Papaduck's Stir Fry

The Backdoor

     My father worked swingshift at an electronics plant when I was growing up in the 50’s.  He’d be getting ready for work when I pedaled my bike home from school, and would return home after my mother and I had gone to bed.  We had a cabin out back where he’d started sleeping after I was born.  Mom said it was so he wouldn’t wake the baby but then Dad decided he liked it.  He was a good provider but he had a whiskey problem that could make him mean.

     On a good night I’d listen for the sound of the key turning softly in the backdoor lock and hear him moving quietly through the house trying not to disturb us.  He might have a whispered talk with Mom or have a snack before going to his knotty pine panelled retreat to smoke, drink and read 10 cent western paperbacks.  On other nights though he’d be late and the listening would turn to anxiety knowing he’d gone to a bar on the way home and there might be trouble. 

     On those nights the back door would open and close roughly and I would hear him careening across the squeaky floor like a sailor in a storm.  Sometimes he would come into my room and stand over me swaying and smelling of booze and Chesterfields trying to tell if I was awake or not.  I always pretended to be asleep as my heart pounded in my chest.  After what seemed like forever he’d head for the bedroom next to mine where my mother waited fearfully.  Then the arguing, cussing and hurting would keep me awake until finally he would slam the door and go out back to sleep it off.

     On one particularly bad night when I was eight or nine years old the fighting seemed to go on forever.  I prayed to God with all my strength to please make them stop.  Suddenly in the darkness a comforting voice entered my mind and spoke saying “forgive them for they know not what they do”.  My distress ebbed away and I became immersed in a feeling of peace and calm and soon fell asleep despite the ongoing tumult in the next room.

     In the morning I got up and went to school pretending that everything was normal as always.  I kept the secrets of our homelife as I was taught and I never told anyone about what I had experienced.  But something had changed, and I didn’t feel as alone anymore.  I felt protected, as if someone somewhere was watching out for me.  Had I been visited by an angel?  Had some entity somewhere heard my plea?  Was it just a trick my mind played on me?

     I can’t explain it, but I do know that a new door had been opened.  I became fascinated with Mythology, Folklore, Religion,  Science Fiction and the occult.  I spent hours at the library near our house.  As I got older I saw a world that was full of mysteries and possibilities beyond our day to day understanding.  And I began to see my parents through different eyes.  I realized  my mother and father were trapped in a life they were powerless to change, and I found a way to separate myself from their unhappiness.  I took on the role of counselor and as I grew older found ways to intervene and stop their conflicts before they started. 

     My Dad died suddenly of a massive heart attack while I was still in high school, a victim of his own bad habits and the despair that can accompany alcoholism.  I never got to see him through the eyes of an adult.  That night when the hospital called I remember thinking that now we’d finally have some peace in our lives, and we did.  But even after all we’d been through, Mom and I missed the sound of him coming home.

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