His words were clear and yet somehow as I dangled between two worlds they meant nothing. In the real and tangible world where grass grew, trees towered and animals walked free, it almost seemed like a game. I played the role of God fearing wife and mother, never stepping over the line. These putrid and abhorrent scenes of humiliation had never surfaced in front of mom and dad. I made sure that everything was “just so” and nothing was amiss on each and every visit. Any concerns over what my parents might say or do were instinctively met with distraction, jibber jabber and a narrow glance that acknowledged my awareness of any potential problem. A much needed household item, groceries that they purchased and words that might be spoken all topped the list of possible offenses and would be scrutinized during hours of discussion in his room. It was a balance that teetered on the edge of sanity and one that was fiercely guarded.
His voice grew in volume with each question until fury reached its boiling point. I cupped the phone and slid from pad seating on the floor hoping his words were muffled and inaudible. I smiled and tugged at my pants pulling ragged seams together as I walked into the hall, leaving dad to read his paper and sip coffee. Each time he raised his voice I walked further down the hall, inching my way towards the stairs. The coffee maker steamed and puffed as it processed another full pot. Dad laughed loudly and sighed as crumpled pages were finally stacked in a pile.
I looked to the porch where mom sat basking in the sun, a far cry from winter in Washington. I waved at her and quickly turned towards the stairs not wanting to draw attention. His voice was persistent and anger built with every question that he posed. I reached the top of the staircase and swiftly made my way to the bathroom. A new level of fear peaked as his words now seemed unreal. Cursing in our home was prohibited and even Geez, shoot and darn were seen as obscene. I sat near the toilet on the cold bare floor staring at bathtub tiles, listening to words that signaled yet another escalation, “These are my children, I am the father, they are shit, nothing, nothing, do you understand?”