Three long, lonely years had passed from the time my mother had stowed my brother and me away into our old minivan and trekked through six states to separate us from the destructive life my father had chosen to live. Three years for a young girl to pine for her absent father. Three years for hopes rise so high that the slightest hitch might plummet those hopes 20,000 leagues under the sea.
It was three years before my mother finally allowed my brother and me to visit our family in North Carolina. From the moment we moved we had begged her to let us see our father but every time we did she would turn our cries down and refuse to explain why.
I had to pinch myself. Was I dreaming? I was to spend three blessed weeks of summer at the home where I grew up; nothing could possibly be any more perfect.
And yet, now as I look back, out of the three weeks only a single day has been imprinted in my mind.
I had been home for only a few days when I found myself searching innocently for my father; we were supposed to be digging for bait worms in the ditch behind our house for fishing the next day but my father had suddenly disappeared. I looked everywhere outside for him but to no avail. Inside I went, hoping to find him quickly so that I could continue on with my competition for who could find the most worms with my brother. As I stood in the kitchen wondering where to look I noticed that the bedroom door to my father’s room was open slightly, so I walked right in.
Immediately, the sweet, familiar scent that would fill the hallways of our apartment back in Minnesota floated up to my nose making me catch my breath.
Upon hearing my gasp, my father whirled around from his perch on the side of his bed. In my peripheral vision I watched as something small and white rolled onto the floor a foot away from him.
I felt my father’s eyes on me as I stepped further into the room, closer to him. When he perceived that my gaze wasn’t directed at him but at the small neatly rolled joint lying on the carpet he bent to grab it. Only, I was quicker.
With a mixture of revulsion and anger, I held out the tiny forbidden object. Having a drug counselor as a mother assured the repeated horror stories of drug abuse.
“Hey, baby,” my father finally greeted me, “why don’t you hand me that and go back outside. I’ll be right there in a moment.”
“Dad,” my eyes seemed to show something of what I was feeling even though I couldn’t form the words in my mouth. My hand burned to crush the fragile smoke.
“Alright, I see that my girl is a lot smarter than I took her for.” He sighed and patted the quilt next to him, “Have a seat and we can talk.”
He was quiet for a minute. After I sat down, his lips pursed as if preparing himself for what he was about to say.
“You are definitely your mother’s daughter. You know that isn’t a regular cigarette, don’t you?” I was the silent one now as I simply nodded, preparing myself for what I already knew he was going to say. I listened whole-heartedly as he told me calmly that he was smoking pot and he had been smoking pot since he was a young teenager. I wasn’t interested in that. I was only interested in why. I wanted to hear why he was doing something I knew of as wrong. When that didn’t come, my emotions grew even more tumultuous.
However, years of hiding my broken emotions resulting from the ugly divorce my parents went through kept my face dutifully tranquil even though my raging emotions threatened to drown me.
He smiled at me as he took the joint from my tiny fist, told me to go look after my brother and that he would be right out. I was making my way to the door when this man who I had idolized just minutes ago said something so unsuspecting I nearly lost my composure.
“Destinee, you know you can’t tell your mamma about this, right? If you did you know she wouldn’t let you come see me anymore, right?”
I turned around slowly, my gaze on the floor as I nodded wordlessly.
He wanted me to keep something like this from my mother.
He wanted me to lie if necessary.
Anger pushed at what little reserve I had left. I tried to tell myself as I wandered back to my brother that he was only saying that because it was true. My mother would definitely not let us come back down to visit if she knew my father was smoking pot, which I found out later was a definite deal breaker in their agreement for any kind of visitation. Of course he didn’t want me to tell my mother, he wanted to be able to see us. It had nothing to do with the fact that he might get in even more trouble by being exposed. No, I told myself, it wasn’t that.
I was never good at telling lies. When I was younger, I was never good at keeping secrets that were so monumental (not that I had many). The guilt began to wash over me in livid waves as I sat at the ditch and attempted to distract myself from thoughts of the ugly truth by digging furiously into the ground to find as many squirming worms as I could.
That night my brother and I ambled into the house caring three small buckets of soil and the slimy insects, my brother happily claiming that we would be able to catch all of the fish in the river with all the bait we had. I, on the other hand, was emotionally and physically exhausted and couldn’t bring myself to act so ecstatic.
“What’s wrong bud?” My father asked after noticing my indifference.
“I think I’m getting sick,” I said truthfully; my stomach was beginning to reel.
“Oh no, you better get to bed then, so you feel well enough to go fishing tomorrow.” I didn’t wait for him to tell me twice before hugging him once and going off to my room. Sleep refused to come though. All I could think of was the mysterious reasons my mother had for leaving my father and wonder how deeply they were rooted in what I found out hours ago.
I didn’t go fishing with my father the next morning or the next time they went.
I held on to the secret, though.
In the short years following my brother and I would go back to visit him twice, and still I gripped that secret so close to myself it was a part of me. I held onto it longer than I had any idea that I could. However, I did end up telling my mother years later after my brother had been given the same speech by my father and spilled his guts. We didn’t visit him again after that, although, he did come to Minnesota once afterwards.
Just a few weeks ago—nearly 11 years after my family’s departure from all that I believed was stable in my life; 8 years after the miserly reunion with my father—he called me on my birthday to tell me that he was planning on quitting smoking both pot and cigarettes on my birthday and that he would work on quitting drinking alcohol later. He set his quit date on my birthday to remind him of what was “important” in life, he said.
I should feel elation or perhaps pride, and yet all I can find in the cauldron of fitting emotions in pure cynicism. Don’t get me wrong; I want nothing more than for my father to get clean and work for a more stable future. However, I can’t help but ask myself where was this commitment when he lost our house, his car, and countless jobs? Where was this reformation when my mother gave him the ultimatum: quit or lose her and the kids? Where was this when it truly mattered, when what he wanted was still within his reach?
It was that first trip back that marked the turning point of my adulation to my resentment—neither of the emotions healthy—and yet in writing the event down, expressing my emotions of the time, I feel as if I have also marked a new turning point. This one, I hope, will result in the transition from resentment to acceptance and perhaps one day, healing.