Pieces of Broken Vodka Bottles

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10/31/2020 3:57:18 PM
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My name is Jenn, I am a writer based in Washington D.C. and I curated a blog called Your Friendly Feminist. Feel free to check out the blog and my writing. I rapidly respond to email- so feel free to message also.
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For Dad. I forgive you but when you remember—talk to mom.

 

I am writing on a desk I found in a dumpster; sitting in a chair that was also found there weeks prior. My father taught me how to dumpster dive when I was a young child in search of food, sellable items, or tossed out treasures. First, I look around for people watching (I don’t want people to see), then I look over the dumpster to see what looks appetizing before deciding whether the effort of getting into the dumpster is worth it. My hands are smaller and my strength is less—it’s best that I stay look out while he digs.

 

He teaches me the way to survive, to find work (even as a child), to endure, and to fight back when the threat of erasure presents itself.

 

“Sit down,” the doctor speaks in a low, concerned tone in an attempt to hide the bad verdict of my father’s check-up.

 

He continues after I sit down, “Your father has suffered brain trauma eliminating most if not all of his memory. He will regain basic functions of his body but his memory is of concern.”

 

I sit with this a moment.

 

---

 

Dad was cleaning his room after a drunken incident when I nervously entered. It was not uncommon that mom would ask me to request money from dad. I was daddy’s little girl and he was less likely to get angry at me. He didn’t look up when I went in.

 

“Dad,” I said after hesitating for a moment.


“Yeah,” he responded.

 

“Do you think I could have some money to go on a date tonight?” I asked quickly.

 

I can see him look up at the 17-year old memory of myself before responding, “A date? Sit down.”

 

I sat down before replying, “Yeah, I have a date tonight and I was wondering if I could have some money for dinner.”

 

“Well, who is it with?” He asked knowing I had never been on a date.

 

He seemed a lot taller to me from the seated position so I took my chances and stood up to face him. I could hear the panic rolling around in my mind straining for words to deflect the conversation.

 

“It is, it is with, it is with a girl,” I slowly rolled out the words adding a hand gesture to force the sentence into the air. I wondered how much “daddy’s little girl” would protect me from homophobia.

 

He smiled as if a memory of something came to mind before handing me twenty dollars.

 

“Have a good date,” he offered before turning back to pick up empty vodka bottles.

 

---

 

“Sit Down!” My father yelled as I moved away quickly determined not to feel his belt of discipline. I cannot recall what I had done but I must have deserved it. I knew better than to act out of line in his presence.

 

The tone of his voice rings in my ears today.

 

I ran down the hallway to the sound of him counting how many times he snapped his belt. The more snaps meant the more belt beatings I would receive. I cringed at the number of snaps as I ran further away from him.

 

I swung at him with, “I didn’t do anything” before realizing that I was trapped in a room with only one exit. The exit leading to a hallway that he was coming down.

 

Snap. Snap. Snap. Snap. Snap. Snap.

 

I was at 6 belt spankings before he entered the room. He must have been snapping slow because he didn’t want to hurt me that much.

 

“Sit Down,” he said sternly pointing at a kid’s chair resting in the corner. I sat quickly—this would be over soon I thought as I closed my eyes in preparation.

 

I heard one more snap before he paused in front of me. He had not hit me with it yet, I opened my eyes and stood up.

 

“No” I responded in defiance. “No more belts for us, dad” I said with tears of pain rolling down my face.

 

He looked me directly in the eyes and never used the belt on us again.

 

---

 

The shards of glass were hard to get off the floor without a broom and dust pan. I was thinking this to myself as I sat down to pick them up off the ground with my bare hand. I often found splintered bits with my bare heel as I walked around the house. They served as pointy reminders of the night prior. It was cheaper to put wooden boards in the windows as supplements for the broken glass ones. A wooden window prevented people from looking in and only offered the threat of falling on a person. It would not break into pieces if something was thrown at it and it would not slash the skin if it broke. It didn’t keep the cold out but it was a comfort knowing that the cold inside would be less abrasive. After first break—I never reinstalled glass.

 

---

 

Poverty was already a struggle for my family when the need to grieve my sister arose. My father drank away his feelings, my mother hid away in the darkness, and my brother looked for someone to raise him. My father’s suppression of feelings influenced him to establish control through the creation of an environment where he felt powerful. It was his fear of losing our respect that forced him to demand it from us. This led us to remember his disrespect but recollect him nonetheless.

 

I hid the fear of a violent erasure within my body and set my eyes on something more for my brother. I knew that I wanted to control my narrative and in public—I did. In private, I watched my father hit my mother, punch walls, bury food in the yard, or store it on the roof where it molded. My family dynamics, rotting under the roof and within the walls, consisted of me searching through scattered thoughts for a means to get out.

 

My father taught me how to dumpster dive when I was a young child in search of food, sellable items, or tossed out treasures. First, I look around for people watching (I don’t want people to see), then I look over the dumpster to see what looks appetizing before deciding whether the effort in getting into the dumpster is worth it. My hands are smaller and my strength is less—it’s best that I stay look out while he digs. He teaches me the way to survive, to find work (even as a child), to endure, and to fight back when the threat of erasure presents itself.

 

---

           

The fear of what was to come of my mother and brother lingered over my acceptance into university. I had applied to universities outside the reach of my father but my brother still had to attend school. I was in my room studying with my cd player on loud when I heard my fathers’ slurred voice radiate the walls with its presence. I turned up the volume.

 

The sound of slams in the hallway sounded overly agitated this time and I looked away from my book. I turned my ear over my shoulder and closed my eyes to focus my hearing on what was outside the closed door. If I turned down my music then he would know that I was listening to him, acknowledging his power, and he would be more adamant on placing himself in the center of my time.

 

He was yelling at me from down the hallway. My name rung through the walls and I stood up immediately. The closed door acting as my guard stalled him only seconds and I had a short moment to ground myself.

 

“Why the fuck did you not answer me?” He yelled close enough to my face that I could smell the Vodka.

 

My door was my guard against the physical and I only had moments to react to the verbal demands.

 

“I was studying with my music,” I said with a little too much firmness.

 

“Oh, so you’re being smart like your mother,” he breathed out in a sinister tone.

 

He turned to exit my room and I knew he was about to go towards my mothers’ single hinged door. I was small enough to get around him and block his way. I did know that in doing this, I prevented his path to the hallway where I could hear my mom shuffling around to get her door open.

 

We stood eye to eye. My eyes, glaring back at me triggered a memory of a time prior.

 

“Get out of the way,” he said getting impatient.

 

“No,” I said in a firmer tone.

 

He began to raise his hand forcing me to walk me backwards toward the door. I didn’t deter my eyes from his.

 

“Do it and I will call the cops,” I said.

 

In a quick moment his arm raised fully and I stared into my eyes.

 

“No,” I said one more time. He looked at me while holding his hand in the air. I searched for a glimpse of his humanity. I watched sweat drip from his nose that was mine as his closed fist fell from the air and not onto my skin.

 

He yielded.

 

---

           

I didn’t know what a faggot was but it didn’t sound like a good thing when I heard my parents arguing about it at each other. My mom said that my dad just told her he was a “faggot” and I spent the night wondering what it meant.

 

I asked some close friends at school and they told me it meant homosexual.

 

“Okay, but what is a homosexual?” I asked.

 

“A person who, you know, wants to be with someone who is the same sex as they are,” my friend responded with as straight a face she could hold.

 

Each term was spoken in such a negative tone and I didn’t like either of them.

 

I also refrained from telling my mom that I was a faggot, homosexual, gay because my dad got there first.

 

---

 

The loudness of my father replaces all the memories of his softness. I know he had been caring at some point in my childhood, I just can’t find that hidden treasure. I do know that I appreciate silence much more and often flinch at the slamming of doors. I close my eyes to ground my memories before reopening them to the world of now.

 

They tell us in the training to become domestic violence victim advocates that it is important to acknowledge your triggers as an adult who was a child witness of domestic violence.

 

Slamming doors.

Snapping belts.

Banging on walls.

Vodka bottles/alcohol breath.

Magnum beer bottles.

Breaking glass.

The word Faggot.

Stop it Tom.

Tom.

Dad.

No.

 

I wrote mine down in a book and add to it every now and then.

 

---

 

The other teenagers would joke about sex and hearing their parents “doing it.” I listened without participating in the conversation because I did not have their experience. I would laugh along with them knowing that my experience was much more different than theirs.

 

My father slept in his own room. My mom’s room was furthest away from my father’s and my room was located in the middle of the hallway. I often closed my door when I came home from school and stayed in there until the next day. The bathroom was located across from me and there was often no food in the kitchen. My father would leave the house around noon to look for work and come home around 8pm drunk.

 

He would become angry on nights when he was questioned about whether he found work or food that day. My door opened inward so I left it closed when I could hear bodies being forced against it. I was afraid my mother would tumble in and it would cause a loss of footing for her defense. Instead, I would hop out the wooden window and make my way to the hallway for the front door.

 

My mother would often look at me from her pressed position and I could tell she feared my intervention. I trusted what her eyes were telling me and he hit her two more times on the arm before subsiding.

 

Apparently, most teenagers in my friend group lived in houses with thin walls but what was happening within/between those walls differed.

 

---

 

My father found these large trash bags of clothes in a dumpster behind his work. He brought then home and made a pile on the side of the house. Our house wasn’t so high so I decided that it would be fun to jump off the roof into the pile of clothes.

“It will be liked flying and then landing on clouds,” I thought to myself before flying off the roof. The free fall was liberating and the clouds caught me in the smell of clean linen.

 

My father came rushing out of the house to see if I was alright only to find me giggling on the pile of clothes.

 

“What are you doing, Jennifer?” He said with urgent concern in his tone.

 

“Dad, I flew!” I said as I struggled to get out of the center of the clothes pile.

 

“Yeah, I saw you from the window. I was wondering where you were then I heard something on the roof so I looked out the window and your little body came flying down,” he said sounding relieved.

 

---

 

My father sent me a note inside a Harry Potter themed tin container. An image of Harry on the Hogwarts Express greets me when I first open the package.

 

The note was hand written on yellow legal pad paper. It is formatted as follows and reads:

 

Jennifer,

            I found this in the Dumpster along with a Coffee Maker that works! Thinking of you… finding you there.

Love you

My Jennifer

My Daughter

Your father,

Tom

 

P.S. I’m proud of your self-sufficiency.

But it’s better when I see my Jen!

Daddy  

 

It is my favorite note that I have from him.

 

---

 

Dad took us to see Charlie’s Angels at the drive in. He would always try to take us to the drive in from time to time. I really wanted to go see it so I had something to talk about at school. All my friends went to the movies regularly and were always talking about the films they had seen. I felt behind in my own pop culture knowledge.

Dad stopped at a local liquor store and got us snacks to take into the drive in. We ate a variety of snack foods and shared a six pack of soda. He drank some beers while we were there and drove home with a can of beer between his legs.

 

It wasn’t the safest of situations but I was grateful to seem normal amongst my friends the next week. I was also oddly attracted to Drew Barrymore in that film.

 

---

 

I had come home from university to see my brother’s graduation ceremony from high school. We had limited tickets for entry and I wanted to make sure my brother had everyone he wanted to be there, there. It had been a couple years since I used my student loans to move my mother away from my dad and things were going well for her.

 

My phone rang and I answered it. It was dad.

 

“Jennifer, it’s dad. Does Jeremy graduate today?” He asked.

 

“Yeah his graduation is today,” I responded.

 

“Does he have an extra ticket for me?” He followed up.

 

I responded with direct statements, “He has an extra ticket. I don’t know if he wants you here though. I mean you haven’t changed much since I last saw you.”

 

He stalled for a minute, “I have changed. I will be heading into rehab next week and I asked them to hold the bed so I could go to his graduation. I was on a waitlist for 3 months and have been sleeping on the concrete floor of my friend’s house.”

 

“Okay, well can you make it before five o’clock in the afternoon?” I asked as it was already three o’clock.

 

He fumbled with the phone and I presumed he was checking the time on it.

 

“I will be there before then. I love you, Jenn. Thank you.” He responded.

 

The next week he had no phone because they took it away at the rehab facility.

 

---

 

“Sit down,” the doctor speaks in a low, concerned, tone in an attempt to hide the bad verdict of my father’s check-up.

 

Snap. “Sit Down!” My father yelled as I moved away quickly determined not to feel his belt of discipline.

 

Snap. “I can see him look up at the 17-year old memory of myself before responding, “A date? Sit down.”

 

Snap.  “What are you doing, Jennifer?” He said with urgent concern in his tone.

 

He continues after I sit down, “Your father has suffered brain trauma eliminating most if not all of his memory. He will regain basic functions of his body but his memory is of concern.”

 

Snap. “Little Jennifer, catch,” I remember him saying in the recording.

 

Snap. “Does he have an extra ticket for me?” He followed up.

 

Snap. Jennifer, I found this in the Dumpster along with a Coffee Maker that works! Thinking of you… finding you there.

 

I sit with this a moment in the chair I found in the dumpster.