I stood outside the door, full of uncertainty and dread.
My heart caught for a long moment as I raised my hand and gently knocked.
What would be on the other side? My mind conjured images of Demons and Terror. Of images long forgotten. A slavering, ravenous beast stood behind the door, and waited for me to enter.
An aura of fear radiated from the door. Or perhaps just from me. I hoped that no one had heard my knocking.
A questioning grunt echoed from the other side of the door. A shambling lurch could be heard, increasing in volume. With a sickening noise, the lock clicked and the doorknob rattled. A garbled voice rumbled threateningly, “Come in.”
I looked back and forth down the empty hallway of this old, dilapitated apartment complex. The dim hallway light showed that no one was around to witness my entrance. No one would notice if I ever left.
I swallowed a rising lump in my throat and placed a hand on the doorknob. Fear pressed against me. A physical thing, fear can be sometimes. I wanted to run, to leave this place, and never return.
Instead, I opened the door and stepped inside.
The apartment was small and full of dark omens. The air was thick and stuffy. The temperature was stiflingly hot. A pressure wave hit me as soon as I closed the door. I wondered who could live in a place such as this?
The question was rhetorical. I knew exactly who lived here. The god-damned Devil.
The devil was my father.
He had just shuffled his way back to his chair, uncaring if I actually entered or not. His clothes were tattered and threadbare. He walked with a bit of a limp, which he corrected with a cane. Daring to raise my eyes toward him, I can almost see something about him, something I haven’t seen before. With a long groan, he sits back down on his chair, in front of the television set that always seems to be on.
Endless commercials drone on from the screen. Every time I come over. Always commercials.
I take off my shoes and leave them by the door. Then I move over and stand beside him, careful not to get in his line of sight. I do this every time I see him here.
I clear my throat in an attempt to force the words out. I have to speak to him and yet, I dread nothing more than his gaze upon my face. My words are mumbled, stammering.
“Uh, I was at the hospital today…uh…”
“WHAT?” His voice, sharp, cuts me to the core. I have his attention now.
Those terrible eyes focus on me.
“I, uh…”, I manage.
“I saw mom today.”
“OH.” His attention shifts back to the screen. The drone of the television set filling in the empty spaces of our conversation.
“Uh, yes. She was doing good. Yes, good.” I have a hard time stringing sentences together when I’m near him. His presence overwhelms me.
“So, yeah, she said something funny. It really cracked up my girlfriend.” I’m trying to connect, but I don’t know how, or if I’m doing it right.
“YOUR GIRLFRIEND WAS THERE?” He leans back in his chair. I go on full alert. Why would he ask that?
“I DON’T WANT HER TO SEE YOUR MOTHER ANYMORE.” He nods to himself. He leans forward again, the matter already forgotten.
I reel in stunned confusion. Was that a command? A demand? An order?
“Yes. Of course,” I weakly submit.
I’m disgusted with myself.
“I’VE TALKED WITH THE DOCTOR”, he continues. “MOM WILL BE HOME BY THE END OF THE WEEK.” Something resembling a smile crosses his face.
What? No! She can’t!
She will die here!
She almost died here! I had to call for paramedics to take her away to the hospital because you couldn’t take care of her and you absolutely would not allow anyone else to take care of her either!
These were the things I wanted to say. But instead, I said nothing.
With a lurch, he stands up and slowly makes his way into the kitchen. He pulls open a cupboard and retrieves a glass. Then he opens the refrigerator and pours himself a glass of juice.
I meekly follow.
The implications of his words hammer into me like a series of blows. If my mother returns here, she will die soon after. My heart starts to pound, my hands begin to shake. Panic takes hold.
My head drops in defeat. The finality of his command still echoes in my mind. I am prepared to accept it, as I have so many others.
But I can’t.
I ball my fists, clenching them so tightly that they go numb. I’m shaking. I want to run so badly. I keep looking at the door, hoping for someone to enter and save me. All I can feel is His prescence, this titan who stands before me and in whose prescence I can do nothing. The Fear has me.
But this is about my Mother.
“she’s…She’s not coming back here,” I say quietly. The purpose of my visit, the topic I’ve been trying to avoid bringing up, finally surfaces. He looks at me in suprise.
I release the breath that I was unaware that I was holding in.
“Today, I filled out the paperwork for Guardianship and Trusteeship of mom.”
The look of suprise switches to anger. He calmly puts his glass down on the counter and adjusts his grip on his cane. His eyes never leave me.
“I talked to her doctor,” I continue, “and the hospital staff. They all agree that she shouldn’t return home. That she should stay at the hospital and move to a long term care facility.”
“SHE BELONGS WITH ME!!!” The force of his words pushes me back. Tears start forming on the corners of my eyes.
“You can’t take care of her anymore,” I reply. It’s taking all of my willpower not to turn and run. “You tried, remember? With the daily visits from the nurses and the food delivery people. You somehow drove them all away. They won’t even come back now.”
He rages against me. It is absolutely terrifying. The very walls seem to shake. When he raises his cane and pulls back, as if to swing, I retreat into my memories.
My tattered, ragged memories.
Every memory of abuse, physical and mental. The futile attempts at hiding from his rage. The endless fear. The memories of his abuses against my mother and siblings. But something else strikes through.
Memories of his drunken ramblings about his childhood. His stories about the abuses he endured as a child. The Residential schools and their lasting effects. His experiences in the army. The friends he lost overseas. The times he wept from the sadness he held inside. His suffering.
I realize in that moment, that he was as lost as me.
The veil drops from my eyes. I can see him now as he really his. Not as a tyrant. Not as a monster that has tormented me for my entire life.
But as a man. A broken, battered man. A man that should have received help for his numerous traumas, but never had. He was likely unaware that help was even available.
He was old. Hollow. Barely standing. Holding himself up through stubborn willpower alone.
I felt sorry for him.
A lot of my fear left then. But not all. I will always carry some with me.
“Mom can live,” I say now with more confidence. “She can live for many more years, and be happy during those. But not here. Not with you.”
My father lowers his arm. The cane slides back to the ground. Perhaps he recognizes the change in me.
“Trained professionals will be around her at all times. She will be cared for. She will be safe.”
“I can’t…I can’t carry this anymore.” I look at him. “The experiences I’ve had with you. The constant fear I live in. I can barely interact with men, especially ones who remind me of you. I have to let it go. I have to heal.”
“I forgive you.”
I head for the door and put my shoes on. There is no other noise in the apartment except for the reassuring stream of television commercials. I put my hand on the door to leave, but something stops me.
“I’m getting help to deal with my trauma.” I turn to him. “It would help you to do the same.”
I don’t know why I said that. Perhaps one final appeal to his sanity. Perhaps a lonely child’s attempt to connect with his father.
The groan of a chair from the living room as he eases himself down. Relative silence for a moment. I already know what he’s going to say.
“NEVER COME BACK HERE.”
It still hurt.
I leave, and pass through the door. I turn and look at the door as it closes. It is no longer imposing.
It is old, and sad. Like so many other things around here. I walk away.
I have never returned.