By Virginia Carraway Stark
A Nightmare based on truth.
I was sitting in McDonald’s with my older brother who is now deceased and my younger brother who was grown up. My dad was sitting across from me on one of the bench seats and my older brother was sitting beside me while my little brother was in the corner beside my dad. We all had hamburgers and things in front of us but we weren’t eating except for my dad who was devouring several hamburgers, like Kronos eating his young.
His face was tender, his eyes were moist with concern but underneath it there was that same glint of cunning knowledge I have seen before. I was an adult but I didn’t feel like an adult in the dream. I felt like when I was very young and I had first learned that my parents’ marriage was over. It was like every word was being told to me for the first time. Each one a gut punch, a wrenching of all that I had known, the pain of knowing nothing was ever going to be the same, while being forced to accept what was happening to me. Kids don’t get to give their input into these things, they’re at their parent’s mercy, vulnerable, naked and in every way open to the woundings and injuries that parents can thoughtlessly dole out in the pursuit of their own apetites.
There was nothing thoughtless to my dad’s eyes as he sat kitty corner from me in the booth.
My little brother had an injured look to his eyes before my dad even spoke.
My dad wiped some ketchup from the side of his mouth and swallowed before speaking, “I wanted to bring you all here to talk to you about me and your mom.”
“What about mom?” Leonard, my older brother, asked edgily. His foot tapped out a staccato rhythm of nervousness on the central metal pole of our table.
“What about your mother?” Dad replied, he looked past Leonard’s head thoughtfully, gazing out at the view through the window behind us.
I didn’t say anything but poked at the ice slowing melting in my cola. I had taken the lid off the waxed up and was taking turns drowning one ice cube after another. I had a feeling of great sorrow as soon as he had said the words, ‘talk to you about me and your mom’.
It was no secret he and mom had been fighting. It hadn’t been a secret to anyone in a radius of them. It wasn’t a secret that dad was having sex with a female parishioner at our church. A woman who was another man’s wife. It was no secret that my dad was unrepentant and had been kicked out of the church, unlike the woman who had bent her head in shame and returned to her husband and the recriminations of her fellow parishioners.
I watched my dad while jabbing at the ice cubes. I felt sick to my stomach.
Leonard exploded. “What about mom?” He demanded.
“I’m real sorry to tell you this, but it’s over between me and her.”
“How can that be? Can’t you talk to each other?” I implored.
He shook his head and I saw the mock sorrow in his eyes as he lowered his head to take another bite of a fistful of french fries. “I’m sorry, sweetheart, it’s gone too far for that.”
“Can’t you say you’re sorry?” Leonard demanded. His voice was harsh, accusative. There was no doubt to him whose fault this all was. I myself was confused, the middle child, torn between the two parents. Old enough to see too much and too young to understand what I saw.
Frankie, my little brother was crying silent tears. He didn’t speak. His perspective was different from me or Leonard’s. Leonard saw our mother being torn apart by our dad, so did Frankie, but Frankie also saw the aftermath. I saw the ways our mother had let our dad down. The times she hadn’t been there for our dad. Daddy. How I loved him.
I picked up the slack every time my mother couldn’t handle the day to day duties of being a wife. Those days were more often than the days she could stir herself to life as she drowned in the pain of her childhood and the pain of the present. Married to a man who had decided to drive her mad so he could avoid paying her alimony; heartless and cruel he drove spikes between her and I with a glee I never saw in him until after her death.
But there, in the McDonalds in my dream, there was none of that knowledge. There was only the reality I was being presented with: Daddy said it was the end between him and mom and what Daddy said Ruled the World.
I hid my tears and viciously stabbed an ice cube. It hurt not to cry but tears were not acceptable. Tears, my dad had told me so many times, were a woman’s way to control men and were not permitted under any circumstances. The end of the world as I knew it was certainly no exception to allow me to weep.
“Aren’t you hungry?” He asked me roughly.
“No, I’ll save it for later,” I replied. Waste was not permitted any more than tears. My throat was filled with unshed tears and my words were rough.
“What about you?” He asked Leonard.
“Of course I’m not hungry!” He exclaimed. “You took us out to tell us you’re leaving mom. Our Mom. The only mother we’ll ever have and you’re cutting our family into pieces. Fuck you, I don’t want your hamburger. You don’t want us? Did it ever occur to you that we don’t want you? Ever think of that?”
“Watch your mouth,” dad said. His eyes glowed red and a whip licked from him and sliced Leonard’s shirt and cut his chest.
“I won’t. I won’t. You wreck everything! You always wreck everything! You take it all away!”
The whip came again, this time slicing Leonard’s cheek and neck. A flap of skin hung down from his face. I saw that he was crying as he screamed in agony.
“Stop it! You’re killing us!” Leonard screamed as the whip curled around his bicep. It pulled off his arm.
Frankie gagged and I turned away. What was Leonard thinking? Speaking out like this? I was horrified, my heart already felt pulled out of my chest and now Dad had brought forth the whip.
But Leonard didn’t stop, he kept on, losing blood out of his chest where his arm used to be. “You’re killing mom, you’re killing me, you’ve already killed our family and you brought us here, what? To have communion with you? To salute you for your destruction? What do you want us to do, dad? Bow at your feet for your noble choice to run away from all your promises, all your lies?”
The whip lashed out again and again, it tore at me as it went by. I flinched from the burning pain but it was the pain of the sundering of our family that I felt more than the very physical burning of dad’s powerful whip. I saw Frankie had received collateral damage on his face as well. He was openly weeping, in a quiet voice, he begged, “Daddy, please stop hurting us.”
Daddy replied with his glance falling on him, followed closely with a direct lash from the whip. I dared not look at Leonard, he was a bloody wreck and still he screamed. The whip fell again and again, pulling off his limbs one by one.
“Kill me! Just fucking kill me! I want to die! I don’t want to live!” He screamed out. It was a death knell. Dad nodded in satisfaction. A tube came down from the ceiling and sucked what remained of Leonard’s battered torso up it.
Still I didn’t cry. He whipped me, the whip curling around my arm and tearing at the skin of my shoulder socket. I remained silent my eyes surreptitiously seeing the glee shining in those eyes. My lack of reaction caused him to turn on Frankie. One arm missing and the opposite leg gone too, he too was soon crying, “I don’t want to live, Daddy, please, please! Have mercy on us Daddy! Don’t leave Mommy!”
The chute positioned over my little brother and my dad’s eyes, now openly wicked and excited, turned to me. My brother was about to be sucked up the chute, he cringed and I could see it exerting its pull on him. Frankie would soon be gone.
“What about you? Have you had enough yet?” He asked me with his glinting eyes.
I lifted my head and met his gaze. “Fuck you, Daddy.”
My ‘fuck you, Daddy’ face.
His eyes flared into a blaze of hatred but it was too late. I vanished from the table and into my bed. A grown up, those events so long ago past. Still, the burn of his whip anguished my skin. The bite of his words rent my heart.
Maybe a child never heals from divorce. The absolute sundering of all trust. The rending of the proof of love. The way a man can betray his wife and consume the potential of his children, handing it all to a ‘new’ wife and child is comparable only in mythological terms: Kronos eating his children, the betrayal of a man who cares more about his own future than the future of the family he’s built with a woman who trusted him with her heart. Scattered as a family to the wind and forced to watch as he devoted himself to an evil hag to the detriment of all that had come before.
It’s an underestimated trauma, the trauma of having a broken family. Still, it screams to be recognized. I know that I need to examine this great agony of the past because this was my dream last night.