To Chelsea, Who is Not a Package


First off, I love you.  I care about you and Ellen, and Mother too, of course, more than... well, almost anything in the world.  It's for you that I'm over here, drilling in all sorts of godforsaken places.  The world is a lonely place to work and live alone, and I do it for you guys.  With that said, Chels, I think there's something you should know.  Ellen and I, we didn't want to tell you, but you aren't a package, and you aren't a child anymore.  You should know.

Once upon a time, there lived a family. 

In the family, there was, of course, a mother and father, and three children.  The oldest, a boy, was seven years old.  There were also two little girls: one who was four, and one who was not even a year old.  From the outside, it seemed like the perfect family, Chels.  The father worked at a factory, and wasn't home as much as the mother would like, but when the family was out and about, they seemed the happiest family in the world.

When one looked a little closer, though, it became clear that nothing is as it seems.  Money was tight, tighter even then now, with a new baby in the house.  And the father... the father was not a good man, Chelsea.  He drank, and he drank a lot.  He was young.  He didn't want a family.  He felt trapped, and overworked, and resentful.  And there was never a moment nor a penny for fun.  So he drank, until it was hard for him to remember anymore.  He spent money the little family did not have.  He stopped coming home for supper, and then at all.  And the mother, the mother was... fragile.  High-strung.  Not cut out for mothering.  But she did the best she could.  She stretched dollars, fed the baby, bought Christmas gifts and birthday presents, cooked, cleaned, and helped the little boy with his homework.  The mother worked and worked, and the father came home less and less, and the little boy became more and more afraid.

He could see changes in his mother.  She started chain-smoking, and watching the telly until all hours of the morning.  She would sleep in until noon, even on weekdays, or else be up all night, scrubbing floors that didn't appear at all dirty to the boy.  She stopped going to church, or packing lunches for him to bring to school.  She stopped buying groceries regularly, and bringing the older girl to preschool.  Dinner would sometimes be wonderful: roast beef and steamed vegetables, with a beautiful torte for dessert.  But other times, there would be no dinner at all on the table.  It was as if his mother were two people: one who did everything, all the time; and another who never did anything.  He could not decide which he liked least.

And then, one night, long after he'd been asleep, he woke to a most frightening sound.  He heard his mother screaming, crying out in pain, and underneath the shrillness that was the woman, his father's deep, angry voice.  And in some subconscious part of the boy's mind, he knew what was happening.  All at once he knew why his mother was so erratic.  He did not need to see the bruises on his mother's arm the next day to understand.  But after that, for whatever reason, he looked at his mother with new eyes, seeing the way her nose did not sit quite straight on her face, the purple spots on a wrist where fingers must have pressed into blood vessels, the sorrow and rage written on the woman's face.

His father, it seemed, was not his father anymore, and his mother was not his mother.  How could they be, when they were so different than how he'd thought they were?  And so, looking at the two little girls, one of whom might be kept from ever feeling the deep hurt he felt, he knew.  He would have to be their mother, and their father, forever.

As the boy grew, he started to hate his father.  He could not look at his face or think of him without feeling a stirring of anger, a spark of rage and desire, stirring deep within him.  And his heart grew cold, and thin as paper, and one day the spark caught.  The boy waited up for his father that night, determined that, even if the sun rose first, he would still be awake when his father came home.  Being a rather determined little fellow, I am sorry to say he succeeded.

It was a bad night.  The man was especially drunk, so far gone that he certainly wouldn't remember what happened.  The boy was especially angry, so past reason that he never gave up.  He hit his father as many times as he could, desperate to inflict pain upon the person who had hurt his mother so badly. 

The boy woke up and could not believe how horrible the pain was.  He wondered if his mother had ever felt this way.  He'd broken ribs, the doctor said; did he remember falling down the stairs?  He shouldn't be so careless with his toys, the doctor said; the injuries could have been far worse.  And then the doctor turned to his father, told him that toys should not be left at the bottom of a flight of stairs. 

It fell into a cycle.  The boy or the mother would be hurt, and for a few weeks or months, the man would be home on time.  He would be a good father and there would never be any money missing from his pay.  It would seem that he'd turned over a new leaf, and was never looking back.  But always, after a while, he started to come home late again.  And a few days after that, he would be horribly drunk again.  And, a few days after that, the boy or the mother would be hurt again.  But the boy never let the girls be around their father when he was drunk.  The littlest one, only two at the time, might not even have remembered.  He let them sleep, if he could.  He tried to head his father off.  He proctected them, and he, like his mother, has a slightly off-kilter nose to prove it.

He hated his father, and to this day does.  He hates the father for what he did, but deeper than that he hates the father for what the father showed him about his mother.  He lost the idea of both parents: a father who would never hurt him, and a mother who could protect him from anything.  His mother became, and stayed, a sort of helpless puddle in red lipstick.  He couldn't trust her.  He couldn't trust anyone.

This isn't a bedtime story, Chels.  I cannot forgive that sort of man, but I don't want you to carry this around.  I want you to see in Dad a man you can respect, a man you can understand and maybe love.  Because, in the end, the father of the story became a more stable person than the mother. That's why I want you to live with him, Chelsea.  I don't think Mom could ever handle being a parent, and I think now more than ever she might just... crack.  I don't want you to go through that, and I don't want you to have the scars I have.

With sadness, but always love,


The End

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