Story: Love in Three Parts

 Amy Rigsby ’93 has written poems and short stories since she was a kid. Her audience has always been family, friends, and readers of school papers and literary magazines. In regular life, Amy is an eighth grade teacher of English at the Ellis School for Girls in Pittsburgh, PA, but this year, she and her husband are enjoying a sabbatical in Bologna, Italy. During this time, Amy is focusing on her writing and the feedback and publishing process.  “Love in Three Parts” is her first published story.

 

 1: Christmas in Buffalo

The snow kept falling, and we only saw about a foot ahead illuminated by our headlights. We wore our jackets, and as my sister gripped the steering wheel with her purple gloves, I fiddled with the temperature control to keep the windows clear. We almost missed the turn, but fortunately, Sarah had been driving only about ten miles per hour, and I pointed at the barely visible sign for Grandma’s road.

“I feel bad we’re keeping her up so late,” I yawned. Staring straight ahead, Sarah nodded. During my next yawn, I suggested that maybe we could sleep in.

Sarah let out a little snort: “Yeah, like that’s going to happen. She’ll have pancakes ready for us at 6:30 AM, like always.”

“Yum!” I patted the dashboard with my gloved hand: “Thank you good old Civic for getting us here.”

“Hey, what about the driver?”Sarah lightly punched my shoulder while turning into Grandma’s drive.

“You were great. I lucked out getting the first half without the dark and the snow.”

I willed myself not to bring up my fear that I had cut off another driver back in Pittsburgh. I imagined their car plummeting from the Fort Pitt Tunnel Bridge into the icy river below. I had already asked Sarah if she had seen the car swerve. After about my fourth time asking, she dismissed my concern like she always does when I’m checking. I had tried to ask nonchalantly, but she is too smart for that. I’m tired, and it’s always worse when I’m tired.

Sarah pulled up close to the back door. She popped the trunk and then opened the door, letting in the cold night air and blowing snow. She stretched alongside the car while I grabbed our purses. Grandma’s back porch light was on, and her electric candles sparkled in every window. I looked for the top of her head in the kitchen window, but she must not have heard us pull in. Sarah grabbed our suitcases, and I went ahead to get the door.

Henry, Grandma’s enormous white and orange cat, was nudging to get out. Sarah blocked him with her foot. I went in ahead of her and corralled him away from the door. He began to rub up against my legs, and as soon as I put our things down, he let me scoop him up for a kiss. Sarah squeezed his paw, and he smeared his lips against her hand, but then he squirmed to get down and sniff our bags.

While taking off our boots, Grandma opened the door from the kitchen, “My darlings! You made it!”

Her hair was flattened from sleeping in her recliner. She was wearing a holiday sweatshirt with chickadees and berries. She hugged me close, and our glasses bumped. She smelled like talcum powder.

After she embraced Sarah, she said, “Do you girls want some cookies or cake? I have buttercream cookies in the freezer, and I made a chocolate torte this morning.”

Sarah was ready for bed, but I stayed up for some cookies. Grandma had one with me and some milk. Henry jumped in my lap and tried to get at the crumbs on my plate.

“It was a hard drive, wasn’t it, Meg?”

“We just had to take it slow. Getting out of Pittsburgh was ok. Around Erie is when things got dicey. Of course! I thought we were going to have to pull over during some of the whiteouts.”

“But I also mean how extra stress makes you worry even more.”

“I had some rough moments, but you know Sarah; she pumps up the music when I start asking her if I caused any accidents.”

Grandma asked, “Did you talk with your mom today?”

“Yeah. She was stuck at the Boston airport trying to get on an early flight for tomorrow. Then, she’ll try driving here on Christmas Eve morning. Did she call you, too?”

“Yes. She said her book signing was well attended. Maybe the biggest group yet.”

Henry was now snuggled in my lap. I scratched him around his ears and under his chin.

“Who wouldn’t want to buy a murder mystery for Christmas?” I smiled at Grandma. “Well, it does take place during the winter, in a charming village. I just hope in her next book she has Lila get together with the police chief. What’s his name?”

“David Wallace. He is super charming, but I kind of like Danny better. She should go for the free-spirited one and travel around.”

Grandma was thinking for a minute, and then she said, “I don’t see her on the back of his motorcycle though. She should ride her own.”

“I like your thinking, Grandma. Didn’t you used to have a bike?”

“When I lived in Italy, I borrowed a friend’s scooter. A red one, of course.”

I got up and gave her a hug and a kiss.

“Tomorrow, I want to look at your Bologna photos. I love seeing those with you.”

“Ok, maybe after breakfast. Do you girls want pancakes?”

“Absolutely! And lots of coffee.”

***

Tossing and turning, I was exhausted yet unable to fall asleep. It was probably having all that sugar just before bed. At home, I would have hung out on the couch for a while watching TV or reading. Afraid of disturbing Grandma and Sarah in this cozy but creaky house, I was sequestered in Mom’s old room. I always have this room, and Sarah always sleeps in Uncle Paul’s. It used to creep me out going in his room because he died from a brain aneurysm when he was only twenty-three.

I have always had a tendency to believe in ghosts and still feel a chill when I walk by his photograph in the hall. I swear his eyes follow me. His funeral was the first one Sarah and I ever attended, and it was an open casket. All I remember is being lifted up to see him and wanting to give him some Lifesavers from Grandma’s purse. Apparently, I created quite a scene about Paul not having candy with me.

Sarah is the cooperative one. People never believe we are twins, until I remind them about being fraternal. She has near-perfect vision, shoulder-length red hair, long and lean legs, and an adorable turned-up nose between green eyes. I am barely five-feet tall, cannot read anything without my glasses, and prefer to wear my dirty blond hair in a pixie cut.  Basically, Sarah looks like a Ralph Lauren model, and I look like I might sing in a garage band..

And after all these years, we are still inseparable.

Making the room darker might help me sleep, so I got out of bed to unplug the electric candles in each window. Not to mention they were a fire hazard with the plastic shades up against them. I paused to look out at the falling snow. Our car was getting buried, and then I started worrying about Mom getting here. She might not make it out of Boston, and if she does, the thruway might close between Rochester and Buffalo.

My mind won’t shut down. Basically an agnostic, I still like to pray sometimes. Really, I just talk to God.

In this case, I asked for my mom to be safe as she travels. It’s my way of letting go. I whispered the prayer as I climbed back into bed.

I pulled the covers over my head and settled into my cocoon. I focused on my breathing like we do in yoga class. I tried to relax my muscles. Inside my head, I sang “Silent Night.”

There was a slight tap on my door, and Sarah whispered, “Are you awake?”

I could hear Grandma snoring when Sarah opened the door. She climbed into bed with me.

“What’s up?” I scooted over.

“I need to tell you something. I was going to talk about it in the car, but it was too hard driving with the snow.”

“This sounds serious.” I sat up and touched Sarah’s arm.

Sitting up as well, Sarah leaned against the headboard and turned on the lamp, “I called Dad last week.”

“Oh.”

“I know we had talked about not responding to his letter, but I just couldn’t. I needed to hear his side of the story.”

I had edged away slightly and was also leaning against the headboard. Without looking at her, I asked, “And what did he say?”

“He’s really sorry Meg. He was crying during part of our conversation, and he hopes we will meet him.”

“Sure, we’ll just fork over money we don’t have to fly off to Los Angeles. Dad left us and never looked back. Why does he care all of a sudden?”

“He’s looking back, Meg.” Sarah put her arm around me. I tried not to, but my shoulders stiffened.

“He said there is so much he needs to tell us, but he wants to do so in person. He said that he will fly to Pittsburgh and stay in a hotel.”

“Did you tell Mom?”

Sarah turned to her side facing me and propping her head up on an arm. “No, because I wanted to talk with you first.”

“Oh.” I let out a sigh and turned on my side facing her. “I’m sorry, but the whole topic just makes me angry. Of course you should see him if you want. I’m just not in that place.”

Sarah yawned and rubbed her eyes.

“We don’t have to decide on anything right now. We’re exhausted, and it’s almost Christmas. We should just enjoy the holidays with Grandma and Mom.”

She kissed my forehead and went back to Paul’s room. I turned out the light and stared at the ceiling forgetting to just think about breathing. Somewhere out there was a man I hadn’t seen nor heard from in over ten years. Sarah and I were grown women and had managed just fine without him. We had attended Monroe Community College where Mom taught some writing classes, and now we had our own apartments and jobs. We had Mom, Grandma, and our friends.

I tossed around on the ancient mattress hoping the squeaky springs didn’t wake up the household. Finally, I was rescued. Henry pawed at the door until he got it open, jumped on my bed, and crawled under the blankets. He curled up under my arm, and I stroked his belly. My whole body relaxed, and sleep came.

***

Grandma, Sarah, and I were on the couch looking at her photos from when she was a culinary student and took a semester abroad to study in Bologna. I missed her restaurant; she sold it five years ago after Grandpa died. Young Grandma and I look a lot alike, while Mom and Sarah resemble each other. Then, there are the things we got from Dad. I have his straight hair, and Sarah has his laugh. They both snort, and then, if it’s something really funny, they go into full silent laughter mode, gasping for breath and shaking. Usually, people think Sarah is crying when that happens.  Sarah is pretty laid back and lighthearted like Mom.

People say I’m a worrier like Dad. Dad used to check all of the stove knobs before he left the house. He also had to relock the door several times before Mom would tell him it was ok; we had to go.

I can go a long time without thinking about him, and then out of the blue, he’ll be on my mind. I’ll hear someone jingling change in his pocket and remember that Dad used to put all of his change in our piggy banks each morning when he kissed us on his way to work.

The last day we saw him was on our fifteenth birthday. At breakfast, he and Mom let us each open one present. Mine was a collection of Beatrix Potter prints, and Sarah received a set of leather-bound Agatha Christie mysteries.  (How telling that I would become a vet assistant, and Sarah a manager of a Barnes & Noble. Neither one of us picked high-earning jobs, but we loved them and managed by sharing a car and an apartment.)  That night, we waited and waited for Dad to come home from work. He never showed.  I guessed that he was late because he was getting us a puppy as a final surprise. Why not? A girl can dream. And then the fantasy turned into a nightmare.

Dad walked out for good, and we were left to keep our family going. I thought of all of our friends whose parents had split. There were quite a few. But I couldn’t think of any who had a parent completely stop communicating with them. It was as if he had died, but worse, because he was choosing to give us up.

Sarah nudged me. “Are you with us? Grandma just asked if you wanted some hot cocoa.”

I started to answer when we heard Mom’s voice in the kitchen. “Where’s my family?”

“Mom!” We all headed for the kitchen and took turns hugging her. “How did you get here so fast?”

“I went straight home from the airport, dumped the dirty clothes, grabbed clean ones, and jumped in the car. The thruway was clear of all that snow.”

“I’m so glad you made it. Are you hungry, dear?” Grandma asked.  She always wanted to feed us. I think she missed her restaurant.

“I’m starving. Well hello there, Henry.” She scooped him up and nuzzled his nose.

We sat around the kitchen table sipping cocoa and catching up. Mom ate a bowl of soup with a toasted cheese sandwich. I looked at each woman and felt a great love for them all.

I imagined Grandpa, Dad and Paul around the table with us. Our men were ghostly outlines. Grandpa would be hamming it up with jokes, embarrassing Grandma with a pat on her bottom, and asking Mom, Sarah, and me, “What’s new?”

Paul and Dad were silently sitting nearby. I had lost so many details about them.

***

“So, are we going to open presents?” Mom asked. “One for each of us before church.”

Grandma gave her a look and pretended to scold her.

“Meredith, you have to wait till tomorrow morning.”

“C’mon, Mom. It’s our new tradition as of last year.”

Grandma, our beloved matriarch, pretended to think about it and then agreed, “Just make sure we allow enough time for driving and parking. I don’t want to miss Ruth playing ‘Silver Bells’ on the organ. She promised to play it for me this year.”

Mom went to get her canvas bag, which was filled with presents. Sarah found our packages for Mom and Grandma under the tree. Grandma motioned for her to also pick out a few from her. Henry, who had been chewing on a branch of the Christmas tree, moved to the center of the living room where paper and ribbon awaited.

“I love the bubble lights, Grandma.”

They were glass tubes with colored water strung around the tree. The heat from the lights made the liquid bubble.

“Those are oldies,” said Mom.

“At least, we had some when I was a kid. Where did you find those, Mom?”

“Oh, a lady at the beauty parlor had a catalogue from that Vermont Country Store. I thought you girls would enjoy them.”

Henry was starting to chew on a ribbon. I scooped him up, and Sarah gave the rescued package to Mom.

“Oh, what did you two do?” She shook the box and started guessing. “Is it a pocket knife?”

“Really, Mom? Since when do you carry around a knife?” asked Sarah.

“True. Is it perfume?”

“Mom, geez. Open it!”

Sarah and I sat on either side of her, while Grandma kicked out the leg rest on her La-Z-Boy.

“Oh, Meg and Sarah! This is a beautiful pen! It has a nice weight to it, and it is such a delicious red.”

“We thought you would like it for your book signings. The ink is black.”

Sarah turned over a piece of torn wrapping paper for her to write something.

“That’s lovely, girls.” Grandma held out a hand to hold the pen after Mom tried it out..

“We have a gift for you too, Grandma.”

Sarah and I had made her a calendar with family photos. She flipped through each month, but she gave special attention to April, Paul’s birthday month. We had chosen a photo from the family restaurant. Grandpa was drinking coffee with a group of his buddies, Grandma was adding a pie to her famous pastry case, and Mom and Paul were sitting at the counter drinking Cokes. It could have been a Norman Rockwell painting.

“Look how young we all were,” said Mom with a hand on Grandma’s shoulder. “Your Aunt Bev took that photo. She never did like posed photos. Too unnatural, she’d say.” Mom peered closer at the photo. “I never noticed before, but your father is cut off at the edge.”

“Where?”

We all stood around to get a closer look, and sure enough, there he was, looking toward the camera with a slight grin. Well, half of him was, just at the edge of the scene.

“Halfway out the door,” Mom said. “I guess he did give me a sign after all.”

We all looked at Mom, and she laughed. “Oh, don’t look so serious. It’s Christmas Eve.”

***

Sarah was kicking chunks of snow from underneath the car. Grandma was watching from the kitchen window, and Mom was hugging me tight. Sarah had already been hugged, and Mom had tears in her eyes.

“You’re going to make me cry, Mom,” I said.

She wiped a tear with her sleeve. “I know I’m being silly. We’ll see each other very soon. I just had such a wonderful time.”

Sarah came over and brushed another tear from Mom’s cheek. “I can’t wait to host your book signing in February.”

Back on the road, Sarah put in Adele and turned up the volume. She started singing along, and I joined in. We crooned off-key until we stopped for gas. Sarah ran in for coffees while I filled the tank. It was a beautiful sunny day, and the piles of snow were still fairly white and sparkly. We agreed that I would drive for the first two hours while I was fresh and less likely to obsess. Of course, Buffalo traffic could trigger anything, but I was having a confident and light-hearted morning.

“Is Josie coming over tonight?” Sarah turned the music down and flashed her gorgeous smile.

“Absolutely! She is bringing lasagna, and I’ll make a salad. I think we have a nice bottle of red at home.”

I looked over at Sarah who was enjoying a Grandma cookie with her coffee. “She should have come with us this Christmas.”

Sarah nodded. “I know, but this is her best time for pet sitting. She said that her neighbors were going to have her over.”

“It’s just plain sad that her own family won’t see her.”

“Well, not everybody are you, Mom, and Grandma, Meg.. Not everybody likes having a lesbian in the family.”

“But they should love knowing their daughter is dating someone like you. Look at all of the jerks I’ve been with. Remember Brian?”

Sarah snorted and wiped some crumbs from her chin. “Your creative writing professor? Was someone looking for a father figure, or what?”

“Maybe, but you have to admit that he didn’t look forty-five.”

“Try fifty-five.”

I punched her lightly. “Give me a cookie. I’m famished. That stack of pancakes just isn’t sticking with me.”


2:Christmas in Pasadena

After all of these years, Dave still couldn’t get used to seeing a giant Rudolph the Reindeer tethered between the Palm trees on Lake Avenue pulling an even larger blow-up of Santa in his sleigh. Growing up in Buffalo, he knew Christmas with snow drifts and frigid temperatures. Raising his family in Rochester, he relished taking his daughters sledding and reading with them before bed. When the girls were tucked in, he would nuzzle his wife’s neck and coax her from her writing to curl up with him by their Christmas tree. Watching the lights twinkle and breathing in her thick red hair,he always thought it should smell like cinnamon.

He pedaled harder. He was in the best shape of his life. He rode up to the top of Mt. Wilson once a week. It took years of working his way up in stages. Warren was riding with him on the day he finally made it, and they celebrated back at the bike shop with Gatorade and giant burritos. He snorted and chuckled just thinking about good old Warren, his cousin and best friend. Warren, a giant of a man with sideburns and Elvis Costello-like glasses, did not seem agile enough for cycling. Dave, compact with lean muscles, looked the part, but Warren always came out ahead with endurance and technical skills.

Warren couldn’t ride this morning because he was taking Ruby to the vet. She had sprained a paw playing Frisbee last night. Dave would have given it a day to see how she did with some rest, but Warren was crazy about his yellow Lab. He changed girlfriends every few months, but Ruby was his mainstay.

Dave had grown fond of her over the years, but he still didn’t like finding her fur everywhere. A blue Mazda cut Dave off. He gave the driver the finger, but the man didn’t even look back. Dave pulled over to catch his breath and make sure that his helmet was tight and secure. Revved up, he then started checking all around him. He could hardly keep his eyes looking ahead and found himself looking behind him to the point of almost causing an accident with another car. Once he got shook up, he just couldn’t focus on the ride.

He breathed in deeply and turned around to go back home.. Ruby was vigorously wagging her tail and panting at the kitchen door.

“Hi there, Ruby. What did the vet say?”

Warren was at the stove making an omelet. “The vet, a gorgeous vet, I might add, confirmed your theory that it is just a sprain. She agreed to have dinner with me next week.”

Dave grinned and grabbed some peppers that were waiting to be put into the omelet.

“Why are you back from your ride so early?” Warren asked while lifting the bowl before Dave got any more peppers.

While foraging in the refrigerator, Dave mumbled about having an OCD attack and not being able to get out of it. Warren turned from the stove.

“So what, right? You know you are so much better, Dave.”

Dave was pouring milk into a bowl of cereal.

“I know. It’s just never going to go away. It’s not as constant, like before, but it’s always creeping up on me. Dr. Moore said that the Prozac takes the edge off, and the strategies I’m learning help me to take control, but it is never completely gone.”

Warren flipped the omelet onto a plate and joined Dave at the table. “You know what I think? I think it runs in our whole family, and I was just lucky. No one else tried to get better except you. All those drunk relatives at our family gatherings and all that fighting. It was crazy, man.”

Ruby, sniffing under the table for morsels of food, finally rested her head on Dave’s knee. At first, he thought only about her fur getting all over his shorts, but then he breathed and stroked her forehead where it wrinkled.

“Yeah, but I walked away from my family. I can’t blame them if they refuse to see me.”

Warren poured coffee for both of them. Dave noticed that he gave him his favorite mug with scenes from Yosemite. Warren took a few sips and then said, “Dave, I can’t even imagine what it is like to live in your head. You have to remember you left out of love, and you’re a good person. You got help. We didn’t even know what OCD was then.”

“Yeah, who would have thought a Good Morning, America segment would change my life. That interview with the woman who couldn’t stop cleaning her house and washing her hands. And then there was the guy who kept thinking he had pushed people onto the tracks in the subway station.”

Warren took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. “Remember how your mom would always look under the car for bodies after she drove us somewhere?”

“Yeah, and Uncle Joe lost so many jobs because he kept checking his work over and over and never finished anything.”

“You think Meg or Sarah might have it?”

“God, I hope not. It’s like a family curse.” Warren grabbed the dishes and threw them in the sink. “You ready for work?”

“Yeah, I promised that lady I’d have her bike tuned up today. Did the order for brake pads come in yesterday?”

“Yup. The new Cannondale also arrived. Wait till you feel how light the frame is.”Ruby muscled her way between them, and Warren put her leash on. “You’re a lucky girl that I own my own shop and can take you with me every day. You know that, Ruby?”

She licked his hand. Later that afternoon, Warren headed out to get some festive foods from Trader Joe’s. They were going to have a small Christmas Eve gathering with friends. Dave stayed behind to finish up some business at the shop.

Just before closing, a teenage girl walked in. Her miniskirt revealed shapely legs, her tight sweater pronounced her blooming breasts, and her beautiful brown eyes were attempting to see through heavy makeup. Dave tried to keep his gaze on her face only. The girl handed him a receipt for her mother’s bike.

“My mom said her bike would be ready today.”

Dave nodded. “It’s all set. It did need new brake pads, but the rest of the work was just a basic tune-up.”

Thoughts of touching this girl inappropriately flooded his mind. No one else was in the store. He wheeled the bike up to the counter and tried not looking at her at all. She smiled, flipped her hair back, and handed him cash. In his mind, he was caressing her hair and then her breasts. He felt sick and was taking shallow breaths. When she left, he immediately locked the door behind her. He rubbed his temples and tried using thought- stopping imagery. The big red stop sign filled his mind’s screen, but then he heard the doubting voice.

“You touched her. She is going to tell her parents, and they are going to call the police. They will come and arrest you tonight because you are a very bad person.”

Dave knew he didn’t touch the girl, but the voice kept pestering him with doubts.

“You may have touched her. No one else was in the store.”

He remembered Dr. Moore telling him that if he were a sick pervert, he would find pleasure in these thoughts. Instead, the images horrified him, and he never wanted to harm anyone.

“Dave,” said Dr. Moore, “you are a good person. Everyone has weird thoughts at times, but someone with OCD can’t shut them off as easily and feels flooded. It takes extra work to get unstuck.”

Dave talked aloud: “I’m a good person. I did not touch her. She is ok. Everything is ok.”

He breathed in and out. He focused on the giant stop sign, bright red, in his mind. After several minutes, he felt back in control. He smiled and squeezed his own arms. He got through one. On his own. His heart flooded with self-love that he hadn’t allowed himself to feel before.

3: Pittsburgh, Where the Rivers Meet

They had reserved the meeting room at the Coffee Tree in Shadyside. Meg and Sarah’s mother was in town for her book signing, and they all agreed that their father Dave could meet them there. He arrived at the Pittsburgh airport, got on a shuttle to the Holiday Inn in Oakland, and took a walk around Pitt to keep himself busy. He had only been to Pittsburgh one other time back when he worked for Verizon and had a meeting there. It was dreary and cold. From the plane, he was startled by the starkness of black and white compared to the greenery and sunshine he had left in LA.

He found a deli and bought a large coffee and a bagel. He scooted into a booth and tried to warm up while reading a local paper. He couldn’t concentrate on anything. It was so unnerving being so close to his family and wondering if they would understand what he had to tell them. After all of these years, he was relieved they had even agreed to meet with him.

Sarah, Meg, and their mother were in their pajamas around the sisters’ kitchen table. They had a plate of carrot muffins and big mugs of coffee.

“Does anyone else feel like they are going to throw up?” asked Meg.

Her mother touched Meg’s cheek, let out a sigh, and said, “I just hope we’re doing the right thing.”

Sarah took another bite of her muffin. “If anything, all of this stress is making me ravenous.”

It started to snow lightly, and Meg pointed at the window.

“What I really would enjoy is going ice skating with you guys at Schenley Park.”

“Maybe we can, Meg, tomorrow. Remember when you used to take us, Mom, over at RIT?”

Her mother nodded and sipped her coffee, “That was fun. I haven’t been on skates in years.”

“Well, should we get ready?” asked Meg.

The three women rose from the table.

“Do you think I should take my camera? Is that too weird?” Sarah wondered.

“Go ahead,” their mother said.

Meg nodded and headed to take her shower. Sarah turned on some music, the Pretty in Pink soundtrack, and sang as she got ready. Their mother looked at the window and watched some children playing in the snow.

Dave allowed too much extra time for finding the Coffee Tree, so he browsed next door in a quirky gift shop. He pretended to be interested in the merchandise, but really he was going over in his mind what he would say. He had been thinking about these words for weeks, but he couldn’t find the right ones. There is no greeting card for this situation, and he imagined Oprah doing a show about him and his family. She would know what to say. He didn’t, and he was trusting that it would come to him when he saw his family.

After fake browsing for ten minutes, he returned to the coffee shop and found the back meeting room. It was encased in glass and surprisingly quiet once inside. He took off his jacket and sat down. Minutes later, the three women arrived. His eyes were closed, and the opening of the door startled him.

***

There he was. My dad, Mom’s husband, estranged, but so familiar in a way I had not expected. Part of me wanted to run to him and embrace him. Another part of me wanted to shake him and slap him. We had startled him from dozing, and his face went from bewilderment to a smile of recognition. And then, tears ran down his face. No words had been spoken, but the tears flowed freely for us all. These were tears that weren’t going to stop. They needed the privacy of a home, not this public display.

Sarah pulled some tissues from her purse, “Here, Dad.” She gave them to him, and he nodded.

“I think we should go to our place. It’s just a few blocks away,” I heard myself saying.

Dad nodded again, and we all shuffled around the narrow space between too many chairs. Outside, we sucked in the cold air and moved silently and quickly along the shop windows. We turned the corner to our street and guided Dad up the porch and through our apartment’s door. We stood in the hallway taking off coats.

“We have muffins and coffee here,” Sarah said.

She went to make more coffee, and I put the rest of the muffin batch on a plate at the kitchen table. Once we were all seated around the table, I could hear a collective exhale, as we looked around at each other. Dad had stopped crying, but now Mom had some tears. Dad reached out to her, stopped himself, and looked down at his mug.

“There are no words,” he began, “that can express how deeply I regret shutting myself off from all of you.”

Mom dabbed at her eyes with a napkin, and I started swinging my legs like a child. And as we listened, Dad spoke and cried at the same time.

“I always had strange thoughts, but usually they were about spreading germs or causing a fire. The sexual thoughts started when I noticed how much you both were developing. You would have your friends over for slumber parties, and I would panic that I was going to molest one of you. You hear of bad things like that on the news, and the thought entered my head, and I couldn’t make it go away. I became convinced that I was a sick pervert. I didn’t want to be anywhere near you in case I would lose control.”

Mom stopped shredding her tissue and looked at Dad. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

Dad  breathed in deeply. “I would now, but then, I was so lost in my head. I really believed I was evil and needed to be locked up.”.

I sat there trying to process what I was learning about my father. It seemed so weird, , but then I thought about all of my strange thoughts and fears. I hadn’t completely connected the dots until Dad went on to explain how he learned about OCD and sought treatment.

Sarah and Mom looked from Dad to me.

“Like Meg,” Mom said.

“Like me,” I repeated.

We talked for hours after that. We even laughed at times. When we heard our neighbor on the stairs, we pulled her in to take a picture of the four of us. When Dad left, we all hugged him. At first, I only patted his back, but then we both relaxed, and I felt his arms tighten around me. I squeezed back. We spent time with him over the next few days, and he came to Mom’s book signing. And then, it was time for both of our parents to leave. We knew we’d be seeing mom at Grandma’s over Easter, but we had no plans for when we’d see Dad again.

I’m learning that unconditional love is uninvited at times, but once welcomed, it can become known again.

Copyright 2011.  All rights revert to the author upon publication.

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Featured Work, Fiction, Short Story and tagged , , , , by Sandi Sonnenfeld. Bookmark the permalink.

About Sandi Sonnenfeld

Sandi Sonnenfeld is a fiction writer and essayist. Her memoir, This Is How I Speak (2002: Impassio Press), which recounts how her views about what it means to be a woman in contemporary America changed after suffering a dangerous sexual assault, was a Booksense 76 finalist. With the memoir’s publication, she was named a 2002 Celebration Author by the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association, which recognizes writers whose work merits special notice. Sandi has published more than two-dozen short stories and essays in Sojourner, Voices West, Hayden’s Ferry Review, ACM, Raven Chronicles, Necessary Fiction, Perigee, Revolution House and The Doctor TJ Eckleburg Review among others. A graduate of Mount Holyoke College, Sandi holds an MFA in Fiction Writing from the University of Washington, where she won the Loren D. Milliman Writing Fellowship. She currently resides in Brooklyn, NY with her husband and the world’s most perfect cat.