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When Dad Left

I sat in the living room with the only grandmother I'd ever know, knowing better than to compete for Mom�s attention or get in Dad�s way, as they blindly taught me a lesson I�d learn bits and pieces from throughout the next twenty-odd years of my li

The carpet was worn and fraying near some of its seams, in doorways and along the baseboards. On a lucky day one could find a dirty penny nestled innocently into the camouflage yarns of the old beige-brown carpet, which was a popular pick of the times. It was the summer of 1986.

Brown wicker plates and baskets were mounted on the wall behind the dining room table. An old planter, which Mom would keep a couple decades too long, hung from the ceiling in a corner of the dining area next to a window dressed in vintage smoke-stained lace. Reaching through the panes of glass, rays of sunlight radiated on the tabletop and bittersweetly kissed the leaves of green cascading over the edges of its cradling pot. I never saw Mom water the plant but I know she did. Dad didn’t work or do chores and neither Joey nor I could reach that high.

Dad’s straw hat hung from a wall beside the patio door which walked out to the parking lot. He hardly went anywhere without it. Grandma sat in the living room on an ugly brown sofa, unknowingly testing the support system beneath the cushions (Mom said it finally surrendered while Grandma was sitting on it once) and the noises spilling into my ears weren't out of the ordinary - usually in verbal form, heavy punches by swollen fists bouncing off one tattered wall and colliding into another.

Mom didn’t think I’d remember. Joey was almost two and I was about three and who thinks their children are going to remember stuff from when they’re that young – words spoken, tones and pitches of voices, hand gestures, foot movements, and tear drops making their way from broken hearts to sorry eyes? I sat in the living room with the only grandmother I'd ever know, knowing better than to compete for Mom’s attention or get in Dad’s way, as they blindly taught me a lesson I’d learn bits and pieces from throughout the next twenty-odd years of my life.

Oh, bullshit, Jim, Mom hollered from the kitchen. He hollered back. After dinner Mom would tuck us in and Dad might have read us a bedtime story. Or maybe he wouldn’t have because he’d come home late after drinking too much at the bar. In the morning he’d stay home with Joey and me while Mom went to work. She would come home after a long day at the office and then we’d do it all over again, only we didn't because this day wasn’t like the others.

Playing on the living room floor, I saw Mom emerge from the kitchen toward Dad and the faux marble table, with those ugly old wicker plates and baskets hanging on the wall behind her. I returned to playing for a moment as the tension continued to rise and shouting consumed the tiny apartment. Grandma remained on the sofa minding her own and I can only guess Joey was down for a nap.

I looked up again just moments before Mom made one of the hardest decisions of her life. Get out, she said. I didn't understand what was happening, only that Dad was told to leave. Where he would go, I hadn't any idea.

I watched Dad make his way toward the sliding glass door with his head turned back towards Mom as he continued to exchange words with the woman he’d love forever. He slid open the door and stepped backwards onto the patio, stumbling slightly over the tracks as he reached for his old straw hat hanging on the wall inside. He couldn't leave without that hat. I watched as he slid the door shut, how he looked at Mom in disbelief through the dusty glass. It seemed like eternity but after a moment he turned away. With his head hanging to the ground, he made his way through the parking lot and I watched as he faded away into a painful memory I'd hold onto longer than any mother would hope.

I didn’t know it then, but he was really leaving. It was something I’d figure out as time went on, that he wasn’t coming back, and that love isn't as much about holding on as it is letting go.

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