I looked at the clock in the waiting hall that afternoon. It was past after three. Silence was deafening.
Looking at my hands, I heard approaching footsteps. I was still staring at my badly chewed-up nails (even one finger had dried blood in it) when the footsteps stopped next to me. Then I heard her familiar voice.
“Ready to go home?”
I looked up and saw her exhausted face. Then I got up and followed her to the parking lot.
The drive home was filled with unsettling silence. Mom was obviously struggling for something to say as she was driving. Me? I didn’t feel like talking.
When we finally arrived home, Mom parked the car in the driveway. She heaved a sigh before turning to me, her eyes flashing in anger and exhaustion.
“What were you thinking?!” she suddenly yelled. “A two-week detention, breaking another kid’s nose? This isn’t like you!”
“Well, maybe you don’t know me very well–” I began, but she interrupted me.
“–don’t get you get smart with me, young lady!” she snapped, slapping at the steering wheel. She was almost hysterical now. “I want an explanation!”
“Oh, do you?” I sneered. Before I could stop myself, I went on, “How about this, Mom? They said Daddy is a sinner and he’s going to hell for what he did – AND THEY JUST WOULDN’T SHUT UP ABOUT IT!!”
Silence. Mom’s face went pale, her eyes wide with shock. I didn’t wait for her response, though. I just opened the car door, rushed into the house, up into my room before slamming the door behind me.
“AAARGH!” I hurled my backpack against the wall in a frustrated scream. Then I started punching the wall over and over again…
…until I finally collapsed in bed, panting in exhaustion. My knuckles were stinging painfully. My eyes strayed to the poster on the wall.
Daddy and his bandmates…
“I hate you,” I breathed before falling asleep…
“Hi, Baby.” A lot of my childhood with him was filled with his long stay at home (which was good) and departure in turns. I used to cry when he had to go on a tour with his band, not wanting him to leave. He’d always just smile and calmly pick me up in his arms. Then he’d hug me as he gently rocked me back and forth until I finally fell asleep.
When he was at home, sometimes he’d sing me something nice. Like when I’d woken up from a bad dream one night or had a fever. He’d sounded completely different from when he was on stage, singing – and screaming – with his band. Or when they recorded songs.
Mom had joked about him being two persons in one. I’d always found that weird. With me, his voice was always soft and melodious, soothing. He’d probably done so just to help me sleep.
Now I didn’t find that funny at all.
I opened my eyes. My room was already dark. Someone had bandaged my bleeding knuckles while I was asleep. The crack I’d created on the wall had been plastered.
Mom? It had to be her. I’d wanted to get up and find her. I hadn’t meant to yell at her like that.
But I was still exhausted, so I closed my eyes again…
— // —
I heard someone sobbing. Still half-awake, I walked down the stairs. I stopped when I saw many people downstairs that morning and frowned.
Who are they? What’s going on?
I saw my parents’ bedroom door opened. I heard the sobbing again, this time much more clearly, and instantly recognised it.
“I thought he was okay…I thought he’d always be okay…”
Mom. My heart started racing wildly when I realised some of these people were wearing the uniforms I recognised.
Then I saw it. Two EMTs pulled a stretcher from the kitchen, with a black body bag in it. I had a sudden, sinking feeling that made me rush forward then.
“Daddy?” I called out. It was a bad move, because their heads were turned at the sound of my voice. I felt hands holding me back and I started struggling.
“Come on, sweetie,” one of them urged softly. “You can’t be here right now.”
“Daddy?” I heard my voice rise in panic and fright. I turned my gaze at my parents’ bedroom, seeing Mom sobbing in someone’s arms. “Mom? Mommy, what’s going on?”
Nobody had wanted to tell me anything that morning. Eventually, they had to.
That was why he was in a closed casket. The scar around his neck had been too visible…
— // —
I remember getting angry with him before one of his long tours. I had yelled, “Fine, just leave!”, only to regret that later. Then Mommy and I had a video-chat with him during one of his breaks. I’d wanted to cry.
“I’m sorry, Daddy.” But he just smiled. On the screen, I could see his deep, dark brown eyes soften.
“I know, Baby,” he whispered softly. “I’m sorry too. I know this isn’t easy, but you know I’ll be back soon. Okay? Always.”
“I love you, Daddy.”
“I love you too, Baby.”
Always, he’d always promised.
— // —
Wake up, I urged myself, but I kept seeing those painful memories flooding back to me.
When I was finally old enough to learn and understand the lyrics he’d written for most of their songs, I came up to him one night. He was in his studio, working on another song as usual. He was a bit surprised to see me and stopped.
“Hey, Baby,” he said. “What’s up?”
“Daddy, why do you always write angry and sad songs?” I asked him. He looked a bit taken aback at that. “Are you always angry and sad?”
“Nah.” He put his guitar away, shook his head and smiled. “What makes you think that?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know,” I admitted. Then I reasoned. “You don’t sing songs like that to me.”
His smiled widened as he pulled me closer, right into his arms. He kissed my forehead while I rested my head against his chest.
“Of course not, Baby,” he said lightly. “You always make me feel happy.”
Somehow, that night I wasn’t fully convinced. I looked him in the eye, touching his stubbly jaw.
“Then what about those songs?”
He considered that for a moment. He suddenly had that sad, faraway look he couldn’t fully conceal. That scared me a little that I’d wanted to cry.
“So many people are sad,” he added very carefully. “I guess, they just want to be heard and understood.”
Silence. I was confused. I didn’t feel like he was really answering me, but I didn’t want him to be sad.
“What can I do so you won’t feel sad anymore, Daddy?”
“Just be the good girl you always are.” He smiled and gave my forehead another kiss. His arms around me tightened and I held him back. “Remember that I’ll always love you, okay?”
— // —
You said you’d always love me. You said you’d always come back home, but you left. You’re gone for good now, Daddy. Why? What happened? I thought I was a good girl already, like you’d said.
“Sssh, it’s okay…”
I finally woke up, this time completely. The only light in my room was from the bedside table. Mom had been sitting next to me, gently stroking my hair. She smiled sadly and her eyes had been red, with tears streaming down her cheeks.
“I’m so sorry, Mommy,” I apologised, feeling my tears starting too. “I didn’t mean to yell at you.”
“It’s okay, Baby.” She gently kissed my forehead, the way she always did. The way he used to. “I’m sorry too.”
“Why did he do this?” I knew it was useless, but I had to ask anyway. “Was it because of me?”
“What?” She was startled for a second, then shook her head and stroked my hair again. “No, not you, Baby. Never.”
“Then why?” I didn’t want to make Mommy feel even sadder right now, since she was all I had now. Again, she shook her head – still with that smile on her face.
“Daddy wasn’t well,” she said. “He hadn’t been for a very long time, but he was too proud to ask for help. He thought he should’ve always been strong for us, for everybody.”
We both cried in each other’s arms that night, until I fell asleep again. I silently prayed, something that I knew I’d be doing for the rest of my life since that night:
God, if you are really there, please…Please, don’t send Daddy to hell…
He was just unwell…
Songs that have inspired this story:
“Can’t Change Me” – Chris Cornell
“One More Light” by. Linkin Park
“Like A Stone” by. Audioslave
“Will You Wait For Me?” – Kavana
“Whispers In The Dark” by. Indecent Obsessions