You find your father’s body by the kitchen sink. Hands clutching his heart, eyes shiny as marbles. Your mother’s scream cracks the quiet of the winter evening. Her mouth opens so wide you see down to her pulpy gums, the gold flash of her false tooth. Over and over, she cries out his name. For weeks, her chant will cut through your dreams, puncturing the membrane of your childhood like a stab wound. You are nine years old.
A long moan escapes your father’s lips. The nakedness of his pain stuns you. All your life, you have known him to be unyielding, the world a putty he could stretch. Rip into skin-thin strips.
A few years earlier, his booming laughter filled the same kitchen. You were three; your brother was five. You’ve never forgotten your brother’s face that day, how it contorted with grief, crumpled as the threadbare blanket cradled in his palms. Throw it out, your father choked between laughter, pointing to the trash can under the sink. Big boys don’t need blankies. Years later, you will understand your father’s revulsion toward comfort as a family legacy, borne of generations of beating out pain with dry martinis and hot rage and the choke of silence. Sometimes, when you recall your brother’s face, his fingers clutching love-worn threads, you will see your father.
But now, in the kitchen, your father’s voice, its bare ache, emerges from a place beyond your recognition. A hidden pocket of sorrow. You think, this is not my father, this is not my father, not. my. father., praying to the God your father doesn’t believe in to make it so. Your mother’s fingers lattice across her mouth. She is screaming and screaming, you are staring and staring, and your father sits up. He rises to his feet. Smooths his hair. His back shakes first. Then, his whole body is in motion, convulsing with laughter. Got you good! he says to your mother, tickling her stomach.
You say nothing about that day for twenty years. Then, on a whim, you ask your mother if she remembers. She doesn’t, at first, until you mention your father’s body by the kitchen sink. When she squints, you watch the scene unfold beneath her wrinkled lids. Oh yes, she says, and you both fall silent.
is a writer, educator, and editor based in Massachusetts. Her work has been featured in NPR, Narratively, Salon, and more, and her memoir manuscript was a finalist for the Permafrost Nonfiction Book Prize. She is currently at work on a memoir about her experience as a compulsive hair puller. You can find Katie on Twitter @katiedbannon, and see more of her writing at www.katiebannon.com.