happens a lot. I get the phone and call him up just to make sure.
He answers with a little cough like he’s sick. That makes me scared. I ask him if he’s coming home and he says yes, soon, and then I ask him if I can use the TV and order some pizza from Giuseppe’s, and he says of course to both and I say I love you and hang up. Then I call Giuseppe’s and order my pizza and they say they’ll be here in fifteen minutes. When they knock I get up and run to get the money pouch that Papa keeps for me in one of the smelly cupboards in the kitchen. I open the door and pay the delivery guy and he gives me the pizza box. It smells like what heaven probably smells like.
I say to him, Thank you.
He leans inside for a second and looks around. He seems confused. He asks me, Are your parents home, buddy?
I can tell he’s worried, which is silly, and I tell him, No, Papa’s at work. He does this sometimes, but I’m responsible, don’t worry.
He looks even more upset and he asks, What about your mom?
And I say, She’s not here. Then I close the door.
I open the pizza box on the table in the living room and I’m about to take a slice, but first I want to turn on the TV. It’s even shinier up close and it doesn’t have a single dirty mark so I don’t wanna touch it. I pick up the remote and push the on button and then the screen gets bright, it’s so colorful.
I go to run back to the couch but something gets tight around my ankle and then I hear this big crash crash crash behind me.
There’s a wire around my foot and behind me the TV is destroyed. There are so many little broken pieces everywhere, which is awful because Papa told me to never walk barefoot around broken glass, and thinking about Papa makes me even more scared because if he comes home and sees what I did he’ll be really angry.
I know I need to get a broom but I don’t remember where Papa keeps it. I look around the house for a long long time but I can’t find it. I go back to the TV and start picking up all the sharp pieces and I run back and forth between there and the kitchen to throw stuff out and my hands hurt a lot and they’re getting cuts and bleeding and I want to throw up.
I do this for a long time, and then there’s a squeeeak in the driveway. I hear the front door open, and Pa comes in looking really red and really mad and then super confused, and I try to hide my hands but I think he sees, and then his face gets scrunchy and he starts yelling, What the bleep is wrong with you? and Why the bleep didn’t you call me? and How bleeping irresponsible can you be? I start to cry. He doesn’t usually say bad words this much when he’s just plain old angry so what I did must be really bad.
He gets close to me and I can smell something stinky and nippy on his breath and his hand goes back and smacks me by my eye, and I almost can’t feel it because it’s so hard, and Papa squeezes the hand he hit me with the way he does when he sometimes does things like this.
My stupid throat won’t stop making big noises. My stupid eyes don’t stop crying. I’ve always been tough, and now that I’m six I have to be responsible. I want Papa to see me like that, not like this. I want him to be proud of me.
I put my hand over my eye because it feels like it’s popping out and when I take it off my hand has more blood on it. I almost throw up but I don’t. I’m afraid Papa will see what he accidentally did so I stand up and say I’m really sorry and run to my room.
I close the lights and hop in my bed and pull my comforter over my head and wait for the tears to stop. They do soon but I can’t fall asleep.
I hear Papa’s footsteps outside my door. Maybe he’s coming to hold me and tell me that he loves me and that he’s sorry and that I’m strong. I lean up out of my bed ready to say hi, but then his footsteps get farther away, and they go tap tap tap into his room, and I hear his door bang shut, and he’s quiet as a mouse for the rest of the night.
I am too.
* * *
Until Natty came, there was only Emma. And before her?
My father died in a boating accident the week before I learned how to walk. He was the epitome of manhood: generous, funny, short-tempered only sometimes. Most impressively, he was a gifted fisherman who’d haul home dozens of fifteen-pound rainbow trout in his rusty pickup and fillet them for my mother to sauté in a thick lemon sauce that could’ve made God drool.
That’s what I’ve heard, at least. I never knew him beyond the outrageous stories my mother would blubber about on her weekend benders trying to forget he ever existed. Couple times she got close to her goal and retched her torments into our toilet until she passed out on the bathroom tiles. The first time that happened I freaked out but starting the second or third time I didn’t have much of an opinion.
Other days were tamer. She’d get out of bed and slump in front of the TV, sipping a screwdriver or hard cider with these neon-green bendy straws she’d buy in discount packs at the corner store down the block. If I ever had the balls to ask her to take care of me, which I rarely did, she’d, well. She’d get up, that’s for sure. And I’d be sore for days.
Despite all this, I still loved her. Or something close. I don’t know why. I had every reason to hate her, but I either couldn’t or wouldn’t let myself. And it’s not like I haven’t tried. I sometimes stay up thinking about her and try to imagine punching her in the nose, kicking her in the stomach, screaming at her as if it’d somehow make her understand what it was like to have her be there but to not really have her. But I’ve only ever been able to feel bad for her and to wonder how the hell she was supposed to take care of a kid when she hadn’t even figured out how to take care of herself.
Sometimes I wonder if she ever felt real happiness. Or if she ever deserved it.
Emma and I met a couple months after I dropped out of school. I was at a hardware store looking for tools to upholster a chair my mother had bought at a garage sale next door when I saw her in one of the aisles. Until then I’d only seen her in passing at the high school and hadn’t said a word to her, but she was easy to recognize, really caught your eye. She wasn’t what most people would call pretty, but she’d buy these ridiculously colorful, clown-looking clothes from the thrift store in town, orange and yellow overcoats and frilly tutus and striped leggings and the like, and refashion them to look somehow presentable. You’d think a quirk like that wouldn’t get her lots of friends, but she was well-liked. At least in my view. I didn’t have a whole lot of friends myself.
I remember stopping next to her and taking a pack of nails off one of the shelves just as she picked up this enormous power drill, so big she had to wrangle it with both her hands. I don’t know why, but I blurted out, You could probably make any guy happy with a grip like that.
I expected to get kneed in the nuts, but she actually laughed. Even put the drill down and did a little curtsy in the polka-dotted frock she was wearing. We got to talking, about what I can’t remember, and ten, maybe twenty minutes later, I walked out of the place with a hammer, a pair of pliers, and a slip of paper with her phone number on it.
We were never what you’d call conventional. Instead of going to the movies we’d visit the zoo and beat our chests around the gorilla pens. Instead of holding hands and kissy-talking over a nice Italian dinner we’d drive her car to the lake just out of town at three in the morning, stuff our faces with store-bought chicken, smoke pack after pack of cigarettes, and fuck in the back seat until dawn. And instead of bragging to each other about how deeply we were in love we’d massage each other’s backs or flick each other’s cheeks because what we could do about what we felt was always more important than what we could say.
My mother came to love her almost as much as I did, which was surprising, because I didn’t think she was capable. She’d invite Emma to dinner every week, shower her with gifts, call her disgusting names like honey and sweetie pie. She even cut back on drinking when Emma expressed worry about her health. As you can imagine I didn’t much like any of this, because my mother never thought to treat me so well, but looking back, I guess I forgive her. I think she saw herself in Emma. In that self-assured spirit not yet gone sour.
We exchanged vows at twenty-two and bought a beat-up house a town over. Still so young and plenty stupid and just barely better off than homeless, but being married was surprisingly good. We were still compatible, we rarely fought, and our sex life didn’t keel over like everyone said it would.
I didn’t think I could be happier until she got pregnant a year later. I swore to take care of her from her first bout of morning sickness. I started cooking all the time, fixed up a new room for the baby, kissed her belly goodnight as it grew. It took a couple months of good debate, but we decided on the name Nathan if we had a boy and Jenna if we had a girl.
The morning her water broke I blew just about every red light on the way to the hospital. I swear she pushed that baby out so quickly the doctors couldn’t close their mouths for a week.
We had a boy. He was perfect. I gave him a nickname the first time I held him.
From then life changed, and it changed very quickly.
If you were to somehow get ahold of Emma and ask her what things were like at that time, she’d probably say that we got weary. That we started to fuck sporadically and out of obligation, that my three jobs weren’t raking in enough cash for the time I spent away from home, that we had our first of many big fights two or three months after Natty was born for reasons we both forgot the day after. She’d probably add that she didn’t know why things got strained but that it probably had something to do with the little ball of life we’d created and now had to feed and protect and love for the rest of our lives.
But I don’t remember things that way.
I remember nights lying in bed, holding her hand, Natty’s little body squirming between us, staring at him for hours and not giving a shit about what those hours would cost me the day after. I remember sobbing like a baby when he took his first steps because, unlike my own father, I was there to see him do it. I remember how he’d dig up worms in the backyard thinking they were treasure, I remember times we’d all walk outside and Emma and I would swing him back and forth by his arms, I remember how everything he saw and touched and drooled on seemed new to him, so full of mystery, and I remember thinking that maybe everything was as strange and beautiful as he saw it to be. That maybe I’d just forgotten.
For a while I didn’t think I’d forget again. I even thought that I’d found the answer to everything I’d ever been searching for.
And then she got sick.
When he was three he showed me a towel he’d found in the trash. I almost got mad at him for taking it out because it looked filthy, but when I saw how badly soaked in blood it was I forgot to scold him. He asked me why it was all red and I couldn’t answer. I knew it wasn’t my blood and it definitely wasn’t his because he didn’t look like he had any cuts.
When she came home from work that night I sat her down in the kitchen and showed it to her. She tried to play it off like it was her period. I reminded her that her last one wasn’t even two weeks ago, and when she asked how I knew, I said I wasn’t stupid. I must’ve said it pretty harshly because she started crying. I asked her what was wrong. She said that that morning she was coughing and all of a sudden blood started pouring out of her mouth. I asked her why she didn’t immediately tell me and she said she didn’t want me to worry. That chafed me, and we fought the hardest we probably had in a good year.
The next day I took off work to go to the pulmonologist with her. I let her squeeze my hand as the guy went through a thousand possible diagnoses, some of them pretty grisly sounding, and suggested we get her a CAT scan to make sure everything was okay. We scheduled an appointment a week later, and sure enough, they found spots in her lungs, maybe benign, but they couldn’t tell for sure, so she needed a biopsy. A couple days after that they stuck a huge needle in her back and sucked out a sample. Said they’d let us know the results within the next couple days.
And what do you know. Cancer. Stage three. We had no idea how. She and I smoked a bunch when we were younger, yeah, but she stopped as soon as she got pregnant, so that had to rule it out. But the doctor said any history with tobacco probably contributed. We were floored, but he gave us hope of a good prognosis with chemo, and like anybody would, we accepted.
If I wanted to torture myself I’d go into how much money we had to blow on treatment even with the insurance, how she’d look less and less like herself every time they pumped her with another round of chemical cocktails, how we tried to hide it all from Natty but he probably understood anyway, or at least had some vague idea. I also won’t talk about how she got sicker even with treatment and how the cancer started to waste her away because I don’t recall most of it. Honestly, I wouldn’t want to anyway.
I do remember the night she died. I was in bed holding her close because she was afraid that if I didn’t, she’d disappear, and Christ, she was so bald and emaciated that I believed her. I asked if I should call an ambulance but she said no, let it be, and she wanted me to just be there waiting with her. So I did.
I don’t know when it happened, but at some point I looked down at her and her eyes were stuck half-open. She wasn’t breathing.
Natty must’ve heard me crying because he came into the room. I told him not to look but he did anyway, stood there staring for a while. And I swear as long as I live I’ll never forget this, he swallowed real hard and asked, so quiet I almost couldn’t hear him, Papa, why is Mama sleeping with her eyes open?
I told him as calmly as I could that she was gone. And he just looked at me and nodded.
Six months later I’d dabbled in meditation for two weeks, visited a couple shrinks who all prescribed meds, tried making healthier meals with the shit-quality food I could afford, and when that all failed, started murking nightly. By then I’d considered killing myself more than a few times and found comfort in the idea that my mother would be able to take care of Natty if I actually went through with it. But when she died suddenly in her sleep one night, a problem with some vital organ or another, I ruled out that option.
And so the emptiness began. When you consult people about it they make it seem like it’s only you that’s empty, that everything around you is full of this magic potential that you just can’t seem to access. That’s bullshit. Everything meant nothing and nothing meant nothing. The sky was always heavy on my head, anything could be a reminder of what I lost, and everything, everything felt gray.
Well, that’s what the world was like sober.
On the murk there was color in everything. Greens and yellows and purples and oranges. Everything was weightless and even and free and things that were difficult were easy. Cooking and cleaning were pleasures, taking care of Natty was a breeze, and burning her outfits and pictures and flowerpots and paintings was like spending a sugary week at an amusement park. The only drawback I could see was I needed to murk more and more to get comfortable, so I had to hit bars and liquor stores on the regular, and those trips were never light on the wallet. But once I had some I knew all the grayness would go, and it’d stay gone as long as I could keep my tongue wet.
I feel like I should mention Natty started having night terrors around then, but I’m not sure that had anything to do with me. I still loved him, maybe more than ever, and I made sure to show him, even if most days I was out working or looking for color.
* * *
I wish you were here with me and Papa today.
I’m using the old tape recorder you used to sing songs on. Do you remember the last time I talked to you like this? It was my sixth birthday. I remember it was warm and sunny and the tree in the backyard looked so beautiful and the inside of the house was bright and Papa was so happy the whole day that he looked like he was glowing. That was my favorite birthday even though it was the first time you weren’t here to celebrate with us. But that’s okay. Papa says it’s not your fault.
I’m sorry I haven’t talked to you in so long. I’ve been really busy and so has Papa. He got a new job as a security guard a little while ago at the big mall we all used to go to, the one right next to Duff’s, and I know he works really hard because he comes home late every night sweaty and puffy-looking. Sometimes I worry about him, but he tells me not to because I’m still too young.
But today’s my sixth birthday, Mama, and boys are responsible when they turn six. So does that mean I can worry now? Or will I never be old enough to worry about him?
I love Papa so much and I know you know I love you so much too. But you guys worry me sometimes. You because you’re not here anymore and Papa because he can be scary.
I didn’t want to say this because I know it would make you worried but today Papa did something awful to me again, like he did that one time when I was five and I accidentally broke that beautiful vase you made for his birthday, you remember I talked to you about that. He was at work all day today like most days, except it’s Saturday, and he never works when it’s the weekend, so it must have been super important. He bought me a new TV as a present though, and even though he said not to watch it until he got home, it was so wonderful that I didn’t feel so sad he wasn’t here.
But I made a big mistake. I knocked it over by accident and it broke. I tried to clean it up because that’s what Papa would’ve told me to do, but I don’t think I did a very good job because when he came home he started yelling and then he hit me in the face, and I think my eye popped out for a second or something. Then I went to my room and I cried a lot and the tears were red and they hurt, but now I’m done and I’m talking to you and that makes me feel a whole lot better because I know you can hear and I know you like to listen.
Would you do the same thing to me if I accidentally did something bad like that, Mama? I don’t know if you would. We were always so happy when you were here. Papa especially. I miss those times a lot.
I’ll try to talk to you more often, but now that I’m six I’ll be a lot busier.
By the way I wish you were here hugging me right now. That always helped me fall asleep when I couldn’t.
One more thing: what does being responsible mean I have to do?
I know it’s only been a couple days since I last talked to you but I wanted to say hi again because I’ve been sort of lonely lately.
I don’t have lots to say like last time but Papa’s been different. I don’t mean anything weird by that, like he transformed into a monkey or something, but he’s been a lot quieter around me.
I know he has to go to work but I don’t think he does, which makes me think something bad might’ve happened. But I haven’t been able to worry too much because I have lots of things going on at school, especially since a bunch of grownups have started asking me what happened to my eye and about Papa for some reason, and that takes a while every day so I don’t always have time to focus on how Papa’s feeling. All I know is that when I come home he’s in his room and the door is locked. I sometimes try to listen to what he’s doing inside and I usually just hear coughing, but once I heard him crying and he sounded like a sad little whale, you know what that sounds like because you’ve heard him cry before.
He still makes me dinner though and when he does see me he makes sure to kiss me on the forehead, and the day after he hit me he even put some stingy stuff around my eye that he said would make it better, so I know he didn’t mean to hurt me. He even bought me a couple new action figures so now I’ve got The Incredible Hulk and Thor and Iron Man and Batman all together and the fights they have are so big and cool. I wish you could come down and see them, but I know you never really liked superheroes.
I think I might talk to you more now because it’s fun, and it’s not that hard, and I don’t have to think about what I wanna say too much. Is that okay?
I love love love you,
Last night I woke up because I heard some weird noises coming from the bathroom. I was scared, I thought that maybe it was a monster or something, but then I realized it was Papa, so I got out of bed and went across the hall and listened at the door. I could hear him whimpering inside, and he sounded kind of like a dog except with a really deep voice, and then I heard this vomiting sound and a bunch of gross splashes in the toilet.
My heart started going fast, I knocked on the door really hard and started calling his name, I think I started crying but I can’t remember too well, and then I could hear his feet move close to the door but he didn’t open. I asked if he was okay, and he said yes super calm, and then he said that he was changing things, that things were gonna get better, that he was doing it all for me, and that I needed to stop worrying because he was gonna be fine and I was too. I said okay, and that I loved him a lot, and he said he loved me too, more than anything in the whole universe, and that he’d see me in the morning. Then I went back to my room and got into my bed and even though I could hear him throwing up some more I fell back asleep.
Do you know what he meant about changing things, Mama? Why does he wanna change? I love him just the way he is. Will I still love him if he changes? And what if I change one day? Would he still love me then? Would you?
You don’t need to answer if you don’t want, it just feels better to ask.
I love you so so much,
The last couple days have been really good. My eye looks a lot better and the grownups at school aren’t asking me about Papa anymore because I told them he didn’t do anything to me, even though he did, that I just fell on my face on my swing set and that’s how I got hurt. Papa told me to say that because if I didn’t then we wouldn’t be able to stay together, and I don’t want that, I love him too much. Plus, I know he didn’t mean to do what he did so I was basically telling the truth anyway. Papa’s been okay too. He only threw up one or two more times and he looks a lot better, I don’t really know how but I can tell, and he’s been smiling a lot more.
Even though most things have been kinda normal, something weird happened last night. I heard Papa’s door open and then him running to the kitchen and then a bunch of loud shattering noises, and I ran to the kitchen and I was scared and it was dark but I could see him, he was standing in his underwear and he was sweaty and breathing really heavy, and there was so much glass and stinky liquid all over the floor, I recognized the smell because sometimes it’s in Papa’s breath but I didn’t really know what it was. He saw me and started nodding real slow, maybe he was happy, maybe he was sad, I couldn’t really tell, and then he hopped over the mess and gave me a hug so big I almost couldn’t breathe, and his whole body was shaking, and he said he was doing it, he was doing it, and I said okay even though I didn’t know what that meant. Then he let go of me and went back to his room.
I knew not to clean up the mess so I went back to my bed. Even though my door was closed I could hear Papa giggling in his room, or maybe he was crying, or maybe he was doing both, I know sometimes people do that when they’re really happy about something. Knowing he was okay made me fall back asleep really quickly.
What’s he doing, Mama? And is he doing it for me, like he said?
I know it’s early and I have to go to school pretty soon but I wanna tell you about last night.
I was doing some science homework in the kitchen when Papa sat down across from me and asked if we could talk. He sounded really serious so I put my pencil down and said yes, and he put his hand on my arm and asked me if I noticed anything different about him. I said kinda, he was acting weird for a little while, but now he was okay. He nodded for a long time just looking at me, and then he said that now that I was six he thought I should probably know something important, and he told me he had a big problem, a bad problem, and he was sorting it out and trying to make it go away, and he was doing it and he was getting better, he promised. I asked him what kind of problem did he mean, and he frowned and said a problem where he couldn’t stop being sad, so he drank to feel better, and I asked if he meant drinking too much soda but he said no, and I knew not to ask more because he started looking down. His voice got all fuzzy and he said he was sorry, and I asked about what, and he said sorry that he hit me, sorry that he made me cry, and he said he’d never do it again, never in a million years, and he knew he said that a lot of times before but this time he swore he was telling the truth. I said I believed him, and then he said he didn’t want me to forgive him. I said of course I forgive him, why would I not, and he said no, I shouldn’t ever, because what he did wasn’t normal. I kinda knew what he meant but at the same time I didn’t, so I asked him what normal was. He got all quiet, he bit his lips for a while, and then he shrugged and said he didn’t really know.
He stood up after and got me some chocolate ice cream from the freezer. While I was eating he kissed the top of my head and said he was going to bed. I finished a couple minutes after he left and then went back to my room and put on my favorite dinosaur pajamas and got into bed, but before I could fall asleep he opened the door and came inside. He didn’t say anything, he just got in with me. He took me and held me really tight and he was so warm and he scratched my head and said that I was strong, that he was so proud of me, that I was everything to him, and he asked if I understood. I said yes, and he said okay, and that he was sorry he didn’t say it enough. Then he closed his eyes and fell asleep. He looked like he could use some more love so I snuggled up to him, and then he started snoring, and I laughed because he sounded like a big old pig more than a Papa.
Remember you used to lay down with me, Mama? You used to poke my nose and sing me songs and say that things are always okay in the end. I know you know already, but I still believe what you said.
I love you to Pluto and back,