“You are a whore, just like your mother!”
I stared as long as I dared at my father’s face, veins bulging on his formerly obese Irish-British-American face, the premature aging, the gray speckled hair, the vague scent of a bender the night before, this former Army drill sergeant who once served time in debtor’s prison, leaving his whore of a new Korean wife and her two bastard children in the middle of Louisville to fend for themselves.
With those words, my father turned off a light inside me. What neither of us realized at the time was that the light had already dimmed considerably before I turned 16.
I don’t even remember now what set him off and what shut me down. Maybe it was a boy, maybe Mark. “You’re whoring around with that faggot again, aren’t you?”
Maybe I broke after one too many beatings that would come out of nowhere and never end, that horrible day when he kept kicking me in the stomach because I shit in a shoebox in my closet instead of holding it in while he took his time in the only bathroom in the two-bedroom shit hole we lived in back then with his Hustler and his chain-smokes, earlier back on Juniper St. when he slapped me hard in the face in front of William, a boy I fell in love with…
I simply couldn’t take any more of his shit. All those years of trying to read his mind, of trying to be perfect, so he wouldn’t hurt me building and building to this moment.
Without thinking, I blurted, “Then, I want to live with my mom.”
At this, my dad erupted into a full-blown rage.
His entire face changed then. He got uglier, meaner, spraying the most hateful things at me, things no father should ever say to a daughter. But he did, because it was only me, I didn’t count, I deserved to be punished, I was a bad, bad person.
As I rushed to throw my clothes in a back, any bag, my dad — the only father figure I had ever known, and the father I would soon learn was never mine — shadowed me, calling me every name in the book, goading me in the worst way, in the most colorful language.
Then, this, “You want to live with your whore mom? Even that fucking Korean cunt doesn’t want you. Nobody wants you. GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY HOUSE! You’re a huge pain in the ass. You think she loves you? You’re a fucking retard…”
And on and on this went, until I grabbed the rest of what I could, picked up the phone (“Go on, call that whore, see what she says, she won’t want you either!”), hands trembling, dialing her number and half actually believing my dad was right, she won’t have any room for me, I’m going to be a burden, she’s going to say no, she’s going to say no, she’s going to say—
“What? You want to live with me? What happened??”
My mom took an awful long time to answer. Too long. Just when I thought she would hang up, forcing me to put up or shut up, I heard, “Okay, come over right now.”
I left and never looked back. My brother refused to go with me, fiercely protective of dad, naively believing that dad needed him. My dad would use my brother as a punching bag in the months remaining, taking out his thwarted rage on him.
I finished my senior year of high school living with her.
The next year, my dad died on the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, his birthday. My mom took care of his remains, his effects, and the mountain of unpaid bills. He left a worthless insurance policy, days shy of the next payment, a large pot of spaghetti sauce in the fridge, and a pile of broken memories.
He also left me his terrible legacy, a curse I spent my entire life trying to erase.