Our drive from Des Moines to Long Island was flawless. I was almost shocked at how easy and fun it was, after our two almost-fatal encounters with truckers. Our ride, Harley, was a delightful man who, instead of leaving us off in Des Moines as we had planned, invited us to stick with him all the way to the end of his route. So we did, ending up in a town only a few miles from where we wanted to go.
He told us all about his enormous family, pointing out each person in the tiny photos on his dashboard, each one coming alive as he recanted their unique personalities and hilarious antics.
Since my folks lived on a narrow country lane, it would have been impossible for Harley to squeeze his giant truck through all the tree-lined roads to get there. So, sadly now, we parted ways at the Huntington train station.
Since we wanted our visit to be a surprise, we called a friend of my ma’s to see if she’d take us out there. She would, and did, and dropped us off at the corner of the long, curved driveway.
We walked up to find a cold, dark house. Only one car in the garage – my dad’s. What the heck?
We knocked on the front door. The back door, The side door. The kitchen door. No response. No one home. Where were they?
I found the hidden key and let us in. We deposited our belongings in what used to be my bedroom, now a nice guest room. When it was mine, they hadn’t finished the paint or the floor yet, so to see it now with a beautiful paint job on the walls and hardwood floor with a couple of beautiful Native American throw rugs was a real pleasure.
I called another of my ma’s friends, who told me my folks had gone on a last-minute trip to South America! To visit, among other typical tourist places, Machu Pichu! Which was weird, because my dad couldn’t handle heights. They were due home in a week.
So we rested and ate and rested and ate some more. We finally felt like we had solid ground under our feet again, and were warm and cosy and fed and safe from crazy drivers.
At last, enter The Parents.
Who were very definitely not pleased to see us. We both looked like ragged vagabonds with our hippy long hair, scruffy jeans, ratty turtle-neck jerseys and worn-out sweaters. But still, it woulda been nice to feel welcomed. I didn’t get it til years later how having your house and personal space intruded upon like that felt. I had no clue. I was 22 – still a babe, with zero street smarts.
T wanted to leave right away, saying he didn’t like feeling like an intruder. He was right – we were invading their space and it felt like crap to be there unwanted. But I wanted to visit, since it had been a couple years since I’d been able to. So we stayed.
Which finally turned out OK, even with the glitch one night I’ll never forget.
My dad was convinced that T only wanted me ‘for the sex.’ We had a huge blow out about it in the kitchen, Ma, Pa and me, standing right in each other’s faces yelling at top volume. This sort of confrontation had never, ever happened before.
T was smart, creeping out before it really got going, sneaking up into our room. I wished I could, too.
My dad ended up stomping out and up the stairs, slamming the bedroom door.
Five minutes later, we hear, “MOMMY! COME NOW!” from the top of the stairs.
You have to know that my dad was a big man. Not just in size, but in his presence. You absolutely knew it when he walked into a room, even without his saying a single word. Generally a quiet man, you listened when he spoke because he only said what was necessary. He never yelled. To hear him screaming for Ma like this was unthinkable.
My ma sprang to her feet to run up to see what happened, when he appeared at the kitchen door, the front of his pajamas covered in blood.
Pale as a sheet, he whispered, “I cut myself shaving…” and about fell over, obviously in shock.
My mother rushed him out of the room and back upstairs, me helping him stay upright, and leaving the instant they entered their room.
T and I were floored. What the hell? Shaving? At eleven o’clock at night? And why is there blood on his arms, but not his face…? It finally hit us – he had tried to cut his wrists!
We found out later he had already been grieving deeply over memories of WWII – he had no way of handling them safely or gracefully. Our visit, and his assumption that I was T’s ‘sex slave,’ threw him over the edge, after a long line of other upsets that got him closer and closer to losing it. He was so upset about us that he felt like he’d failed as a man and a parent. This was the final straw. In despair, he’d tried to end himself.
I couldn’t bear to be in the house one more second. I started to go out for a walk down to the beach, but opened the front door to find it was snowing. I came back in, got bundled up with warmer clothes and boots, and left quietly.
As I slowly snuffled along, dragging long tracks through the snow, the trees, their graceful limbs covered already in inches of new snow, were like silent sacred allies, dipping, reaching down to me, comforting my ragged nerves.
I sat myself down under the lone tree whose spreading branches guarded the beach parking lot, enjoying the solitude and hollow quiet of the snowfall.
Out of the blue, I heard my dad’s old 1947 Army Jeep winding down the road. I’m thinking, that’s weird, he never drives the Jeep! What the heck? And what’s he doing up and around after such a dramatic close call with death? Then I thought maybe it was my ma, coming to get me to help take him to the hospital. So I got up and turned to meet whoever it was stopping right next to me.
It was my dad.
He slowly climbed out of the Jeep, careful of his arms. I stood in place. I didn’t know if he was going to yell at me, berate me, beg me to stay, go, or what. I braced myself for the impact.
Imagine my surprise when he just strode in one huge step right up to me and wrapped his arms all the way around me, hugging me so close I felt like a five-year old again. Stiff and defensive at first, I felt my body relax and sink deeper into his warm furry polar jacket. We stood that way for such a long, sweet time.
We both pulled back a little to start to talk. Awkward! We started again, both at once, shy now, distancing, but still hugging. Laughing a little at the absurdity. And spontaneously bursting into tears, both of us, like dams had burst, great gushing waterfalls of tears and deep hauling breaths trying to get air and failing and crying some more.
“I’m so sorry, honey,” he wailed, “I’m so sorry! I’ve been so mean and so selfish, will you ever forgive me?”
At the same time, “I’m so sorry Pa, I’m so sorry! We invaded your home and ate all your food and now you want to be alone with Ma and here we are in your space…I’m so sorry! We’ll leave tomorrow….”
“You’ll do no such thing…”
Back and forth and back and forth, until It Was All Said. As we were still hugging. And crying. Both of us soaked with tears and drenched with fresh snow-fall on our heads and hands and shoulders, feet frozen to the hard pavement.
We hear another car, slowly pulling up next to us – my ma’s old station wagon, she and T coming to rescue us if we were stuck in the snow!
Pa and I just let go, looked at each other, and roared laughing. We’d rescued each other already!
As one, we bent over, picked up handsful of snow, formed them into snowballs, turned to Ma and T, and the fight began! Screaming and laughing and shrieking, emotions we’d all held for what felt like centuries released and flew into the air, free at last, evaporating in invisible streams.
In the air around us, a huge, heavy burden lifted. Like a black reverse phoenix, shrinking back into itself and disappearing. All of us sighed in relief. It had to be the best snow-fight I’d ever been in.
We cleaned off the snow-covered vehicles, climbed in and went home. Then, hot chocolate by the fire. No words, just peace.
A HARD-WON PEACE
text and image © Angela Treat Lyon 2023
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