It was my father’s weekend to have me. I waited in the foyer of the tiny ranch in Harrison Township, Michigan that I shared with my mom and our dog, dressed in my less-nice clothes — the older, slightly smaller, cheaper, and faded clothes I owned. Teddy, my prized fluffy white teddy bear that I had claimed from my mom’s Tupperware sales, sat on my comfortable and warm bed. Teddy never went with me; it wasn’t safe for him.
I kept my face expressionless but inside I was wailing. No one ever seemed to listen to my pleas for mercy. My stomach aches, cold sweats, and tears held zero power. My mother saw the agony I was in and in truth, suffered an agony of her own. She spent much of my youth in a cocoon of fear, fear of the man on his way to pick me up, to claim his time. I had to be the brave one, for both of us.
It might be easy to assume that I would have been used to these visitations. It was all I had truly ever known. I wasn’t. My parents divorced before any memory of them together could root itself in my mind. My mom had happily re-married and I was the center of her and my stepdad’s universe. My father had also remarried. He was Betty Lou’s fourth or fifth husband, I can’t quite remember which. My father’s wife was beautifully cruel, a mother to three boys, two who had grown into men and still one at home. That would be James, who was only four years my elder. In my immediate family, it wasn’t hard to notice that my father and I were the only ones with Asian blood running through our veins. Lots of changes, but they were so condensed into a short period of time that my normal became established quickly, even if it was ugly.
Up until my mom and stepdad wed, I took care of my mom and she took care of me. My parents divorced sometime between when I was two and three. Planned or unplanned, I arrived in their already unstable and unhealthy marriage July of 1985. In the end, both of them were likely thankful to have only created one child together. I never felt that way; it left me to face and fight most battles alone.
The night before I had laid in the dark, an ominous mood blanketing me — with only promises of nightmares awaiting. Sleep eluded and teased, leaving me with less patience than I’d needed, and a mind not quite as sharp as it could have been. By morning, my stomach had grown a pit already rotten with dread. An invisibly heavy parasitic monster nestled inside my chest as I dressed and prepared for the weekend. The anxiety that accompanied visitation at my father’s house took massive tolls on my body and mind.
It was just a typical every other early Saturday morning of my formative years when my father’s blue coupe pulled into our driveway. I was six trying to summon the strength and courage of a thirty-six-year-old. My stomach in knots, the tightness in my chest began to spread. Nervous energy that would bubble inside of me always overcame me, releasing the adrenaline I needed to thrust open the front door and rush out right away. Mom and I would say our goodbyes early so that I would not be delayed. I never wanted to risk being late. I did not want to give Larry Moy the opportunity to open his car door. It was safest if my two worlds did not crossover into one another.
My skills of reading, pretending, and imagining were sharpened during those weekend visits. Keeping busy meant time passed more quickly, so I never allowed my mind to rest. In a flourish, not looking back, I clutched my weekend bag and plopped myself down in the front seat next to my father. As he backed away from my home, I thought of my fluffy white teddy bear and said goodbye to that side of myself. It was time to be the other Missy.
The car ride from home to the house on Moriah Street in east Sterling Heights served as my time to put on my mask, to get fully into character. I expertly played the recurring role of “daughter-that-would-keep-Larry-happy.” My mask-wearing abilities worked well in other areas of my life as well, allowing me to adapt to my surroundings. Anyone that would take the time to look in from the outside would assume something different from what was really going on. I strove to hide behind my masks for many years. This took hard work to pretend so much, to have a life different than I actually lived; but it was how I managed to survive. It was a child’s way of compartmentalizing.
Something that likely helped me was the cultural shift, my white side of the family to my Chinese side of the family. At least with my father, his dark hair and freckles, no one would stop me and ask me what I was, unable to decipher my exact ethnic background. No one ever asked me if I was adopted when I was with my father. With Larry, people saw me belonging to him.
“What are we doing this weekend?” Now that my home was out of sight, I was intent to get completely into character. I anchored myself to the clicks of his turn signal.
“What does Missy want to do, huh?” He asked but I knew he didn’t want an answer.
I turned my attention back to the turn signal clicks. The meditation was short, but my stomach began to settle some. Please don’t let it be Gibraltar Trade Center again, my heart hoped. “Is Betty Lou working this weekend?” Please say yes, I pleaded inside. No matter how hard I had tried, I could not get my stepmother to like me. Perhaps she never forgave the three-year-old me for always wanting her to leave when she was dating my father. Maybe she resented my father’s preference for me over her son. It could have even been the fact that my father spent some of the coveted money she wished him to spend on her, on me. I’ll never know.
I was a child that preferred dress up, mood lipstick, painting my nails, tea parties, and letting my imagination run wild. It wasn’t always fun for me to go to the local trade center for the gun and knife show every other weekend. Larry’s idea of fun was ice fishing, making bullets in the basement, shooting clay pigeons at the range: nothing I found enjoyable. I just haven’t ever been an outdoorsy girl, even though I am the daughter of a true outdoorsman.
“She’s working today.” He kept his eyes on the road.
I couldn’t take not knowing, “Are we going to Gibraltar?”
“Sunday, why?” My father seemed surprised I even had to ask.
“Oh, just wondering, that’s all….” I paused, not wanting to sound like I was complaining. My mind searched for something, anything, to prove to him that I wasn’t complaining. “Can I play with the puppies if they have any there?”
“We’ll see; I’ve got to talk to a guy there.” I was disappointed by his answer, knowing it meant that we would not have time.
My father pulled into the parking lot of the local Perry Drugstore, where he purchased a money order and put it in the mail. This was our routine. He always used the same metal blue newspaper stand as his “desk.” The same woman helped us out and smiled at me from behind the counter each weekend visitation. Sometimes, she would tell me I was pretty or compliment me on my eyelashes. Her compliments would make me smile and lighten the heaviness of my weekend. Once my father was done at his “desk,” he would place the money order in an envelope, lick a stamp to adhere to the top right corner, and mail it before we would both get back in the car and head to his house. It took years before I figured out that he was mailing child support payments in front of me.
In the car, he would spread Vaseline over his hands and chew Wrigley’s Spearmint gum, throwing the white paper and silver wrapper out the car window.
“So, is your mother pregnant yet?” He would ask that every now and then.
“No, but I really want a baby brother or sister, so hopefully soon.” I sat next to him in the front seat, swinging my legs a bit to eat up the nervous energy I felt.
“You know, God is punishing her because she is evil. That’s why she can’t get pregnant.” I was speechless, afraid to speak in her defense. No amount of pretending could make it alright for me to agree with those cruel words, yet my six-year-old brain could not find the words to speak. I unwrapped myself a piece of my father’s gum and popped it into my mouth, chomping loudly. The gum heard my thoughts and feelings loud and clear. Talk radio played, the low voice announcing the weather and news, spearmint smacked around in my mouth, and soon enough our conversation came to a lull. It’s those gum chomping car rides that I blame for my nasty habit of non-ladylike gum chewing. I was happy to get out of the car when my father pulled into his garage. My warm mauve bedroom awaited and along with it, space away from Larry.
Another weekend was well underway with my father comfortable in his humble abode and me walking on eggshells concerned about keeping the peace and avoiding any form of drama. Having finished his favorite bass fishing show, Larry decided to make lunch. He whipped up his specialty of fried SPAM and microwaved ramen noodles. On the rare days when James, my stepbrother, wasn’t there it meant fast food wasn’t on the menu for lunch. This SPAM and ramen combination served as our shared staple meal, sometimes followed by a couple of fig newtons or chewy chocolate chip cookies. I sat at the kitchen table, as Larry finished up cooking, listening to the prerecorded phone line read off the movie titles and showtimes for our local theater.
“Here you go, Missy.” Larry placed the food on the counter for us to eat. I finished up my movie notes and climbed onto a stool, opposite my father. He used chopsticks and I, yet to master the tools, used a small fork. No plates, we ate right out of the containers the food was prepared in. “SPAM!” Larry’s eyes grew wide, “Hehe, I bet your mother doesn’t make you this.” He never referred to her as “Lori” or my “mom,” only ever, “your mother.”
“No,” I answered, “but I like it.” Didn’t want him thinking I was on her side, after all. That was always of utmost importance when visiting my father, convincing him I was on “his side” to keep him happy and his anger at bay.
Laughing, he said, “It’s cheap, that’s what it is. Cheap! You’re not worth expensive stuff, Missy.” He laughed again to himself. “I don’t want to spend all of my money on you. I’m poor, you know that?” I nodded my head because I knew he wanted me to. “Your mother took all of my money.” My father was not poor, in fact, since reaching adulthood.
We ate quickly. Larry cleaned up the kitchen as I read through the various movies and showtimes I had written down. I was glad that James was not there that weekend. I didn’t like having to compromise on my movie choices. Not to mention that James was always telling his mother that my father favored me over him and her hatred and jealousy of me didn’t need his encouragement.
My last visitation had included James’s preferred movie and the images of the woman’s breasts from Nowhere to Run were seared into my six-year-old brain, haunting my memories more than I had wanted. My mother had not been happy to hear of her young daughter being taken to an R-rated film. I wondered to myself as I recalled the movie, if my boobs would look like Rosanna Arquette’s someday. In fact, for years her breasts would be the ones I would compare my own to as they grew and developed.
“I found a movie I want to see.” I hoped to not only change the direction of the conversation but feed my mind something else to ponder.
“Which one?” My father plopped himself down onto his olive-green vomit colored velour recliner to watch the hunting and fishing channel again on cable TV. His dog, Mandy, cried at his feet. Sweet Mandy was an overweight black and brown beagle/lab mix made of love and cuddles. She was my only link to affection and comfort at my father’s house. She grounded me while I was there.
“Homeward Bound, it’s at 2:30.” My father cleared his throat as he called Mandy to come to him.
“Mandy! Ya dumb dog. You stupid, stupid, dog.” He petted her as he poured insults onto her soft fur in a sweet tone. “You know this dog is so dumb?” He looked at me. “She’ll let me do anything to her. Watch this.” My father then grabbed Mandy by the jaws, opened her mouth, and spit into it. He laughed to himself, shaking his head as Mandy swallowed his spit and wagged her tail for more attention from the owner she so loved. “Frickin’ dumb dog. She’s a retard.” Bored then with Mandy, he pushed her away with his foot. “Okay, we’ll leave in thirty minutes then. Just enough time for you to tell me about what’s new.” He patted his lap, indicating that I was to sit there. No, I thought he forgot! My heart sank realizing I hadn’t avoided this ritual of our weekend visits.
I hated sitting on his lap. It made me uncomfortable for several reasons. Sometimes, I was just uncomfortable being that close to him. Other times, I worried about how heavy I was and if he was going to belittle me and warn me of becoming fat like my mother. I was a skinny little girl, but that didn’t seem to matter to him. I never liked how hard he squeezed me between his hands as he lifted me up and placed me on his lap; sometimes it made my nipples hurt.
“Come on Missy, tell me what’s new.” Thud, there I was, on his lap, the last place I had wanted to be. His skinny legs felt hard and awkward underneath me. I tried to covertly scoot myself down a bit so that I could lean over most of the time to pet Mandy and shift my weight onto my feet as much as possible. Mandy made me feel better and happily provided distractions, my best attempt at an escape.
Our recliner conversations usually included what happened over the last two weeks since I had seen him. We never talked over those two weeks. That fact was almost always brought up. He often told me I should call him between visitations. Never did I have the guts to ask him why he just didn’t call me. Surely, the phone could work both ways. Larry assumed my lack of phone pursuit was my mother’s fault, and I let her take the blame. He didn’t realize that when it was between visits, I would sometimes pretend he didn’t even exist. For extracurricular activities my mom would let me use my stepdad’s last name, Melissa Labudde. I could pretend we were just a family, without my father. This chair lap visit I was determined to avoid the typical conversation.
“Dad, why do you have freckles?” I liked his freckles and hoped for some of my own.
“These brown spots on my face?” I nodded my head. “They’re not freckles, they’re scars.” He paused for dramatic effect. “They’re all the places your mother stabbed me in the face with a needle.” Luckily, naïve as I may have been about other things, I knew that was not where his freckles came from. Yet again, my father showed me that his first priority was showing off the ways he could hurt my mother. It mattered more to him than nurturing the relationship with his only daughter.
For the rest of our time talking, I told my father about school. He always had questions about my family, asking about how my mother was so that he could find some way to criticize or insult her. He would occasionally inquire about my grandparents, and sometimes even extended family members, like my cousin — his godson.
After whatever activities we found for entertainment that day, time would lead to the evening, Betty Lou’s arrival home. Noticing the time on the VCR, I hid myself away in my bedroom. My stepmother fascinated me. She was pretty and, as a beautician, she knew just how to style her hair and how to apply her makeup. I wanted her to teach me, though she was always too busy for that. My stepmother also frightened me. I could never tell which version of her I would get, the one that longed for a daughter or the one that saw another female as competition. I learned to avoid her at all costs.
“Larry!” Betty Lou’s high-pitched voice rang through the house. “Where are we going for dinner? Ugh, my feet.” By the sounds of her voice through her gum-smacking pops, it sounded like she was headed to their bedroom.
Gathering the courage to show myself, so that I wouldn’t be hunted out, I approached the open doorway to the master bedroom. “Hi, Betty Lou…how was work?” She was removing her big hoop gold earrings and her bright red lips smiled at me.
“Oh, you know, it was long. What did you and Larry do today? Movies?” She asked, as if she couldn’t already guess.
“Um, yeah,” I took a deep breath because I had to ask again. “I still can’t find my favorite movie, The Parent Trap. Do you know where it is?’ Now I had her full attention. We hadn’t talked about it but we both knew I knew she had the VHS.
“Look, like I told Larry, it is not healthy to watch the same movie over and over again. Are you obsessed with it? It’s just going to put silly ideas in your head. I mean, what, are you thinking you can get your parents back together again like those girls do in the movie? Nope, you’re not getting it back.”
Betty Lou didn’t realize. That’s not at all what I loved about the movie. I loved the dancing, the music, and the sisterhood. That’s what I longed for, my own Haley Mills twin, or someone to be in this with me, to be a best friend, to help me through it all. I didn’t want to feel alone anymore.
Times spent at my father’s house were lonely, hard. After our conversation, I sulked back to my sanctuary. I knew I needed to feel connected to someone. I called my mom, secretly, on my bedroom phone. I knew if I talked to her, I would burst out into tears that I didn’t want to have to explain to anyone. Once she would answer, I would quickly hang up. Then, after I had hung up, that’s when I would let myself cry into my pillow.
I grabbed my phone, pressed in each number carefully, then played with the cord as I listened to it ring. Dad answered. My stepdad, the man who actually acted like my dad.
“Hello?” His voice actually sounded bright to me.
Silence. My heart was racing, and I wanted to say something. My stepdad was my protector. Hearing his voice on the other end of the line made my heart yearn for the protection that was so close, but so far away.
My stepdad treated me like his little princess. He made me feel important. When family would tease that he married my mom just so he could be my dad, I believed it. We never missed a daddy-daughter dance. He loved to show me off. Everyone in Chris Labudde’s life knew who I was, and how my happiness was his top priority. As an usher at church, he was charmed by my sweet requests for the paper after mass. On their second date, I asked my mom if her handsome date, Chris, was going to be my new daddy. Quite the fortune teller I turned out to be. Five years old, dressed in a pretty white flower girl dress, I danced with my new dad to “The Wind Beneath My Wings” and knew that my life was going to be getting a whole lot better.
Eventually, on the weekends Larry had visitations, I got smart enough to start inviting friends over or requesting to go over to a friend’s or relative’s house. When friends weren’t a viable option or my relatives unavailable, I sought to lose myself in movies. My weekend visits with my father almost always included a stop at Blockbuster or the video rental section of Meijer. I didn’t go for your typical kids’ movies; something always seemed to pull at me in period films. Historical dramas became my every other weekend niche. I engrossed myself in the movies I watched, escaping from my own reality into them.
Late one summer evening, after falling asleep to the sound of cricket chirps, I found myself abruptly awoken as my bedroom door was thrust open. It was my father. “You left the damn VCR on!” Before I was even able to respond, he grabbed the pillow my head was resting upon from underneath me and pressed firmly down on top of my face. My mind was so shocked by what was happening that I could not even afford a feeling or thought. It probably wasn’t a whole minute, only mere seconds, but the moment has branded itself as much longer in my memory. When my father felt my punishment had been enough, he released the pressure on the pillow, walked out, and slammed the bedroom door shut behind him.
Finally, able to feel again, breathe again, I allowed myself silent tears. Squeezing my glow worm for comfort, I shimmied my eight-year-old body down so that my entire head was underneath the comforter. That night, I chose to sleep without a pillow. The next morning, my father acted as if nothing had happened and so, out of fear more than anything else, I did, too.
I think that is where and how Betty Lou and I did finally connect. She didn’t just understand survival in the orbit of my father, she knew them, she lived them. Maybe that’s why she got us matching pink sweatshirts. Together, we spent hours in the kitchen with jewels, puff paint, and laughter. We made the prettiest and tackiest sweatshirts together. Crafting was something that brought us both an escape. There is a quilt out there in the world somewhere, if she still has it, we both labored hours away on, taking years to complete. My stepmother taught met to sew so that we could make that quilt together. Stitch by stitch, we made it by hand on vacations, every other weekend, and we would both get lost in it. We could escape into the stitches, lose ourselves. There were plenty of moments where I think we were both longing to not be found.
The years of every other weekends spent in the company of my father started to bring me to a breaking point. In fifth grade at Ojibwa Elementary, I began spending more and more time in my guidance counselor’s office. It was a new school for me, my family having moved to Macomb Township. A new school meant a new start, and a new counselor to talk with regularly. Not that my mother hadn’t had me in and out of counseling before that, and long after. It’s just that most counselors I talked to would merely agree with whatever I said and affirmed my own analysis of myself. I figured it was a waste of time. It was the same with this guidance counselor, so I used her like the others, as just someone to vent my frustrations to, other than my dear Teddy.
“When he picks you up, he places his hands where again? Show me, dear.” The guidance counselor sat across from me, legs crossed in her dimly lit office. I indicated my budding breasts. “Mmmhmm.” After taking more notes, she probed me some more: “Tell me again about the baths.”
“Um, well,” I pulled my gaze up from the floor, trying to make eye contact. “I mean, even though I’m getting older and stuff, I mean, I told my father that I am not going to drown in the tub. But, you know, it’s just that, he still, like, he makes me take baths with the bathroom door open. It makes me really uncomfortable.” The counselor nodded, indicating some form of encouragement and support. “But that was in the past, because now I just don’t take baths there anymore. I just take one before I go and then when I get back home.” More notes.
I didn’t really like the conversation, but I did like the comfort of the attention, the care. It was so nice to have someone listen to me, unjudging, just caring. My feet kicked back and forth as I watched her hand feverishly take notes and her head look up to smile at me now and then. Her smile looked so caring, so heartfelt. “And, was there ever anything else, sweetheart, that made you uncomfortable ever in, you know, that way?” She leaned forward desperate for my reply.
“Sometimes,” I began after a deep breath, “I make the mistake of asking my father what he thinks I should wear, or what the weather is like so that I know how to dress and stuff.” This time she smiled as she nodded, knowingly almost, as if she asked people those same things all the time. “The answer he has is always the same, ‘Just walk around naked’ or sometimes, ‘Just go naked,’ and then he’ll laugh. It makes me feel…” I shivered, “dirty.” My father has never been known to recognize, let alone respect, boundaries.
As a mandatory reporter, my elementary school guidance counselor sprang into action and got Child Protective Services involved. I soon found myself in the Sterling Heights Police Department explaining the situation to a couple of officers and a social worker. They did not find anything inappropriate in what I had shared with my over-eager school counselor, feeling that my mother must have influenced my interpretation of what were just “innocent events.” According to the law and society, it is just fine to harass or talk crudely to your child, so long as you do not cross the line into abuse. My father had not sexually abused me, he had merely been an insensitive jerk. Contrary to whatever my father had convinced himself, my mother had actually defended him, claiming that she did not believe he would do anything sexually inappropriate with or to me. Nothing, though, would calm the fire of anger that the entire experience had set aflame inside of my father. All visits after the investigation were beyond brutal at my father’s house.
My betrayal seemed to empower Betty Lou with a surge of entitlement to twist her tongue and throw knives. “I know exactly what you need — a good beating. Some bruises and you would remember to keep your damn mouth shut.” Betty Lou’s boiling blood boiled my own. At ten years old, it never occurred to me that some of my actions could have unintended consequences for which she was also paying the price. I had hurt Larry. Larry then hurt Betty Lou. Betty Lou hurt me. Larry also then hurt me, or rather, continued to hurt me. We were all being punished in a festival of hurt because of Larry’s actions, his issues. At least with Betty Lou, just like her beauty and love, her threats had no follow-through and were more flair than substance. With my father, things weren’t quite so simple.
I was reminded as often as possible how worthless I was and of all the pain and suffering I had caused them. Being the intelligent man that he is, my father didn’t just attack me, that was never enough. “It’s all that damn hippo’s fault, your mother put this shit in your head, you know that? You’ve been brainwashed.”
I began to quickly forget what his regular voice sounded like. If he was not yelling, he was scolding or at the very least, condescending. Body shaming is an easy low-blow and juvenile way to attack someone, so naturally, it was his first go-to. “You’re going to be ugly and fat, just like your mother. Drink some SlimFast or something.” While I may carry a curvy figure today, I was a thin child. As much as I hate to admit it, feeling pretty at times can still seem like an unobtainable pipe dream.
I sat, one weekend visit after all dust had supposedly settled from the sexual investigation, on the couch in my father’s living room. My breath I held in hope of a piece of peace. The sun was shining, but there was no light in that room. It was dark and angry with just Larry, his vengeance, and I. He was explaining to me how awful a daughter and person I had become. “You’re such a disappointment, you know that?” He seemed to spit something irritating away. “You’re poison to me; you’re actual poison to me.” He paused in thought as he paced between the family room and foyer for a minute. “My life would just be so much better if you had never been born.” His eyes bored into me, as if he could wish me dead. “Do you know what I hope?”
I shook my head and wiped the spit that had flown from his mouth to my cheek as he stood over me screaming. Inside of myself, I retreated a bit, placing over my heart a shield of numbness. No tears, I would not allow myself to shed a single tear.
“I hope you get married and then you get divorced so that you can see what it’s like.” His finger stuck out pointing directly at my heart, his intended target.
I got up and headed into the kitchen in search of an escape, some kind of comfort, and found it in the form of a cookie. I hoped it would sweeten the bitterness of the moment. My skin could only be so thick, my imaginary heart shield could only take so much. I would not allow myself to break in front of my father. I had to be strong. He wasn’t done talking to me, and I knew it. I sat on the kitchen floor petting Mandy, bracing myself.
“Although, I don’t know if anyone would ever marry you because you are impossible to love: no one could ever love you.” There it was. The knife. He planted his words deep into the cavity of my chest, cutting through my thick skin, shattering the shield over my heart. The sharpest knife to ever cut me now embedded within me, maybe never again to be removed.
“I’m dying. If things don’t change, I may not die on the outside, but on the inside — I will die.” Those were the words I spoke to the court referee in her office. My words were true. It was just the two of us. She had requested a private interview with me. I was so nervous, just eleven years old and in sixth grade at the time. I had petitioned the court to terminate visitation with my father. It had taken me begging my mom to do it, but she agreed. How could she not after the fiasco that occurred the year before with the school accusing Larry of sexual abuse? There had never been a recovery. Now she, my grandmother, and our attorney were sitting outside of the court referee’s office. I crossed my ankles, folded my hands into my lap, and sat up straight like a lady, just like all of the princesses in the movies I loved to watch did.
I didn’t cry but I also didn’t smile. Instead, I desperately tried to read the referee across from me. I wondered about what she would need to hear me say, what I would need to prove to her, and how I would need to prove it. Afraid my savvy wasn’t cutting it, I got desperate and offered a compromise. “It might be better,” I began slowly, still trying to read her reaction, “if maybe, visitation was like supervised or something.” It was my back-up plan. I held my breath not knowing if I had just ruined or solved it all. I was unwilling to leave without a hope of some sort of movement toward a solution that might help to keep my father on his best behavior. I was old enough to know he was good at putting on a show. At least supervised visitations would mean no overnight visitations. I told myself that if I had to, I could endure day visits.
“Is there someone you had in mind to supervise?” The referee took some notes as she waited for my reply.
“Yes, my Aunt Kathy.” I hadn’t spoken to my aunt about this ahead of time, but I trusted her. I trusted her love and I trusted her protection. “She’s my Uncle Pete’s wife, my father’s brother’s wife.” The referee hadn’t asked for an explanation, but I offered it anyway, hoping that knowing my aunt was from my father’s side of the family would make the idea more appealing. After that, the referee didn’t ask me much else. She smiled and dismissed me. I was to wait as she met with my mother, Larry, Betty Lou, and their attorneys. My stomach did gymnastics as my white knuckles gripped the edges of the wooden bench of the courthouse where I awaited their return. Grandma waited beside me in silence. We were both too anxious to speak. We just sat there. I clung to hope, she clung to her rosary.
As I sat there in limbo, I wondered what the court referee could be thinking. Before her sat my father, who pursued vengeance for a broken heart with such passion that nothing took priority over hurting my mother. Then there was my mother, afraid of her ex-husband so much that she was called a fool by everyone for walking away with next to nothing after their divorce. Me, well I was just collateral damage in the aftermath of a bitter and broken marriage between two people who failed to find happiness within themselves and one another. What would this woman who held so much power over my happiness and truly, my survival, do? The thought cycled through my mind obsessively.
My mother told me the meeting was intense. She said the judge asked my father a few questions, but he couldn’t answer any of them. Apparently, they were quite difficult questions like, how old I was, when my birthday was; things way too difficult for a father to remember about his only child. When she told me, I acted happy but in truth, having further affirmation of his disinterest sunk my heart a bit.
I called my stepdad collect from the payphone at the restaurant where my grandma, mom, and I went out to lunch after court. My excitement could not be contained. Waiting until we got home was not an option. I made an excuse to my mom and grandma that I had to go to the bathroom. Instead, I dialed home to talk to my real dad. The man who didn’t just know my birthday but who looked forward to it each and every year. I just had to tell him.
“Dad!” I could barely keep from screaming and crying at the same time. “We did it! Supervised visitation! Larry has to go to counseling with me but we both know how long that will last. I’m free!” I spoke so fast; everything just came pouring out of my elated mouth. I did feel free, finally free of the affliction of pain, or at least, that’s what I believed. We decided to talk more when mom and I got home. My smile was a mile wide by the time I reached the table. I expected my mom to be a little upset about the collect call home, but I didn’t even care. Mom and Grandma forgave my little scheme for nothing could pop our happy bubble of long-awaited reprise.
My father, Aunt Kathy, and I wound up having one very awkward supervised visitation. One. That’s right, just one. Larry did not hesitate to express how annoyed he was by the inconvenience of it all. We did each do one or two separate counseling sessions with the same counselor. It quickly became too much work, too much trouble for my father. It wasn’t worth it to him. He gave up on me. He let me go. And I began to discover a strength within myself that would prove to be one of the greatest gifts, thanks to my father, Larry.
Melissa Moy is a metro Detroit native and resident, and spends her days reading and writing with tweens teaching middle school English. Alongside her son, she cuddles cats and chihuahuas and advocates for Eosinophilic Esophagitis research and awareness. She recently earned her M.F.A. in Writing from Lindenwood University where she served as an editorial assistant for the The Lindenwood Review and is preparing to birth a great work.