Being asked to leave a childhood home by a parent
The surf receded and pulled sand from beneath her toes, then from under her arches. She was tempted to step back, but was then curious. Was it powerful enough to topple her? She was on her heels now and felt the water whooshing around them, tugging her to the ocean. The surf paused and gathered its strength as she stood still. In that moment, in that pause that the moon gives between assaults on the sand, she looked at the sunset, a ripple of grapefruit pink and candy-apple red on the horizon.
It wasn’t the best of sunsets Pensacola had to offer, but it wasn’t bad. It was more like her – rather average. Like the sand, it too was receding, the colors being swallowed by the watery horizon. She took a sip of the Diet Coke in her hand, almost empty, the breeze whipping some hair in her mouth just in time for the sip. She wiped it away and drained the can thinking she should somehow be angry at him. But, even that was gone, siphoned off like the sand between her toes.
She headed back to the house, the one she’d grown up in, the one where her father was no doubt sitting with the TV on a mute cop show, reading a thriller as if nothing had happened. Maybe, she thought, it hadn’t happened. Maybe it was a bad dream, the kind she sometimes had when she grew too warm at night, the kind where she would cry out and her husband would wake her up, ask her if she was all right.
“It’s a dream Kelly,” he’d say. “Wake up.”
They didn’t go away with waking up, even when he held her. It was more like a video that had been put on pause, then restarted the moment she closed her eyes. Even though she was awake, once her eyes closed, the dream started right back up.
When she was small, her mother said to get up and go to the bathroom – that would do the trick. It did, until the alarm system went in and the sensors came on and she could no longer get up in the middle of the night without sirens and mad neighbors and her father’s wrath.
Kelly laughed when people told her they couldn’t remember their dreams. She could. Some were serials, continuing shows that went from night to night, sometimes skipping a week here and there. Others were repeats. There was the sliding door that wouldn’t open so she could escape from dead man creeping up on her. There was trying to climb the staircase, pulling herself up by the handrail that kept slipping out of her hands, some horror waiting below her, waiting to attack.
But this situation, she knew, was not a dream. Her eyes were open, her legs reluctantly taking her through loose sand back to the house, the breeze whipping the sundress over her bathing suit. It was hard work as each foot sank about four inches and had soft sand to push off of. It made her think of the staircase she could never get up. Maybe she was going backwards, back to the surf. Maybe all this was a time warp and she was in reverse. A crab scuttled by, brushing her toes with his tiny feet. She must have disturbed his hiding place.
“Know how you feel,” she said his rapidly retreating figure.
She stopped near the boardwalk that led to the back door and sat in the sand, planting the Coke can by her, wishing she could have another, that one would materialize without her having to go in the house. She wondered how that conversation would go.
“Excuse me, Dad,” she would start. “I realize you just threw me out of the house, but I could really use another Coke.”
No, too smart alecky, she thought. Even though she was a grown woman with children of her own, this was probably not the time for such language.
“Excuse me, Dad,” she tried again in her mind. “I’ll just get a Coke and leave you to wallow in your own self-centered misery.”
Nope. Too true. What would her mom do? At this, Kelly’s eyes watered. Her mom, trapped for life with Kelly’s father, would cry, go back in to him and apologize for some imagined misstep. Her dad would giver her “the look,” a combination of “your such an idiot and I’ll think about it,” brood for the evening so Kelly and her mom could be on edge, then it would be as if nothing had happened by morning.
But, that wasn’t happening tonight. For one thing, Kelly’s mom was in a skilled nursing facility recuperating from near death thanks to congestive heart failure. It was only Kelly’s call to the cardiologist, that finally got Elaine to the hospital. Kelly had flown from Colorado the next day.
She thought she should stay at the house when she came from Colorado, although she now knew that was a mistake. She thought her father would like her there in the absence of her mother. How naïve that had been. There were rules, conditions, routines and hidden agendas; Kelly soon found herself practically paralyzed. The toaster had to be put away by 7:15 in the morning, the kitchen cleaned up by 7:30. Socks were washed on Wednesdays, sheets on Thursdays. Grocery shopping was only on Fridays and only at six o’clock in the morning. Wake-up and bedtime were regimental. He actually stood by the washing machine while it washed. She’d read that as people aged, they liked their routines, but her father was bordering on ridiculous.
She stood and brushed sand off her bottom. No getting around it; she had to go back in the house with her father’s voice still reverberating in her head, “If you don’t like it, leave.”
Well, she thought, then I will leave. She opened the back door and peeked in the family room. Even though she suspected he heard her, Bob Thompson was focused on his book. She wished she could see if his eyes were moving or he was just staring at the page. She let the door slam and walked through the kitchen to the hallway in plain sight of him.
Would he say something? Call to her? She propelled herself forward on rubbery legs down the hallway to the bedroom of her childhood that now served as a sitting room for her mother. It smelled of lavender, her mother’s favorite scent, and she could almost hear her mother’s voice.
“Just tell him your sorry, honey.”
“For what?” Kelly said out loud to the empty room. “For saving my mother’s life? For being there day and night for her? For badgering doctors and nurses for information? For setting up the skilled nursing facility? For taking ten days out of my life so my mother would get the care she deserves and not be left to dissolve in a lonely back bedroom in a house that is more important than she is?”
Kelly heard footsteps in the hallway and snapped her mouth shut. Had he heard her? She held her breath and let it out when the light switched on in the hallway bathroom and the door closed. Maybe not. She resolved to keep her thoughts to herself and pack.
Almost everything she’d brought with her was in this room and she piled clothes and toiletries into suitcases and bags. What to do? Wait for him to go back to the family room or try a dash past the bathroom door before he came out? She opted to wait. Maybe, just maybe, he would come to the room to talk.
The bathroom door opened and she listened to his steps retreating to the family room.
“You are an idiot,” she said under her breath and wondered whether that meant her, for thinking her dad might want to talk, or herself for even giving it the thought. She counted to ten and lugged her bags and luggage to the front door, letting the screen slam behind her, a crime of monumental proportions when she was a child.
Of course, the car was locked and where were the keys? In the kitchen, you moron, she chided. In the kitchen, on the table, directly in your father’s line of vision if he chooses to look up from that god-dammed book.
She thought of the little devil on one shoulder, although there seemed to be little devils all over her shoulders at the moment. She dumped everything by the trunk of the car, retrieved her cell phone from her pocket and called a local hotel, where she generally stayed when visiting. It was infinitely easier than staying at the house and she shook her head that she’d thought anything else. Did she really think her mom being hospitalized would change her father’s attitude?
The hotel assured her a room was available. Suddenly the path was crystal clear. All she needed was the keys. She started for the front door and was halfway up the walk when she saw him standing there, behind the screen. He seemed to have shrunk, lost a few inches of height. Well, she thought, he is almost ninety.
“You’re leaving,” he said.
“Yes,” she answered, wanting desperately to add, “just like you suggested,” but biting her lip in time.
“Where will you go?” he asked, but his eyes did not meet hers.
“To the LaQuinta.”
Now, she thought, now. He will apologize, he will ask me to stay, to help him with mom.
“You’ll need your keys,” he said, opening the screen door and handing them to her.