Until I was about five years old, I fell asleep after the refrains of my father’s rage-filled voice ushered in what I figured to be equivalent to what all children heard. I simply could not rest my little head upon my pillow until my father slammed into the room I shared with my big sister and screamed, “GOD DAMMIT! GO TO BED!” All of the go-to-sleeps before that were appetizers, gentle reminders of what we knew was coming, the countdown to the I-mean-business yell. We talked and yelled and giggled like it was our job to push him to the brink of what his temper could hold, and his to lose it. It never occurred to us to actually turn in until my father slammed open the door, the knob fitting precisely into the hole in the sheetrock he created the thousand times it hit the wall, his elevated pulse visible through the outstretch of his neck.
The day I realized that our routine was less-than-normal was when he burst into our purple bedroom, inhaled a great breath, and I said it for him: “GOD DAMMIT! GO TO BED.” In my world, that meant, “Good night, sleep well, I love you.” But when my sister drew in a sharp breath and stared at me, understanding dawned on me. I had just cursed. To my father.
Tears quickly rose in my defense and in the way that only kids about to be in BIG TROUBLE can do, I uttered my misunderstanding and my apology in the time it took him to cross over to my bed. In his hastening retreat moments later, the full implications washed over me.
He was cursing at us?
I vowed to never, ever do that to my children, which was a fairy tale of another sort, an imaginary world where children went to sleep when you needed them to and your father’s rage never surfaced out of your very own mouth. Even though my father died when my children were young, they know exactly who their Grandpa is.
He is the me I swore never to be.
I couldn’t understand the man who lost the sense of fun in his adulthood. When he swore at the snowfall when he backed his burgundy Cutlas Supreme (oh, it was my father’s Oldsmobile) out of our driveway, I would pepper him with questions: Don’t you like snowballs? How about snowmen? Snowball fight? Snowforts? Sledding? Skiing? Snowmobiling? Hot chocolate? Don’t you at least think it’s pretty? No, no, no, no, no, no, no, and “in pictures.” It boggled the mind. What was not to like?
It wasn't like the man was always malcontent or unsmiling. He could tell a great joke, he had a way of lighting up a room, setting people at ease with a laugh. But it was fun on his level, at his behest. It was often in a way that I didn't understand, jokes too old for me, laughter that I was shushed out of the room for.
I know now. I hate the cold, and sliding down a mountain on skis holds no appeal. Skidding all over the road, jackass drivers who don’t respect the weather or take into account the fact that I have children in the back of my minivan prevent any kind of enjoyment. I hate to be bundled up, rushing from the heat of my car into the frost of the too bright outside, stomping my feet into gray slush trailed into the living room. The air biting my neck, my bones clenched tightly against the cold. Do I want my kid to throw a packed ball of snow and ice at me? No, no, no, no, no, no, no.
But I do like hot chocolate.
And I like to have fun. On my terms. It just usually involves margaritas and babysitters. I get it - a little. I wish I could tell him. I'd throw in some forgiveness too, while we were at it.
I wish I could tell him about this weekend. How I took his five year old granddaughter to her first sleepover party. Too young to stay over by herself, the moms were invited too. It was a girlfest of pink tablecloths, jelly beans, gourmet cupcakes, sparkling pink lemonade that the girls drank out of plastic pink Eiffel Towers. Anna tugged along her pink satiny Disney Princess sleeping bag and her special pillow. I took the two best pillows from my bed and bid farewell to my husband and son. We trudged down the stairs of my closest friend’s basement that she had transformed into Paris. Lights twinkled from the ceiling and lit up the sparkly Eiffel Tower that she made to decorate the wall. For as long as I’ve known Rachel, she has dreamed of going to Paris, the romance of the city beckoning her just this side of obsessively. She hasn’t made it there yet, but somewhere along the line, her daughter has inherited the same penchant for the European city. For Madison’s fifth birthday, Rachel brought Paris to her.
Our girls danced to the French music of the CD Rachel’s sisters had created for her bridal shower so many years back. They paraded in a fashion show in the dresses Rachel’s twin sister made for each girl, with matching hair clips (Eiffel Towers, obvi.) After Barbie’s Fashion Fairytale (where Barbie took over the Parisienne garment district), the girls settled down in their sleeping bags to sleep, while the moms gossiped over sangria and French macarons.
Except really, I’d been traveling the week before and was too full from pizza to feel like drinking wine. I was exhausted in the way only parents know after a vacation full of ocean waves, pool swimming, and hotel beds. My eyes would not stay up past eleven o’clock. That was the time I fell asleep nightly on the couch in front of Jon Stewart. I don’t sleep on floors. Rachel anticipated this and set up an air mattress for me where I put my two comfiest pillows. I excused myself and lay down to the gentle chatter of sleepy girls.
Except really, the girls weren’t sleepy at all. The sugar of the cupcakes and jelly beans, the excitement of Paris, the giggles of the other girls set off a chain reaction of laughter and rising voices, from whispers to shouts to getting out of sleeping bags to turning on the lights to jumping on my air mattress, my head flying up from the impact.
Rage bubbled from my insides, anger tightening every muscle. I screamed inside my head for them to SHUT UP and GO TO SLEEP, GOD DAMMIT. There he was. The father inside my body, the anger, the curse, always uninvited, ever present.
I said hello to him. And then quietly, I said “Good night, Daddy. Sleep well. I love you."
And then I let the five-year-old girl inside me out to play, and helped myself to a glass of wine in Paris.