Startled, I looked back down at the half eaten and rather unappealing dinner that my mother had placed in front of me.
Her gaze followed mine out the window. “You’re going to waste away if you keep day dreaming that way, now EAT!”
I looked back at my food as my father sauntered into the dining room. There was no such thing as a private conversation in our tiny three bedroom unit, so he knew exactly why I was staring into my plate like my life depended on it. (Well, it kind of did 😳)
He leaned down and whispered to me “Was the lion out today?”
Huh? I thought only I saw the lion in the shape of the trees, visible over our backyard fence through the dining room window. He smiled at the shocked expression on my face and tucked a forever stray strand of thick hair behind my ear. “Eat, before she makes you sleep in the backyard with it.”
He went into the kitchen and wrapped his arms around my mother and I dutifully ate the rest of my food, my eyes firmly fixed on the lion’s mane, made of rustling leaves.
The knock on the door was an official notification that I was, as usual, running late. I was in the middle of (ambitiously) wrestling my waist length hair into waves as I heard the front door open and my boyfriend politely greet my parents. Dad had probably been right near the door, mum just couldn’t pass up an opportunity to fuss over Barry.
I half listened to the small talk as I grabbed my coat and handbag, then rushed to the entrance to rescue Barry. I gave each of my parents a kiss, trying to ignore my mother chastising me in Spanish for not taking thick enough a jacket.
“What time does the baby have to be home?” Barry asked my dad.
Without hesitation, my dad responded, “When she tells you to take her home.”
I grabbed Barry and dragged him towards his car, waving goodbye to my parents. My mother looked ropable. My dad shrugged at her. I shrugged at Barry. “Do you like my hair?” I asked him.
At home, my mother asked my father why he had answered Barry’s question that way. “He was just trying to be respectful!”, she exclaimed.
“And I appreciate that.” My father told her. “But he can respect me by respecting Pamela. My authority doesn’t go to him when she isn’t with me. It goes to her.”
I couldn’t believe it. He had never acted this way before. We had been together over a year, broken up for less than a month and he was yelling at me like he had never yelled before. Furious at me because his brother had lied to my friend and I had told her the truth.
I was confused. Wasn’t telling the truth the right thing to do? What did he expect me to do? Did he not know me at all? Why was he blaming me for a situation his brother had created? We had broken up because of his jealousy. What did this have to do with that? I certainly wasn’t interested in his shithead brother.
He got back into his car and drove away. I was speechless. All I could do was lower myself to the curb and stare after him.
My dad approached me. He had surely seen and heard the entire spectacle from the living room window.
“I don’t understand.” I told him.
“And you won’t, until you accept that he just doesn’t want to be with you, and he will continue to create excuses to fight with you if you let him.”
“But he loves me!”
My dad shrugged. “Not enough, obviously.”
“But I love him.”
“More than yourself?”
He grabbed my hand and helped me up. “Go inside, life goes on.”
So I did. And it did.
“I’m moving out. It feels too weird after coming back from Europe. I just… can’t.”
“He’ll understand,” my mum reassured me, “he is almost ten years older than you, after all!”
I nodded. “He’s better off as well.”
My dad, who had remained quiet so far, reached out over the table and squeezed my hand, I looked up at him right as he was letting out a sigh of relief. I laughed and raised my eyebrow quizzically. He looked sheepish.
“For a second there, I thought you might end up marrying him.” He explained, “You were going to end up living a life like every other girl here. You, Pamela, have never been like every other girl here. That life isn’t right for you.”
“Unless you want to…” my mother helpfully interjected. Behind her, my dad shook his head emphatically “no“.
“I want to see the entire world, Mum.”
“But what happened Pamela? You two had something so special. How could you just let him go?”
This was why I hadn’t wanted to come. This was why I had avoided breaking my routine of going to work and back home and to work, then back home for over five weeks. Not even to come visit my mother.
“I don’t need him.” I told her. “I’m over it, I’m glad we broke up.”
She rolled her eyes. “He was special Pamela, boys like that don’t come around very often.”
“Can we talk about something else please?”
She placed my reheated dinner in front of me and slammed the cutlery down next to it. “Fine.” She sat across the table from me. “I don’t understand how you could just forget him, but fine.”
Forget him? Oh Jesus.
I kept my eyes firmly focused on my plate, lest they gave the truth away. The truth that I had done everything but forget him. The truth that he had turned his back on me within a split second and I was hopelessly, painfully, infuriatingly lost without him. The truth that for almost six months straight, I had woken and wondered why I should get up if the day did not include him. That I cried every single day behind my sunglasses on the commute home. That once I reached the privacy of my bedroom, I told the best friend I had ever had all about my day, even though he wasn’t even there- and it somehow comforted me. The truth that I hadn’t been able to bring myself to throw away his clothes, his shampoo, his toothbrush, his photos. The truth that my heart hurt every second of every minute of every single day because I missed him and his soul so fucking much. The truth that I was absolutely certain, I would never sincerely smile again.
My dad drove me home that night. He let me be quiet. But, right before I opened the door to get out he whispered, “Sometimes love isn’t enough. It’s okay if you miss him.”
“I’m okay, I don’t need him.”
He squeezed my hand. “I know.”
And then he wiped my tears away.
I wiped my feet on the doormat and fumbled for my keys. While my hand was still fishing around in my backpack, the front door swung open from the inside. “Hi daddy!” I said as he ushered me into the warm house and took my backpack out of my hands so I could take my coat off. I fruitlessly looked for a clean surface in the spare room to place it. But alas, every inch of my childhood bedroom was covered in clothes, books, toiletries and anything else I had managed to grab the day before.
“Come eat!” My mother yelled from the kitchen. I wandered over to feign interest in the soup she had prepared. It smelled delicious but my stomach was constricted into knots. That was my bad luck, I realised, as she promptly served me a bowl and sat down in front of me to watch me consume it. I ate it.
I ate it like I had gone to work that day. Like I had unpacked my work clothes and winter basics late the night before. Like I had delivered my statement to the police right before that. Like I had run around my terrace house trying to pack my belongings into my parents’ hatchback in less than an hour before that. Like I had kept quiet from the airport to the house I shared with my spouse, knowing my dad was parked around the corner to take me away from hell.
For 36 hours straight, I had been on auto pilot. No tears. No thinking. I just did. Nothing felt real.
After dinner, I went into the bedroom to take my make up off. I heard a knock on my door.
“Come in.” I said as I wiped at my face, and my dad popped his head through the door.
“Pamela-” he stopped mid sentence and stared. He stared at my black eye.
His eyes were grey tonight, they constantly changed colour, depending on the weather or his mood. They could be sky blue, aqua green, or like steel. That night, in my room, under his roof, they went dark and filled with tears. My father is a sensitive man, but this was only the second time I had ever seen him cry. And those tears were for me.
Just the day before, the donator of that black eye had been crying himself. “She’s lying you know.” He had said to my father. “You only know one side of the story.”
“She is my daughter, and I know her better than you do.” From that moment on, my father refused to acknowledge my ex as he continued to carry on. We just packed.
The day before, my father had been defiant. Brazen. Focused. Because I needed to be.
Today, his demeanour was completely different. Today he cupped my face and pressed his forehead against mine and he sighed. “Please love yourself.”
I sobbed into his palms. I let myself cry. I let myself cry for everything I had lost, for everything I had endured, for the fight that was to come.
“Don’t ever let somebody treat you like that again.”
“Never.” I promised him.
A promise to him, was one I would keep with far more determination than any promise I made to myself.
We embraced. Deep in our thoughts. I don’t know what he was thinking, but I remember exactly what I was thinking.
How dare I let a nobody, a prick, a guy like any other, treat me like I was worthless when the most wonderful man I had ever met in my life had spent almost 33 years treating me like his treasure.
“He” will always be him first, and foremost. A blessing I don’t deserve, a wisdom that has made me who I am. A rescue that brought me to today.