When you’re a kid who has a dad who gets drunk and beats your mom for the most miniscule of supposedly slutty infractions, the last thing you want to wake up to on a Saturday morning is your dad already hitting the Coors Light because your mom never came home the night before.
I may have been only eight years old but I already had a subversive appreciation for the TV commercial catchphrase “Calgon, take me away!” Little did I know that that horrible morning would soon turn into the afternoon I stopped my dad from strangling my mom to death. Calgon, take me away, indeed!
When my mom finally showed up that morning, she was still wearing her work uniform. Most fights between my mom and dad during this period were the result of her working as a cocktail waitress and my dad thinking she was fucking everyone she worked with, waited on or made eye contact with while existing. The uniform, a micro-mini skirt and skintight baseball-style tee, didn’t really help quell his jealousy.
The “fucks” started flying the minute she walked into the house. Apparently they had forgotten that we were expecting visitors. I knew my dad’s friends Ronnie and Keith were coming over to work on cars and get wasted, so I figured it was up to me to get things ready while they screamed about who was fucking whom.
I stocked the fridge with beer. I got my little sisters dressed and fed. And then I put on the dress I wore when I was the flower girl in my aunt’s wedding. There weren’t many opportunities for me to wear a dress that fancy, so entertaining my dad’s friends while they smoked doobies and got shitfaced would have to do. Having 30something-year-old dirt bags tell me that I was a pretty girl still gave me a thrill back in those days. Luckily it was a phase that quickly lost its appeal.
As I was adjusting the wire hanger and aluminum foil TV antenna so my sisters could watch cartoons, I heard the all-too-familiar sound of a fist punching through drywall. Only when the fights were this bad did I long for the moans and groans of awkward make-up sex.
My dad came out and wrapped his bloody hand in a dishrag.
“I’m not mad. I’m not mad,” he reassured me on the way back to the bedroom. The fact that his breath reeked of alcohol and his eyes were slightly crazed and bloodshot kind of cancelled out his "reassuring" words.
I sent my sisters to our bedroom to play. The last thing I needed was to deal with them when I had so much shit going down. I sat on the couch thumbing through a Spiegel catalogue and waited. I heard my mom attempting to leave the room and my dad stopping her. I heard the first sounds of skin being slapped. Then the doorbell rang.
“They’re here!” I yelled. The doorbell rang again. “THEY’RE HERE!” I yelled louder.
I really didn’t want Ronnie and Keith to hear the fight. I knew they would fucking bail as soon as they heard my dad fighting with his old lady, as they called her. The promise of unlimited cheap beer and primo pot only had so much pull. I opened the door.
“Hey little princess. Don’t you look pretty!” Ronnie said. “Is your dad here?”
“Yeah, he’s doing something right now. He’ll be out in a minute. You can come in and wait.” Ronnie finished the beer he was holding and then threw the can behind a bush.
Of course, right at that moment my mom yelled “I didn’t fuck anyone, I didn’t fuck anyone, I didn’t fuck anyone!”
Ronnie and Keith looked at each other.
“My dad said he’d be out in a minute.” I lied.
To say I didn’t want them to leave is an understatement. They may have been oil-stained skeevy leftover relics from the 70s, but they were the only back-up I had.
They reluctantly came in, sat down in the wicker throne chairs, pulled out my dad’s stash box and immediately started rolling some doobies. I ran into the kitchen and got two Coors Lights. Asking a man if he wanted a beer in that house was completely unnecessary.
I gave them their beers and then sat with them while they toked up. In an effort to distract from the incredibly non-distractible argument going, I made some lame attempts at conversation.
“Did you know you can eat dog biscuits?” I asked. “It’s true, my cousins always eat them … they live in Ventura.” This statement is on my all time list of things I most regret saying, but it made the guys laugh.
“I know you fucked Carly…just admit it…you fucked her! You fucked her! You fucked her!” my mom screamed.
“Carly’s my aunt,” I explained. This made the guys really laugh. This statement is also on my all time list of things I most regret saying. Yeah, it’s a pretty long list.
A loud crash came from their bedroom. The guys looked at each other. I told them I was going to get my dad and not to go anywhere.
By the time I got to the door, the screaming had stopped, but it definitely did not bring me any sense of relief.
I knocked on their door.
“Daddy?” I said as I opened the door. The room looked like it has been hit by a tornado. The dresser was on its side, the drawers coming out, the lamp that was on top of it, cracked in two on the floor. The bed was pushed all the way to one side, with my parents on it, my dad on top of my mom, his hands around her throat. She was almost purple and looked like she was going to burst. My dad turned around and saw me standing there paralyzed.
“Get the fuck out of here,” he yelled. I couldn’t move. “GET OUT!”
I stepped back into the hallway and shut the door, where I stood barely able to breathe.
And then I thought these words: He wants her to die. Everything changed.
I ran into the room and I screamed, but it didn’t sound like me. The scream was not like a girl, it was low and it didn’t come from my throat, it came from my whole body. It made me rattle all over. I kept screaming as I jumped on the bed and wrapped my arms around his neck. He tried to shake me off, but I held on tight. I held his neck and I started kicking him all over. He finally let go of my mom and I slide off of his back. I could hear my mom swallowing air. She was dry heaving, but breathing.
Before I could catch my breath, my dad grabbed her legs and dragged her back toward him. He put one of his knees on her throat. I jumped on him again digging my fingernails into his neck. I bit his shoulder. He tried to pull me off but I held on tight. Then he bucked me off and I landed hard on the floor.
The wind was knocked out of me. The zipper on my dress split open from the force. I sat there stunned. My dad finally took his knee off my mom’s throat and came over to me. As my mom choked in air, he started saying that he was sorry. I pushed him away as I fought the hard lump pushing its way up my throat.
“I didn’t mean to hurt you,” he said. “I would never hurt you.” I’ve never wanted to not cry more in my life.
“It’s OK…” I said.
Then I started to cry. Not just any cry, but a cry so hard it made me hiccup.
“What’s the matter, pitter-patter?” He rubbed my head. The hiccupping led to snorting and snot. The mother of all cries. Like "Terms of Endearment" crying.
He kept trying to make me laugh. He told me to hold my breath. He randomly started tickling me.
“I can’t stop,” I said as I started to laugh. I was hiccup laughing/crying. It was the most painful cry I have ever experienced. I remember thinking Everything is better. Everything is back to normal.
Two weeks later, my mom packed up everything we owned and we moved out while he was at work.