Life as Lessons, My Short Stories

Looking back…is key to moving forward

It was the fall of 1995 and I was sixteen years old. I wasn’t a particularly bad child, nor was I particularly good. I sort of teetered on the verge of both identities most of my childhood and into my late twenties. I stumbled here and excelled there. I made my parents proud and I caused them heartache. I suppose I was a normal kid, simply trying to figure it all out.

However, due to my wild side and my distaste for rules and regulations of any kind, that infringed upon all I felt I was entitled to experience, I simply disregarded them  consequences be damned. Resulting directly from my parent’s inability to tame their free-spirited daughter, I spent many, many hours sitting slouched in the corner chair of our family’s dinning room table, while my father spoke at me.

Sometimes he screamed, sometimes his cruel distaste came out calmly. Most times regardless of their presentation I was truly convinced it didn’t even really matter if I was sitting there or not. Convinced he liked the sound of his voice and the reiteration of his words of disappointments, frustrations and what he must have deemed my anointing of his fatherly wisdom.

I can honestly say I don’t recall much of what was said at our “come to Jesus”  meetings but one night in the middle of  one his “usual speeches”. One that I am sure I could recite forward and backward, he spoke a sentence that has stuck with me my entire life. Oddly, too for at the time it wasn’t relative or applicable to whatever typical teenage offense I must have committed. Yet as the words came out of his mouth they seemed to grab my attention as if a record that had been playing endlessly suddenly scratched and all motion in the room came to an abrupt halt. I was so keenly aware of the disruption from the deviation of his usual banter it felt as time in that moment suddenly stopped.

I was suddenly aware of the coldness outside and how the room smelled of musty heat as it whispered out from our old furnace on its first use of the season. Its knocks and ticks amplified my bated breath as I waited for what was about to come. Normally I would use the radiating heat passing through the baseboard along the wall beside me to play one of the many made up games I had invented over the years to pass the time stuck at the table with him.

I would prop my feet up on them and for the most part of “our” conversations, I would stare down at the whole in my  wool socks and play peekaboo with my toe. Tapping it against the register and testing myself as to how long I could keep it pressed flat against it before the heat became intolerable. Not a highly exciting game but a useful distraction I was normally thankful to have to occupy the minutes that turned into hours of my father’s typically very long-winded rants.

I would eventually tire of that and give up on inflicting any further burns to my toe and then move my attention to again counting the owls that adorned the wallpaper my mother just had to have.

At one time over the course of these one-sided conversations with “Joe” (that is my father’s name) I had counted 347 but I was willing to double even triple check my work in a single session if cut anytime off my sentence. Or enhanced my ability to tune him out, surely lessening the sting of his verbal lashings.

“Sarah, Sarah you better be listening young lady!” A strictly rhetorical question as he never really wanted to hear anyone other than himself.

“Sarah, I am telling you now baby!” “There are a lot of things I don’t know, but there is one thing, that I promise you can bet the farm on.”

This would usually be the time I began daydreaming of my horse and riding out in the fields on a warm summer day. Free and wild under a perfectly clear blue sky nothing but silence and the wind would I be forced to hear.

However, tonight was different and his words cut like a knife through the perfectly painted canvas in my mind and sharply brought me right back to that small kitchen. In actuality it wasn’t a small room at all, but he had a way of making the walls feel as if they were closing in on me with every endless tick of his watch.

He had a way about him in these memories of mine that cause me only to remember the room possessing a single light that hung from the ceiling overhead and swayed ever so slightly back and forth dependent on force of his voice.

The bulb always dim and stained yellow from the constant stream of pollution rising up from the Marlboro Red he lit every three to four minutes. Smoke so thick at times I could taste nothing else even after brushing my teeth for bed after each time all was said and done.

Sarah, one day you’re going to stop right in the middle of your everyday life and if you continue living the way you have been, my ears slightly perked as what could I possibly be doing now that will permanently affect me and the life I will have years from now, I thought to myself?

Reviewing quickly the true severity of my offenses. I made decent grades. I was on the Varsity Soccer Team. I had no criminal record, never been in any “real” trouble and besides breaking his curfew or skipping a few classes , even stealing a few bucks when it was left lying around, what could he possible deem me labeled in his eyes for life?

I clinched the fists inside my yellow turtle neck sweater and stuck my head as low as it would go into the stretched out neck, as whatever was coming couldn’t be good. Particularly, nervous and I would have sworn I had heard the worst of the worst from that man many times over.

“I’m telling you now baby, you keep living like your living, floating here and there, you’re going to grow up and be one unhappy little girl… Sarah…and then of course he did one of his big dramatic and long-winded pauses, which are always followed up by the light of a smoke. A sure indication of something he considered important looming just inside his mouth. Perched on the tip of his tongue just waiting for the smoke to his ears eloquently lure it out. Trapping his words within and highlighting their definitive presence. Words frozen and suspended in the breath of smoke in which he exhaled them upon.

He continued “One day you’re going to want to pack up your toys and run home.” “But baby you’ll have created a life in which there is no road home nor anyone even there who could save you from it!” “The toys you will then call yours will no longer neatly fit in the toy chest if in fact you even for once tried to clean up your mess.” “For regardless, they won’t be the kind of toys you are able to simply leave when you’ve become bored with them, abandoning them out in the rain for the next girl to come along and find.” “They will be yours for life and you will be miserable every day of yours because of them.” “Mark my words little girl, mark my words.”

I just sat there, for the first time I had no quick interjection of why he was surely wrong! Nor could I conjure up any deep sigh indicating in my teenage way that he had no idea what he was talking about. No snide comment to shoot just as fast back to him acknowledging I even retained his thoughts. I had nothing.

I just sat there stunned and baffled. Clueless as to what he said meant for sure. However, for some reason they felt unshakable and the smoke they hung on seemed to cling and engulf my clothes, my hair and my soul.

My father and I would have many more kitchen table torture sessions before I moved out and finally became an “adult”.

As to what specifically was said in any of them before that day or after I wouldn’t and couldn’t swear to any true content of it now.

However, that single profession. The one that came out of nowhere and held no relevance to the events at hand, seeming to steam from my father’s well of actual insight and intuition scared me.

For something about those words and chance of whatever they meant actually holding some bit truth about me and my life to come was a premonition not easily brushed off.

As if it, as if he had subconsciously sealed my fate. A fate that although I didn’t understand it then, Left me with an uncomfortable awareness, one in which I didn’t like the way it felt to fit before I even had a chance to experience it. The finality of his imposed sentence on what began as  a seemingly ordinary chilly fall day is one that to this day has never left me.

The only clarity I have found after the passing of many years is the shocking and absolute truth in the perfect reflection of his words as in fact despite his unexplained warning did in fact become my life.

TO BE CONTINUED ~ Stay turned as the epiphany is IMPORTANT

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