Does a father who breaks a child's trust deserve forgiveness? Ever?
Breakfast with Julie
By Archie R. Whitehill
Frank Holmes sat in his den, alone as usual, puffing slowly and thoughtfully on his cigar. It was a good cigar that a business associate had brought back from England where you could buy the Cuban brands. What a shame they were so difficult to buy without traveling abroad. Frank gently puffed a smoke circle through pursed lips. He felt relaxed. God knows, it was the first time in weeks that he had taken the time to just sit down and enjoy a good cigar, sip a vodka tonic, and catch Larry King on his late night radio talk show. The hall clock struck ten. Frank absent-mindedly repeated the number a friend had given him today, 3l3-555-7767.
He had married off his eldest, Julie, a year ago. It seemed like only last week. What a wedding. Frank spread pictures of the wedding on the table before him. They brought back a mixture of pleasant and painful memories. Seeing the 8 X 10 of himself with Julie, Frank thought about how fit and dashing he looked for a 40 year old. It's true, there was a slight graying about the ears but his sharp, square jaw, steel-blue eyes, and thin, angular nose added up to a distinguished look of thirty-five, no more. Tennis and golf had kept his stomach, arms and legs in shape. A hint of a tan on the smooth skin on his arms and face rounded out the general look of good health.
He picked up another photo. Julie had a serious look on her face, a hint of fear in her gorgeous hazel eyes. Her long jet-black hair was in sharp contrast to her virgin-white wedding gown. Frank noticed many things for the umpteenth time. The gown, her mother's, fit beautifully on her 5 foot 6 inch frame. Her figure was perfection by any man's standards. Julie was one whose innocent beauty would catch the gaze and comments of men for years to come, no doubt about it.
What a shame her marriage was over, Had been for months. What could have happened, Frank wondered. He knew. He wanted to rectify the wrong but how could he? Was he to blame? He downed his drink. No use worrying about it. The marriage is over, they'll get over it. Julie will find someone else. Frank wondered if the next marriage would last any longer. It’s got to beat three months, he thought.
The hall clock struck eleven. It was not late, but it was beyond his normal bedtime. Age makes for longer rests and shorter days. Julie, he remembered, had started teasing him years ago about being the first in the family to go to bed. He felt much older than he looked, much older than he was.
As had been the case for a long time now, his thoughts turned to his own marriage. Martha had been nineteen; he was twenty when they said their vows. A year later, Julie was born, two years later, Allen. Happiness was the norm for the Holmes family for seventeen years. Why do good things only last forever in children's books? It seemed their marriage might last forever. It didn't.
Frank groaned aloud, crushing his cigar in a nearby brass planter. The clinking of ice in his now empty glass caught his attention. He quickly put his glass on the 19th century British officer's field table. The hall clock struck one.
Frank got up and walked briskly to the window. Torturous thoughts often generate a false sense of energy that only serves to deplete what reserves one may have. He looked out into the shadows that hid the family breakfast garden. That had been Julie's idea.
He thought back to when she was only eleven. Daddy wouldn't it be wonderful to have a patio surrounded by daffodils, and mums, and trees? With cool, green grass to look at while we ate breakfast?" Julie was so enthusiastic that Frank gave in to her wish quite easily. Martha went along with the idea, seeing it as another father-daughter project, one more of many. There were also the game room, secret ice cream cones within an hour of dinner, Saturday matinees, and the Sunday afternoon walks in the park.
They always started breakfast early, about 6:30. The Holmes family had always risen early. This particularly suited Frank and Julie. They would have time to talk before Julie left for school. Neither could wait until late March when they traditionally started what they called "the garden breakfast season.” Their "season” usually lasted until late September. What a joy she had been. Even at that early age, Julie had been a beauty. Those big brown eyes, the hair down to her waist, and always the fresh smell of some floral perfume or herbal shampoo, she tried different fragrances each month. There was a symbiosis between Julie and the garden, particularly in the spring when the flowers were budding and their fragrances mixed with hers. Never competition, always a subtle, pleasant mingling of Julie and the garden. It was as if she and the garden were teaching each other the meaning of beauty.
Maybe that was what went wrong, the breakfast patio. Martha seldom lingered with Frank and Julie after breakfast. She went upstairs to work on her poetry for a few hours. One day she would publish and they would all be proud.
Allen always had somewhere else he wanted to be; breakfast rarely lasted more than ten minutes for him, by seven, Frank and Julie had the patio to themselves. It was their time to talk about school, Julie’s friends, the garden itself, and any of dozens of other topics that interested both of them. Julie rarely left for school before 8:30. What wonderful times these were for father and daughter.
Frank began to cry.
Martha died when Julie was sixteen. It was sudden. Martha had left for her Tuesday afternoon literary club meeting. At 3 P.M. the officer was in Frank's office telling him that his wife's body was in the morgue, would he please identify the body?
The breakfasts continued. 0h, it was somber for a few weeks, but pain rarely endures. Martha had said that in one of her poems.
Too soon, the after-breakfast discussions continued between Frank and Julie Their topics had changed. It was a slow and subtle change, but, nonetheless, a change. They talked about happy times, pretended to block out the pain that no longer endured. They spoke of Julie's future, graduation, which college to choose, and what they would have for dinner.
Frank began to notice, he'd always known, but now he noticed, that Julie was Martha as Frank remembered her when they'd first met as high school sweethearts. He'd been a senior, she a junior. Martha's long, dark hair had always intrigued him. Her brown eyes had searched his Soul and found love there; even at that tender age they knew it was more than infatuation. They both felt the power of their moments together drawing them toward life-long companionship. They didn't want to use the word marriage at first, just the friendly companionship of two people who understood each other's depths.
Frank's eyes filled with tears again as he remembered the love they had built. He glanced at his empty glass, the ice long melted, as the hall clock struck three. He again started for the door of the den, his first obstacle to bed where he could, perhaps, escape painful memories.
Julie's face was starting to blend with Martha's, again He had tried to prevent that same merging of visage~ that one day in the garden when Julie was sixteen. It was a mere two months after the funeral.
The house had been Martha's responsibility, repairs and odd chores were Frank's and the boy's, and the garden was, of course, Julie's. When Martha died, Julie had quickly added the house to her responsibilities. It was as if she belonged. It was eerie how Julie seemed to know what needed to be done. Her shopping lists were well thought out, meals were balanced, and the house was almost as clean as when Martha had been Frank’s wife.
It seemed only natural that Julie and Frank would become even closer; they hadn't thought it possible to be any closer than they were already. Julie's innocence had shielded her from the idea of different aspects of love within the family structure.
It was shortly after Frank began seeing Martha's face in Julie's that they embraced. It was the embrace of two lovers who had lost, and dearly missed, a close, mutual friend, a friend who was a part of their world but secondary to them. It was as if now, with this good friend gone, they, Frank and Julie, could get on with their lives.
The feeling of belonging together came easily to Julie's innocent soul. It came too easily to Frank. Right and wrong did not enter into the picture for Frank that first time he and Julie shared Martha's bed. It wasn't the last. Their relationship went on for over a year. Julie feared and hated it from the first. She, for the first time in her young life, wanted to avoid her father, the father of so many wonderful garden talks.
Julie recognized the horror of the love scenes between her and her father. Frank remembered that day, that very moment, of his realization, the shock that branded the memory into his memory with an iron heated in the depths of hell.
They were in this very den that night. It was late evening. The oppressive August heat was the most real thing in that room.
“Daddy,” Julie was visibly nervous, “This isn’t--,” Julie couldn't use the word “right,” it seemed so trite, "-- We have to stop. This is wrong.” That seemed just as trite but she couldn’t think of any other word to use. "I am tired of lying to myself, of telling myself this is everlasting love. I'm tired, no, I'm sick of providing you with comfort that tears my insides apart. I am through living in the shadows of self-destruction.” Julie looked at the ceiling. "Daddy, I'm leaving and I'm not coming back. The next time I see you will be in hell,” she choked a sob, "we'll both be going on that trip.”
Frank looked at Julie with a shocked, detached look that caused ripples of fear to engulf Julie's body. "We love each other," it seemed that simple to Frank at the moment.
"Yes, Daddy, but we -- I need to get away, I feel like someone else when we're together. I feel dirt and guilt and slime and pus and tension. I feel like a stranger to both of us. I've got to be myself. I've got to get away from you. I feel our love has died. I miss our talks; I miss being your daughter. I miss being clean, in here," she pointed to her heart, “We haven't been to the park or had ice cream together since mom died."
"Where will you go?" Frank searched for more words; Frank didn't want to lose her. "We can stop our love making and -- and things can be like they were before Martha -- your mom died.” Frank noticed that Julie had calmed down a little; he felt a brief moment of hope. He also noticed she had a suitcase with her, the same one she had taken to scout camp when she was 13. When had she packed, he wondered?
Hysteria returned. "Come on, Dad," Julie had trouble controlling herself and hung on to her sanity during alternate moments. “We can’t ever go back to that innocent love we had when mom was alive. It was so beautiful, but now it’s dead. Like mom. Don’t try to reach me for a while.” She left.
Those memories, painful as they had become, were the richest part of Frank’s treasure house of happy memories. Those memories that all men have and cherish through death’s gate are often the cause of their very damnation.
Frank stopped at the door and returned to the antique table where his glass stood in the first rays of dawn coming in the window. He picked up the glass and, with an anguished cry, tossed it out into the garden, right through the bay window overlooking the breakfast patio below.
The wedding invitation was the next news he’d had from Julie. She had moved to Richmond, a mere eighty miles or so away. She wanted to return home for her wedding. He so looked forward to seeing her again. It would be wonderful. They could start anew, he thought.
She hardly spoke to him other than while introducing him to friends and in-laws during the reception, all strangers to Frank. Part of Julie’s other life, her life after Frank. Tension during the wedding was excruciating to Frank. He wondered if the wedding guests, who knew nothing of their true relationship, could detect the tension hidden from them by open-mouthed stage smiles on their two faces, his and Julie’s.
At the reception, at Frank’s house, he had spent most of the time trying to get close to Julie who managed to avoid him through one ruse or another. A guest here who needed a drink, an in-law there who had to be introduced to someone, and so on.
Finally, Frank caught her coming out of her old room where she had changed out of the wedding gown into a pair of yellow slacks, a light blue blouse, and blue deck shoes.
“Julie, stop a minute, I need to talk to you,” Frank pleaded. “Just for a minute, please, Julie, we need to talk to each other.”
I loved you once, Father,” she spat the word “love” out as if it were the vilest poison, “you ruined everything. I trusted you; I wanted to make you feel less grief. Yes, damn it, I needed comfort too, but not the kind you offered. Why did I ever do it? I’ll never forgive myself, but I’ll erase you from my memory. From the moment I leave this house, you will no longer exist, damn you! That’s why I wanted the wedding to be held as if nothing happened between us –“
“Julie, we can still –“
“Shut up, Father,” Julie was even more vehement, "we can still do shit! This wedding, your giving me away to Billy, was my good-bye. When you gave me away at the altar, it was for good. Damn you! Get away from me. Don’t touch me, or, I swear, the neighborhood will hear my story right now!”
“Julie, Julie,” Frank was in tears, “I was –“
Frank’s tears enraged Julie even more. It was she who should be crying, and she couldn’t. “Forget it, our words are over. I’ll try to rescue myself in my marriage to Billy. Don’t look for me.”
Julie ran down the stairs and dragged Billy out the door. One of the guests made an inane remark about how much in a hurry the two lovebirds were to get into their love nest. The cheerful noises of Julie’s wedding reception continued into the night, drowning out Frank’s self-loathing, self-pitying sobs. The party never missed him.
That was the past. The hall clock struck ten. He knew why the marriage failed. Billy was a young, immature version of Frank. Billy had loved her and thought she would learn to love him. He never saw the haunted look in her eyes. The marriage failed, not because of Billy, not even because of Julie. It was because of Frank Holmes, loving father, protector of innocent children, deflowerer of springtime, desecrator of gardens.
He looked out the window at the bare branches of the trees he and Julie had tended together, the table that had overheard love in its purest form, then in its ugliest, the path to the house that had felt their feet march joyfully in unison to some silly song or other, then felt Julie's feet march in despair as their love changed.
Frank started dialing the phone, 313-555-7677. It rang for a ten-second eternity. A young woman answered with a haunting, “Hello?”
“Julie?” He held his breath.
The only sound Frank could hear above the silence on the line was the rustling of autumn leaves in their garden, a cruel remembrance of the rustling of a little girl’s petticoats, a sound growing more distant as the silence on the line was replaced by a click and a dial tone. The hall clock struck eleven.