Learning To Be Cold

Short-listed Entry: Non-Fiction Category

By: Barbara Walker

I know it was either summer break from school or a Saturday, when my Dad packed his suitcase and left “our” home for good. I know this, because I am the one who watched him attempting to get in the house through the backyard. My father never came into the house through the backyard and never this early in the day. He never came home in time to eat dinner with my two brothers, two sisters and I. He, always, came home after 8:00 p.m. Maybe that’s why I went into high alert status.

Coming in through the back gate and backyard would give my father direct access to my mother and father’s bedroom door, that opened onto the backyard. I was in their bedroom, looking for a pair of scissors, when I saw my Dad through their big picture window. He was looking over his shoulder and practically tiptoeing across the yard. When he came through the door, I could tell that he was flustered, when he saw me. I have never heard my Dad stutter in my whole 8 years of existence.

“Uh, oh, ah, hi, Barbie. What are you doing in here?”

I studied his face, hoping I could decipher what he was not saying. “Hi, Dad. I’m just looking for a pair of scissors. How come you’re home from work so early?”

 Instead of answering my question, he went into my parent’s walk-in closet and brought out a suitcase.

“Are you going on a business trip, Dad? Where are you going this time? I asked.

My Dad began to open drawers, pulling out undershorts and socks. He was throwing them in the suitcase any which way. Now I knew something was wrong!

“Dad” was all that would come out of my mouth. When he didn’t say anything and wouldn’t look at me, I felt my stomach do what it would do when I rode on a roller coaster, but then, it was fun. This didn’t feel fun at all. I repeated the word, “Dad?”

He stopped throwing socks in the suitcase and looked at me. He said, “Barbie, I am moving out. Your Mother and I cannot get along”.

My heart felt like to was stuck in my throat. I began to cry, softly. “Are you getting a divorce”? I asked.

“Talk to your Mother,” he replied.

“Dad, I want to go with you. Please, let me come with you!” I pleaded.

He said, “No, no, you stay here with your brothers and sisters. You will see me, after I am settled.”

My crying was getting louder. “How long until I see you? I don’t want to wait. I want to come with you, now! Please, Dad!”

He, quickly, shoved the rest of his clothes in the suitcase. He glanced around the room, everywhere, except at me. He hurried to the backdoor.

I yelled, “Dad!”

Over his shoulder, he said, “I’ll call you, soon.” As he reached the gate and opened it, I screamed, “Dad, how can I live without you?”

Then, he shut the gate and was gone.

I laid down, on what had been both my parent’s bed. I cried and cried, until I couldn’t cry, anymore.

Many weeks went by. I was so afraid I would never see my Dad, again. I would ask my Mom, if she knew when he was going to call me. She always said that she didn’t know when, but he would call.

I was overjoyed, when the call, finally, came. He wanted my twin sister, my younger brother and I to come over Saturday evening, four endless days, later.

He would pick us up around 4:00 p.m.

When the time arrived, I was a chatterbox in the car, on the way to his new place. I told him of school and how much I missed him, barely giving my siblings a chance to talk.
Dad was quiet for most of the drive. Then, he said, “There is someone I want you to meet. Her name is Miriam and I want you to be nice to her. She is cooking our dinner tonight.”

Now, I was the one who was quiet. Who was this woman? The only woman that I wanted to see with my Dad, was my Mother. And what kind of name was Miriam, anyhow. It was just weird.

When we entered my Dad’s apartment, I watched him speak softly with Miriam. They turned toward us and Dad made the introductions. Miriam offered a coke to us.

What is wrong with her, I thought. Doesn’t she know kids drink milk? Besides, we were having tacos for dinner. Milk was perfect with tacos! Well, Dad will set her straight. But, he never said a word.

Dad told us to help set the table. As we were doing this task, Miriam began to put the dinner ingredients on the table. I was shocked to see a big bowl of shredded cheese. She didn’t even know how to make tacos. My Mom always melted the cheese in the tortillas. I glanced at my sister. She just shrugged. It was then, that I spilled my coke.

“Barbie!” my Dad admonished.

I was hurt, that he would yell at me, in front of this woman. It wasn’t like I had spilled it on purpose! This time with my Dad wasn’t anything, like I had imagined it would be.

Miriam said that it was okay, but I could tell that she was miffed. I was quiet the rest of the evening and was relieved when it was time to go home.

As my Dad drove, he acted that ‘fake jolly”, that parents do, when they don’t want too hear any talk they aren’t going to like. The kind that is supposed to make you feel like a jerk, to bring up anything negative. All I could think on the way home was that he must think I was stupid, if he thought I didn’t know that he had to be seeing Miriam before my parent’s split up.

As time went by, my visits lessened from every weekend to once a month, then less than that. It wasn’t that I wasn’t invited, but I felt they didn’t accept me for who I was. My being a tomboy had never bothered my Dad, before my parents split up. Now, I would get little comments, against my tomboy ways and I knew where they were originating-Miriam. She was a southern belle and firmly believed in girls wearing dresses, with shiny patent leather shoes. I always wore jeans, a beaded Indian belt, a tee shirt and ked sneakers.

She took me shopping once, buying a skirt and blouse for me. She thought she could transform me, but if I wanted transforming, I would have asked my Mom to buy a skirt and blouse for me.

On the way home from one of my rare visits, my Dad and I were having a disagreement about some issue. When we pulled up to my house, he asked if I was coming to visit the next weekend. I told him that I was busy.

As I opened the car door to get out, he said, “Whatever happened to that little girl, who said she couldn’t live without me”?

I was shocked, that he remembered my yelling that out to him, when he left our home, five years previously. My heart hurt, that he had heard me and left, anyway.

A part of me, wanted to throw my arms around him and say, “Right here, Dad”. I squashed down that part of me and as I got out of the car, I said, “Well, maybe she found out she could.”

I shut the car door and walked into the house.
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4 thoughts on “Learning To Be Cold

  1. I am reminded of the lighting of a candle to guide a child through life. This story exemplifies so well how much the paths through our childhood denotes who we become. Such is from where strength comes to all of us.

  2. Barb, I enjoyed your story. I know it is hard, even after many years, to write about ones own history. But it is said that the best writers are those who write about what they know best — themselves. Your story is like so many kids in our generation and since. Lots of us can relate to what you were feeling and what you went through. And as Holly says, we do get stronger when there is hardache and change in our family life. Keep us posted on how you do.

  3. Barb, Bill read it and loved the last line–as did I.He of course could not believe the way he broke the news to you. He is understanding the comment from me of the cold businessman he could be. Well done, sister!

  4. Pingback: Writing Competition Short Lists | pixelhose

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