As I looked out the window I saw my dad walk away from me for the last time. He told me goodbye like there had never been a hello. I remember when I was eight, then twelve, fifteen, eighteen, and then twenty-one. Those ages have always stuck out to me. Each brought about life altering definitions of the control I allowed another being to have of my very soul. It was at each of those ages that I was faced with the harsh reality that choosing parents was never an option. I can count the number of times I wished that fact weren’t so, but the truth hurts. I have learned that even when it feels as though they may not love you – intentionally hurting you; it is actually self-love or misdirection that they lack in some way. Trying to love them as individuals and as human beings is the best thing, maybe the only thing, a person can do; even if it means watching them walk away.
When I Was Eight…
“Girl, come here!” my dad, Johnny Katerdac, yelled in his baritone voice. He stood at the base of the hallway with one hand against the wall holding up his drunken broad stature and a bottle of Jack in the other. Without hesitation, I quickly stopped what I was doing and ran to his call.
“Yes, sir?” I responded approaching him out of breath and startled by what his next command would be.
As his newly opened glass flask spilled large drops of liquor in my eye, he began yelling again, “Girl!” That’s usually all he called me even though my mother clearly named me Delia Katerdac. And so, I obliged his ‘special’ name for me. “Didn’t I tell you not to leave your toys on the front porch?!” I could barely focus as I felt the residue burn. And before I could answer, I felt the warm alcohol all over my face. Hurt and embarrassed, yet very familiar with expecting the worst, I stood there to take whatever was coming next. The next three hours being beaten, humiliated, and demeaned left me numb, yet somehow hopeful that things wouldn’t always be this way. When he’d finally used all his energy to leave bruises and wounds on my small, frail body, he walked away as if nothing happened.
They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I figured what didn't kill me, just didn't kill me.
When I Was Twelve…
My mother and dad divorced by the time I was nine. The many nights of watching my mother crawl into corners in fear of my dad’s tyrant attitude had finally come to an end. She became my custodial parent, but that mean my dad never came around. The years of his harassment had just begun. Between the ages of nine and twelve, my life became a roller coaster of emotions. Stable when I was with my mom, yet scared for my life whenever my dad would appear.
On my twelfth birthday after school, I waited outside in front of the school for my mother. It was early fall. I was wearing my first leather jacket my mother gave me that morning as a birthday gift. It was a pretty red and it made me feel pretty from the inside out. The day had gone better than I expected. I was happy it was my birthday like any other young girl would be. To my surprise, my dad pulled up in a new luxury vehicle he’d just purchased. Obviously excited and wanting to boast to me about his new toy, he got out and said, “Let your old pops take his baby girl for a ride on her birthday! We can get some ice cream or something. Your choice!” He seemed so excited; which was odd for him. I wanted to be excited with him. Heck, it was my birthday and my dad was proposing to do something for me. I obliged by needed to make arrangements first.
“Sure, but let me call my mom first to let her know you’re picking me up,” I replied. His face immediately switched from happy to disgust. “I just don’t want her coming to look for me and I’m not here,” I attempted to explain. .
By the large sigh he let out, I knew that wasn’t what he wanted to hear. “You don’t trust me or something? Why would you need to call her, huh?” he began. “I don’t get it?! I am your father! Cynthia doesn’t run me. You don’t have to call her to tell her I’m picking you up. You just get your stupid self in this car,” he demanded pointing to the passenger door. I was scared and wanted to move as he instructed in hopes of keeping him calm, but I couldn’t get my feet to follow through. I could see the muscles in his face getting tighter and his tone was no longer as chipper as when he’d first pulled up.
“But I don’t know if I should, dad. I don’t want her to come and then I’m not here. That’s all I’m saying,” I reluctantly responded. I actually didn’t want to go out of fear of what his growing anger may lead him to do. I had always been his punching bag. I didn’t think there was anything that would make my 12th birthday any different from any other birthday.
“I tell you what, you little shit of an ingrate,” he began as he walked over to me picking me up by my neck, ripping my new red leather jacket, and shaking me uncontrollably, “You and Cynt, can just go to hell. How dare you? Fuck you! Fuck her! And fuck your stupid birthday!” yelling while throwing me to the ground. Then like the change of the fall weather he quickly walked away, got in his car and sped off. As if that wasn’t enough, but somehow lucky for me, there were other kids around which may have been the only reason he stopped. I laid on the ground, bruised, but more hurt inside than anything else. Yet in the same emotion, somehow I was relieved that he walked away. But I knew, like history had proven he’d be back.
At least I had another birthday to look forward to.
When I Was Fifteen…
A few years and a few repetitive pleas of forgiveness later for his past behavior, my dad was diagnosed with lung cancer and it was progressing at a rapid rate. You would think being under that type of physical stress would change the average person and make them change their lives, but unfortunately the narcissist, known as my dad, was not average. I remained loyal. I remained as his little girl choosing to help look after him. I felt sorry for him. I felt compassion for him. I always felt my love would make his sick soul well. There was an afternoon when I’d gone by his hospital room to visit him while he was at one of his lowest points. When I arrived he immediately started in on me about showing up while the nurses were bathing him. It enraged him so that I was saw that way.
“How dare you show up without calling me, girl?! You have absolutely no right being here right now. You’re so stupid!”
Before I could even make it out of dodge, he threw a bowel-filled bed pan at me and continued to yell obscene language of disgust at me. His nurses helped clean me up; probably feeling bad for me.
“Are you ok, sweetie?” one asked me while I attempted to remove feces from my left cheek. Another stood behind me watching them and shaking her head in disbelief. I just shook my head up and down while my dad just walked out of the room; hospital gown wide open in the back; yelling and cursing his anger of the situation.
“Dumb bitch! Who the hell does she think she is coming up here?” he continued all the way down the hall.
“Mr. Katerdac, you don’t have to be so angry. You’ll just raise your blood pressure,” another nurse said following him out of the room.
“The hell I can’t! Who the hell let her up here anyway? Damn all of you!” he said shutting her up.
Clearly my strength was stacking itself high. Not sure I felt the muscle or not.
When I Was Eighteen…
By the time I graduated from high school, I had made the decision that I was not going to allow my dad to be a part of my life anymore. He had put me through enough abuse and shame. Beatings; shameful cursing in front of friends, neighbors and strangers alike. His abuse was not off limits anywhere for me. Somehow I was beginning to see that I was responsible for my own life. It was hard for my mom to protect me all the time and he surely wasn’t concerned about me. I’d made it through years of his abuse and finally my day of moving forward as a young adult had arrived. Johnny didn’t make it to my high school graduation. His reasoning was due to my mother making him mad a few days before. Sad but true.
To my surprise, three days after my graduation he showed up at my mother’s house to give me a graduation present. That was the last thing I expected to receive from him. Besides the ice cream he wanted to buy me for my twelfth birthday, I never knew what a present was from him. At that point, I should’ve been scared to accept anything from him; even an apology. When I turned five he refused to buy any gifts because he had bet all his money on a basketball game with one of his mechanic shop buddies. So this ‘grand stand’ was for sure shocking.
I opened the door surprised by a bouquet of red roses and a box wrapped perfectly. I took the gifts from him and placed them on the table next to the front door. My mom would have been very upset to know I let him in the house. I knew I could never tell her I’d let him in. She despised him. She just couldn’t shake the wrong he had imposed on her.
She always said to me, “Delia, your dad has nothing but hell in him. I used to think I was seeing something different, but I promise you don’t ever have to worry about me and that man getting back together.” And I believed her. When she finally left him, she was such a different mother. A better mother. I often wondered why she even let me around him, but I eventually understood that she still wanted us to have a good daughter-father relationship. She must’ve thought he could change. Maybe that’s why I let him in because I too just knew he had it in him to better to me than he had been.
I took another chance that day. Probably the wrong chance. “Ok, you can come in, but for no more than thirty minutes. I got something to do and momma comes home from work pretty soon,” I demanded as he walked in. I could smell his loud cologne. His attire was sharper than normal. Even his shoes seemed to have gotten a recent buffing. The one thing that hadn’t changed was his alcohol induced breath. It was the first thing that I noticed as he kissed me on the lips walking past me. I was stunned. I grabbed my lips as if they had just been stung. That was never how he greeted me. Ever.
“Hey, Delia,” he began heading for the living room couch. “Are you going to open your gift?”
“Delia? When you start calling me by my name?” I asked before I even realized I had questioned him.
He smirked. “I know, but I want things to change between us. So, Delia it is.” I almost wanted to smile or say thank you, but I didn’t want to jump the gun. “Go ahead, open your gift. I know you’re going to like it. I thought real hard and long on what to get it. The lady at the counter said it was perfect for a girl your age.”
Reluctantly, I slowly opened the gift; sliding the bow from around it, then gently pulling the tape from the seams. As I took the top off the box, my eyes, opened widely. It was a red leather jacket trimmed in rhinestones. It was so pretty, but it felt so wrong receiving it from him.
With his chest stuck out as far as he could make it, he said, “What do you think? Pretty snazzy, right? Better than that jacket your mom gave to you, huh?”
Trying to smile in acceptance, “It is nice, Johnny. It is.” I placed the box and jacket back down on the table next to the door and snapped back into reality. As I leaned against the living room wall, I continued, “You got a date or something? I mean, you’re looking rather sharp today, Johnny.”
“Don’t be smart now, girl. I just cleaned myself up a little bit today. That’s all.”
“If you say so,” I said shrugging my shoulders not really convinced.
“Come have a seat next to me. Let’s talk,” he said patting the seat next to him. I almost felt like the day he pulled up to my school. I wanted to get in that car, but I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. And in that same moment, I wanted to have a seat; my leg felt like lead, but somehow I mustered up the move to sitting on the opposite end of the couch with him. “I want you to know that your daddy is real proud of you,” grabbing my hand. I quickly pulled away from him. Dismissive of my resistance, he grabbed my hand again this time stroking it slowly as he continued to speak. “You know, graduating and all. Real proud I say.” Then he paused.
“Yeah, what happened to you coming? What went wrong? I looked for you.”
“Don’t focus on the past. Let’s look at the future, baby girl,” he responded. He looked at me waiting for a response, but I was started back thinking about the haunting kiss at the door. I held my lip trying to make sense of it. There was none to make though. “I know I haven’t always been the best dad. Heck some would say a little too hard on you sometimes, but it was all because I didn’t know how to express my love for you.” He slid down to my end of the couch until he was less than a few inches from my side. He began caressing my jaw line and smelling my hair. Then he put his arm around my waist and turned me face to face to shock me with the most disgusting script I’d ever heard.
Trying to forcefully move away from him, but unsuccessful. “Johnny, back up, now,” I demanded from him.
Ignoring my demand, he continued gripping more tightly, “If I could have just been able to say how in love with you I was…”
“In love? Johnny, be quiet. You don’t know what you’re saying right now.”
“…I may not have been so hard on you. I love you and have always seen something special in you.”
“Now you say you love me, huh?”
“Now you’re a grown woman; a fine one at that. You remind me of when I first saw Cynthia. She was cute. Slender. I remember her smile. Her touch. Oh, that touch, Delia.”
“You can’t be serious!” I proclaimed attempting to get far away from him.
“But I’m very serious. Now I can be more open about my feelings towards you. I know it may not seem normal to you at first, but I need you.” My eyes must have had a very profound statement in them because he immediately seemed to know he had crossed a forbidden line. I couldn’t believe my ears. He pulled me even closer to his body until our chests met.
“Johnny, you stop with that right now. That’s nonsense!” I began to yell to him. I was beginning to be more bold with my dislike of his actions, but he was about to shut me down once again. Without hesitation, he slapped me with his entire mite striking me to the floor after my face hit the side of the coffee table. Then he spit on me as I lay on the ground in pain and disgust for having even opened the door. Pinning me down, he spent the next fifteen or so minutes forcing me to perform fellatio on him. I was ashamed and felt like he had ripped the very soul from my body. He stole all the strength I had. Or all that I felt I had left inside of me. He took it all away. How he was able to consciously do that still baffles me, but some things are never to be known, I guess.
Before walking out the door to leave, he made a promise to me, “Just wait and see what will happen to you and your mom if you speak a word of this. I have no problem killing either of you, so just try it.” I held my head down in shame refusing to look him in the eye. I was still a virgin up until that point, but he left me feeling less than innocent, dirty, and unwanted. I believed he would kill us and to this day so I never said a word to her. As to degrade me further, he said one last statement to me before shutting the door behind him, “Be sure to wear that jacket I gave you, baby girl.” I slithered to the nearest corner, balled into myself and cried until it didn’t seem any other tears would flow from me that day.
It was a gift I never wanted.
When I Was Twenty-One…
It had been three years since I last spoke to my father. I think he knew what he had done was unforgiveable and I for sure was not revisiting anything that even vaguely reminded me of him. I was in my junior year of college and finally feeling like I was getting to some level of comfort with myself. I was getting closer to relinquishing the hurt of my past; forgiving. I thought my life was turning around. I was learning to accept that all the things my dad had done was because he was a sick man. He was not capable of seeking the good out of himself, let alone others. I wanted more than the ‘getting closer’ feeling. I wanted to completely let go. I was still holding on to all that I’d calculated as my dad’s abuse of me. Even after three years of his absence, he still had a hold on my life.
It was fall and the weather was quite crisp in the late night air. The air moved through the cracks of my apartment walls. It must have begun to wrap around my heart; creating a coldness. Just when you think you’re letting go of pain, the tremors can be even worse. I felt hard. I felt angry. I awakened from a nightmare reliving the horrible day my dad molested me. I was sweating from brow to brow and had only one thing on my mind: GET RID OF THE MAN THAT CONTINUES TO WALK OUT OF MY LIFE. That same night I drove to my dad’s house in search of answers; in search of an apology; in search of something from the man that I felt stole everything from me.
I hopped up from my bed, put on the sweat suit that lay on my bedroom floor, grabbed my car keys and fled out the apartment on a mission. At first I wasn’t sure where I was going, but as I drove, with my mind racing, I knew my next stop was to Johnny’s house. He was about to feel my wrath one way or another. I needed him to get the point; to repent; to plead for forgiveness; to apologize; to do something – something different than he’d ever done. I wanted him to simply hold himself accountable.
When I pulled up to his house, I honked my car horn in his driveway. The lights in the house immediately came on and I could see his growing, feeble, and aged silhouette from the window of his bedroom. He was looking out the window spotting my car in the driveway. Five minutes later, he came out in his robe with no pants on; just his sagging underwear. He stood on the porch. He looked like he was ready to give me a few choice words, but what was new?
“Get in the car,” I yelled standing half way out of the car. I felt brave, yet nervous, but nothing was changing my mind from why I drove to him in the first place. “Get in the car!” I could feel the adrenaline running through my veins as he began walking to the car.
“Quit all that damn honking, girl!” So, no more Delia. I was back to being known as ‘girl’. “It’s midnight for God’s sake!” he yelled back, waving his hands as he walked towards the car door. He reluctantly got in and sat in the passenger seat; all frowns. “What the hell you doing all this shit for? You trying to get someone killed?”
“No Johnny, I’m trying to get some answers," I replied fidgeting under my seat.
“Answers to what?”
“To whatever I ask. Some closure. I need to know why you continue to hurt me over and over again!” I cried at the top of my lungs. He just sat and looked forward out the window. He never looked me in the eye. “It’s been repeated nights, since I was eight, that I can remember just being scared of not waking up, daddy! And it’s all because of how you treated me. Even after you and mom split the pain seemed to grow stronger! I just want to know why you wanted me dead!”
“You’re exaggerating, girl. No one wanted you dead.”
“I wanted you to just say you loved me; that you cared even.” I continued as he remained stoned face and unchanged by my plea for understanding. “I know you hear me! Say something.” I wanted to punch him or choke him. I wanted to do something to make him just as uncomfortable or more than I’d been all my life. I wanted answers out of him. I was looking for some remorse for what he had done to me and I got nothing. I stopped my plea. I cleared my teary eyes and wiped my face. I gave up. Some things in life you just can’t change. I couldn’t change that Johnny was my father.
When I had gathered myself and he realized I was finished with my questions, he quietly got out of the car, raised his hand, and waved goodbye. He started towards the house still unconcerned about my needs. He was always able to walk away from doing me wrong. It infuriated me. It’s like he was always let off the hook. I was left with the scars; the hurt; the pain; the disconnect with life. To him my life meant nothing. To him I was invalid. He tried to take away everything I could ever be able to become. I couldn’t let him do it anymore. I reached under the driver’s seat and pulled out the gun that I’d gotten to keep for protection. Twenty-one years of Johnny and I’d finally learned I needed to protect myself. I did something I probably always wanted to do. I shot him.
And just like that. I changed his ability to keep having the same effect on my life. It was done.
I just couldn’t let him walk away from me ever again.