“Daddy Come Home” (Winter 2009)
Daddy Come Home
A soft breeze tickles my skin as I sit in the cemetery near my house. Everything here is so quiet, but not in an eerie way; it’s peaceful. This is my sanctuary. I remember, at the beginning of the school year, I used to study on this very swing. I was so clueless, living in a world of oblivion. I miss when things were so simple…I miss when my biggest problems amounted to overdue homework assignments. Oh, how things have changed. Now I only visit the cemetery when I need to get away from my life.
I hate it when this happens; it’s the same every time. My mother and I disagree, we fight, and I walk out the front door as she yells at the back of my head. My angry screams echo in my mind. Why did I leave again? I promised her I wouldn’t lose my cool anymore. It’s been this way since he left. My three younger brothers are already acting out, my mother scarcely eats, and none of us are getting enough sleep. We all try not to worry; we’re just struggling to continue with our “normal” lives, going through the motions and pretending like everything’s “ok.” My friends don’t know what to do with me anymore, and my teachers don’t even follow me when I leave class in tears. It’s almost a routine by now.
Thunder rolls in the distance, and my father’s face flickers through my head. A tear escapes my eye, sending chills down my spine. I try to fight it, but I’m too weak; the inevitable sobs send tremors through my tired body. The bench swing I’m sitting on sways gently in the wind. Suddenly, a flash of lightening rips across the sky, followed by a deafening crack. I remember all the nasty things I’ve said to my mother, and all the grief I gave my father. If only I could do it all again. What if I don’t get another chance?
I remember the look on my brothers’ faces as I walked out the door. They’re so young, they don’t understand what I’m going through. Even so, it’s more of a reason to set a better example. I should be making things at home easier, not more painful. I understand why they all look at me with contempt. Their lives would be so much easier if I didn’t exist. I don’t even look at myself in the mirror anymore…I’m too disgusted with what I’ve become. I used to cringe whenever my nasty side showed, but now I throw around insults like party favors. I just want them to see how much I’m hurting. A feeling of shame overwhelms me. I’m falling apart and the only people who can put up with me are dead folks. Wonderful.
The sun is starting to fade into the horizon. It looks like another night alone, feeling sorry for myself. I picture my dad holding me in his arms; if he were here he’d know what to do. He’d know exactly what to say, and I’d feel better; but he’s not, and I don’t. I’ve been sitting here too long, it’s depressing. Without thinking, I wrench myself off the swing. My weary legs guide me out of the cemetery, and I wander until I find a park. There’s a big family having some sort of celebration under the covered pavilion. They all look so happy. Bitterness rises like bile in my throat. Life is so unfair…why can’t my family be that happy? I find a swing and slump into it, shuddering against the cold plastic. It starts to rain and the children all go running to their parents under the pavilion. Car doors slam as the parents load up the kiddos and picnic baskets. A few children giggle and point at me. Great, now I’m a freak show. Even little children can sense how messed up I am. A harsh voice quiets the children as a mother scolds them in Spanish. A few more worried glances, the rumble of engines, and I’m alone.
The sky is darker now and I should probably head home soon. I force my fatigued body out of the swing and back to the highway. It’s only a few miles walk; I should be there before it gets too late. What am I going to tell my mom? My stomach turns, reminding me that I haven’t eaten in hours. The chilly air whips my face, but at least it stopped raining. With a shiver, I pull my stained hoodie tighter around my shoulders. I picture my father sleeping on the ground, and I can’t complain. He’s gone right now, training for his deployment. He comes home every few weeks. Sometimes he talks about his assignment, and sometimes he stays silent. We try to avoid the topic, like if we talk about it, it’ll make things final. A feeling of dread takes over as I think about him being gone for a year. My family is already falling apart, and he hasn’t even deployed yet. I shake my head. I don’t want to think of him leaving for Iraq. My gaze drifts towards the road, all I see are blurry taillights in the distance. Thunder grumbles a few miles away, as if the skies themselves are mourning with me.
Finally I reach the entrance of my neighborhood. It’s almost time to face my mother, and own up to my actions. Pausing on my front porch my hand trembles on the cold door knob. Closing my eyes, I picture my father one last time. A pleading whisper escapes my lips, “Daddy, come home…” The wind snatches my voice and carries it away into the night. A whimsical thought crosses my mind, and a smile teases at the corners of my mouth. Maybe, if I’m lucky, the wind will carry my message across the country to him. And maybe…just maybe, wherever he is, he’ll hear me…