Her dad was a gentle soul. He would come home from his quiet office to a rowdy house of girls. He had the same routine every night, and he never looked tired. He always hugged each of his three daughters as he made his way to the fridge. Then he opened a beer, turned on the television, loosened his blue tie, and sat calmly in the living room until dinner. She knew she could talk to him about anything, because she knew he loved her unconditionally. He rarely spoke, but when he did it was always meaningful and kind. He told the girls to dream, to be brave, and to love with their whole heart. He taught them to be like him.
As she grew up, she was shocked to find all men weren’t as gentle as her dad. She was raised to trust men, to love them, and to value what they said. So when she met Mike, she automatically gave him her whole heart; the full, unbroken treasure it was. Mike was reckless and wild, she knew that. Yet she also trusted he would treat her well and take care of her. She didn’t know how to detect a liar. She didn’t know that some flowers have snakes sleeping underneath their colourful petals. She didn’t know Mike would say things he didn’t mean, or do things he said he’d never do. When she talked to her dad on the phone she told him all about the kind things Mike said to her, all the presents he gave her, and the way he said “I love you.” Her dad was happy for his daughter, knowing she’d found a man who loved her like she deserved to be loved.
One day Mike came home from his busy workplace to the quiet home he shared with her. Something had happened at work, but he wouldn’t tell her what it was. He just stalked around the house, and snapped at little things she said. She asked him why he was mad at her, and she didn’t understand the way he twisted everything she said into something ugly that she didn’t mean. She stared, dizzy, at a piece of pasta that had fallen under the wood cabinets. It was a bow tie shape and she couldn’t remember when she’d made that kind last. The water on the stove had started to boil over, but she couldn’t bring herself to move toward it. She realized he was still yelling, so she tried again to ask him what was wrong. The more she asked, the angrier he got, until he reached out, grabbed the boiling pot of water on the stove, and threw it at her.
She screamed in pain as the red hot splash hit her bare feet, and cried as she realized he did it to her on purpose.
Mike immediately returned to the man she’d fallen in love with. He came to her full of apologies, tears, and paper towels. She shook with disbelief as he dabbed her burned feet with cold water. She looked down at him as he looked up at her, tears in his eyes. As she saw the regret in his face she began to think he might not have meant to hurt her. Why would a man who said he loved her want to cause her pain? She decided to accept his lengthy apology. Everyone was allowed a moment of anger, she figured, and Mike had given her so many more moments of happiness. Even though she was confused, she wanted to forget about that night.
That night turned into more nights like it. A broken plate, a door ripped off its hinges, a hole kicked through the drywall. She thought a man was supposed to be gentle with the women in his life, to value them like she valued them. The more time went on, the less she believed that look in his eye was regret. She wondered if it was really the look of a coward, a liar, a fraud. After the night Mike drank a bottle that wound up hitting her back, she knew she had to run. She pretended to accept his apology. She said she was going to get milk from the corner store. She took her purse, walked out the door, and left everything else behind. There was only one place she knew she would be safe again. There was only one person who she trusted anymore.
As her dad opened the door and saw his girl, he knew something was wrong. He welcomed her home, wrapped a blanket around her bare shoulders and watched her out of the corner of his eye while the game was on. She leaned into him and fell asleep in the glow of the television screen.
Over the next two days Mike called, came to the door, tried to get to her. Her gentle dad started to get stronger than he’d ever had to be. He changed the locks, drew the blinds, and distracted her with funny photo albums from her school plays. He knew his daughter needed him, just like she’d needed him to tie her first pair of running shoes.
Her dad said he was going to the store for coffee. He took a bag, got into his car, and promised he’d be back soon.
Just like always he kept his promise. He came home an hour later. Yet, it was the first time she could remember when her dad came home looking tired. So tired. His routine remained unchanged however. As always he hugged her as he made his way to the fridge, opened a beer, loosened his tie, and turned on the television. It was only as she was falling asleep safe and warm in her childhood room that she remembered what was different about her dad that night. He had hugged her a little tighter, he could only open his beer after three tries because his hands were shaking, and the old blue tie he loosed had blood on it.
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