It was like a kettle set on a stove, I didn’t notice the arguing at first. It seemed like some commotion between squirrels or songbirds (not really, I’m just making it prettier so you won’t be so depressed as to turn away) had broken out on this clear, cool late April morning.
When I heard my dad yelling, I mean, I think that’s the point I knew the kettle had boiled over like never before. What he was yelling I don’t recall, but his voice, masculine, full of rage yet ragged with sorrow round the edges with a rasp of decades of drug use, kept on, which was very odd.
From one foot to another, shifting my weight carefully from one stair down to the next into the kitchen. The door to the back porch wide open, the ceaseless yelling, loud chaos, from brook to rapids.
Turning the corner I found my father naked, holding a bottle of rubbing alcohol, continuously projecting his rage at my mom who was standing in the driveway, sobbing, naked. Police cruisers lay in wait across the street. White with blue of the Northampton PD, navy and cerulean of the state police, and even white with green of the sheriff, which I had never seen before.
My father couldn’t do much more than yell given the audience. So I asked to bring my mother her bathrobe. I slipped her keys into one of the pockets, a large ring of steel that only nurses and jailers might use.
After she drove away my father announced he would drive my brother and I to school. All the long way, about 0.7 miles from North Main at Bardwell to Florence Grammar, a cruiser followed directly behind our van like a shark slowly circling a fishing boat. We arrived about 90 minutes before school opened and my father asked if we would like to stay and wait or return home for awhile.
I thought to stay, perhaps spend my time drawing lines in the dirt. But my younger brother, who to this day remains as luminous, wanted to go home with dad. So home we went, cruiser in tow.
When we arrived my dad and brother went upstairs to take a nap together. I waited. It was unlikely my father would allow us to go to school. He had for years told my mother how he would kill her first before ending her children, even pointing to the spots along the wetlands he would hide her body as he drove her to work each day (which was not a long drive at all). So if he let us go to school he would lose his only leverage. I could have left the house in that moment, but my brother would likely die and my father would never stop chasing me.
I waited. The sound of cars picked up, washing the house, which rests mere feet from Route 9, in the high tide of traffic noise. Anxious and hyper-aware I let my heart sink down below that noise, let it conceal my footsteps, my throbbing heartbeat.
I withdrew a steak knife from the kitchen drawer. I chose the largest for the sake of leverage, I think. Or maybe because it resembled the knife you always see in movies? Step, shift weight, breathe out. Step, shift, breathe in. The knife in my left hand, and with my right hand I reach for the door to my father’s bedroom.
He opens the door just before my hand touches the knob. Instinctively I throw the knife which somehow doesn’t make a sound landing in an open closet.1 My father is 6’5″, I am 12. He looks down at me and says “I’m going out to find your mother.” I never see him again.
Part 5 of Owl Orchard
A forest. A ghost. A teacher.
- Fall Schwarz, Bubbe’s Unquietude. ↵