Saturday, August 21, 2010

123.) The Untold History

Soundtrack Song - Anberlin, True Faith

Sometimes, you can say things and buffer the effect of those words. You can stutter and stammer, apologize profusely, maybe say, “That’s not what I meant; you know that’s not what I meant,” and pretend that you mean it. And because people don’t want to hear bad things and believe them, they’ll nod and accept your new, revised statement. No one likes to be insulted.

What I said to my mother was not an insult. It had no bearing on who she was as a mother or what she did as a wife. I knew that she left and took me with her because she wanted to protect me from my father’s drunken wrath. Which she had done. But now, twenty years after the fact, he was back in my—our—life, if only for a few seconds outside of the locker room. Just like that, twenty years of strategic separation went down the drain, and everything my mom had sacrificed and worked for meant absolutely nothing.

I wanted to take back what I had just told her, if only to spare myself the sight of the misery on her face. Even if it wasn’t because of something I had done, I had caused that. I was just the messenger, but it hurt as much as if I had been the one to cross her. And I didn’t like it.

“Je suis désolé,” I muttered, leaning forward and sitting on the edge of the couch. Jo had to sit up to adjust to my new position. “I’m sorry, Maman.”

“How do you even know his name?”
she asked, eyeing me like I had done something wrong. It made me feel like I had done something wrong, knowing something I shouldn’t have known.

“I heard things. You and Mamie talking,” I confessed, leaving out that I had purposely stayed up past my bedtime to eavesdrop on conversations that were not for children’s ears.

“You don’t need to apologize, Kristopher. I’ve been waiting for this day for two decades,” she sighed, looking defeated and worn and exhausted, like twenty years worth of looking over her shoulder had finally caught up to her. “What happened?”

“Jo and I were standing outside the dressing room,”
I explained to her, wondering how she could seem so worried yet so calm all at once. “You had left, it was just me and her and... him.”

Now she started to get a little wound up. “But what happened? Did he talk to you? Touch you? Say anything to you?”

Shrugging, I told the truth. “Just said my name. I had to go, had to leave, I was in such shock that I couldn’t even react to it at the time.”

Mom let out a loud exhale of relief. “Well, that wasn’t so bad.” She got up and collected the bowls and plates from the coffee table, where Jo and I had left them when we had finished with lunch. “Did you eat enough? Would you like me to make you something else?”

“But Maman....”
I looked over at Jo like she could somehow interject and make my mother understand the weight of this situation. Just because I saw him once didn’t mean that this was over; far from it. Despite my subtle protest, she walked away into the kitchen. I couldn’t believe it, how she was dismissing this. Seeing my father had rocked my world, cracked my foundation, shaking me more than any earthquake. Just because nothing bad happened during our encounter didn’t mean that I didn’t feel uncomfortable about it.

To make it even worse, that wasn’t the reaction I had expected from my mother either. I had thought she’d be overprotective, like always, wanting to make sure that I was safe and tucked away from the cruel, unforgiving world. Check the door and make sure it was locked behind her. Draw the curtains and peek out from behind them to see if maybe he had found out where we lived. I had expected her to be scared for herself, too, and worry for her own safety as well as mine. But none of that had happened.

I turned and looked at Jo, staring at her with my mouth open. She was concerned for me, obviously unable to understand our conversation and wanting to know what had just been discussed. “What is it, babe?”

“That’s it. I told her what happened, and... that’s it. She walked away.”

“Oh,” she replied quietly, pouting in thought. “Avoiding the subject.”

“Like she always does. She always does,” I huffed. But not this time. I called her, “Maman!”

Mom appeared in the doorway between the kitchen and the living room. “Oui?”

“I want to talk about this.”

“Talk about what, Kristopher? There’s nothing to talk about. What’s done is done.”

“There’s a lot to talk about. I want to know why he showed up.”

“I don’t know. Why would I know?”

“You were married to him! If anyone would know, you would. I want to know why he was there to see me, and what I’m so fucking scared of.”
I could feel the emotion choking me as I admitted everything that had been running through my head. “Because I’m scared. Scared to see him again, scared of what he wants from me. Scared of what would have happened if I had stayed there in the hallway with him, and what’s going to happen if I run into him again.”

She walked back into the living room and sat back down on the chair, drying her hands on the towel and then draping it over her shoulder, like she had done so many times. Her voice was calm and cool as she spoke authoritatively. “You don’t have to be scared of him.”

“Bullshit,”
I muttered, rolling my eyes.

“Would I lie to you? No, I wouldn’t,” she said, asking a question and then providing her own answer. “If he showed up at your game and was able to get down to the players’ area, then you don’t have anything to worry about.”

“Why? So if the circumstances of running into him were different, then I should be afraid?”
I didn’t want to come right out and say that he beat her, because it felt so disrespectful to say that when she tried so hard to keep that from me. Instead, I said, “I know what he’s done, and what he’s capable of doing, too.”

Mom pursed her lips and leaned back in the chair. She gripped the armrests until her fingers turned right, and then she let go and clasped her hands together. “Kristopher, don’t talk like that. You didn’t know him. He wasn’t that bad.”

“Then why did we leave? Why haven’t I seen him since I was three, and why won’t you even talk about him to me?”
Two decades’ worth of questions poured from me, and I couldn’t hold back this time. “And if he’s not such a bad man, then why did he beat you? Why did you have to take me away and never turn back?”

Mom sucked in a breath, puffing out her chest and rolling back her shoulders. “You shouldn’t question your mother, Kristopher. We are not having this talk now.” She cast a look over at Jo and then focused back on me.

And with that one glance, Jo could piece together exactly what was going. She stood, her eyes pointed at the ground. “I can go. It’s okay. This is private—”

“No,” I declared firmly, reaching out and grabbing her wrist. I didn’t grab her roughly, but it was strong enough to let both her and my mother know that this was what was going to happen: Mom was going to tell me everything I wanted to know about my father, and Jo was going to sit there beside me because I wanted her to be here for me. Even though she couldn’t understand, her presence was enough. “Stay.”

Jo looked between the two of us, unsure about what to do. She wanted to be there for me, of course, but she didn’t want to go against my mother either; she was still seeking approval. In the end, her loyalty to me won out, and she sat back down beside me. “If you’re sure,” she acquiesced.

I nodded, and then I turned back to Mom. “I want to have this talk now. I told you that I saw him because Jo convinced me that you needed to know. Well, now I think I need to know the whole story.” Mom looked at Jo again, but I countered, “She can’t even understand us. Please, Maman, I want to know everything.”

My girlfriend slid her hand against the flesh of my nape, playing with the ends of my hair and caressing my skin. It was soothing; not too heavy of a touch to be distracting, but not light enough to be an annoyance.

Mom looked like she was chewing her words before she carefully said them. “I want you to know that I have thought every day about how to talk to you about your fa—about Marcel.” Even now, Mom couldn’t call him my father. She acted like Henrí was my father and had been all along, even though I hadn’t met him until I was sixteen.

She cleared her throat and kept going. “It’s important to me that you don’t hate him, but obviously, this is... complicated. So, it was always easier to not even bother rather than say something that doesn’t make you understand.”

“Maman, I was three, not dumb. I may have been hidden away in my room, but I knew that something was wrong. And I figured it out.”

“You’re only thinking of the bad,”
Mom said quietly. “Marcel was not always the man that you think he was. There were times, even toward the end, when I would watch the way he played with you, interacted with you, and it was all I could do to stop from crying, it was so sweet. You were his spitting image, from the day you were born, and to see the two of you sitting on the floor, stacking blocks into towers before you’d knock them down, and you babbling away....

“And it wasn’t always like that. I wouldn’t have fallen in love with him if he had always acted that way. When we met, he was so charming and handsome. He was in grade twelve, and I was in grade ten. He asked me to his prom, and I was the envy of every girl in school. Marcel and I dated as he attended university, and he was prelaw. We got married when I was twenty and he was twenty-two. He’d finished his undergraduate program and was about to attend Université de Montréal for his law degree. He had big dreams. He was not unlike you, Kristopher.”


Her words sucked the breath out of my lungs. That’s what I had always been worried about. I had heard Mamie say that we were similar, but I couldn’t remember enough about him to figure out how or why we were alike—and I never asked. Now, I was. “How?”

“Such ambitions. Sure, he didn’t want to play professional ice hockey, but when he set his mind to something, he was tenacious, relentless. And his goal was to provide for his family. That’s why he wanted to get such a good job. But then... I got pregnant, and we were given the gift of a beautiful, healthy boy. You arrived a few years earlier than we had planned for, since Marcel wanted to graduate and get a good job before we started our family, but we were so excited for you that we didn’t mind it.

“When you were born, though, it was clear that something had to change. No one had told us how difficult—how expensive—having a baby would be. Marcel insisted that I stay at home, that I not work, but he couldn’t work and go to school at the same time. He was barely making enough working part time to make the rent and pay the bills we had, and we couldn’t afford formula or diapers or clothes or any of the necessities. Mamie helped, she bought us things, but it wasn’t enough.

“Marcel still had two years of law school. We couldn’t live like that for two more years, until he graduated and could start work at a firm. So he dropped out. It was only going to be temporary, for one year, so we could save and he could go back.

“That wasn’t what happened. Because he wasn’t going to school, he had to start paying back his loans, which took out a chunk of his income. We were getting by just fine, but there was no way that we could go back to him working part time and going back to school. It would take us years to save enough to get to that point. Marcel still insisted that I stay home and be a full-time mother, that maybe I could work again once you were of school age, but definitely not before.”


She took a deep breath, closing her eyes before she could go on. “He loved us, you know. He wanted to give us everything. But he hated that that meant he couldn’t pursue his own dreams of being a lawyer. It wasn’t the life that he had seen for us. So he drank and swallowed his big dreams like horse pills. When it still hurt him, he drank some more. And when he drank that much, he was not the man I married. He wasn’t the man I loved. And he was not the father who loved you so much and wanted only the very, very best for you.”

I shook my head. I didn’t believe it—I couldn’t believe it. None of that could be true. Mom wouldn’t lie to be, but I still couldn’t believe it. Good men aren’t driven to do bad things just because they drink. There’s something inside of them that brings them to commit violent acts. That couldn’t be the whole story. Jo’s fingers continued to draw imaginary circles on the back of my neck as my breathing got heavy. “Non. That can’t be.”

“Oui. A lot of nights, it wasn’t so bad. He’d sit in front of the television with his drink in his hands, and I would tuck you in soon after dinner so you would be safe, then I’d do the dishes, clean up the kitchen, and go to bed. Some nights, he’d apologize to me for not being the man he thought he would be, for not being able to give me all the things that he promised he would. At first, I would argue with him and say that it didn’t matter to me, but that made him angry. I thought it was because he thought I was lying, but later, I think I figured out that it was because I didn’t care about his dreams as much as he did.”

“But that night....”


Mom nodded. “I know. That was a particularly bad night. I couldn’t have you around that. We couldn’t wait anymore for you to go off to school so I could start working and Marcel could finally go back to law school and finish his coursework to graduate. So we left and went to Mamie’s. I thought maybe we could still ride it out, that maybe he would see how much his drinking was hurting his family—which he never, ever would have wanted to do—if his family left, but I never heard from him.” She sighed. “I expected that he would come to Mamie’s the very next day and apologize and say that he wanted us to come home and talk about how he would change and things would be different... but he never did. And I never went back. We did it without him.”

I puckered my mouth, not liking anything I was hearing. My father, Marcel, was not a good person, no matter what she could possibly say about him now. Just because his life didn’t turn out the way he wanted it to did not give him the right to lash out toward the people he supposedly loved so much. Choosing to ignore all that new information, I focused on the matter at hand. “Okay, so, why would he show up now?”

“Isn’t it obvious? He loves you, you’re his son, and he just wanted to see you—”

“No. No, I don’t want to hear that. If he loved me, or you, he wouldn’t have done the things that he did. I don’t care if you say that it’s because he didn’t get to fulfill his dreams. Things happen. Things happen all the time that disrupt our lives,
” I lividly explained, gesturing wildly with my hands. It had happened to me. So many things had happened in my life, and each time, my dreams had to evolve and change to fit my current circumstances. I didn’t drink or take it out on my loved ones. “That doesn’t excuse his behavior, and you shouldn’t be trying to find excuses for him, either.”

“I’m not fishing for reasons, Kristopher, I’m telling you exactly what happened.”

“No, it’s not true. If he wasn’t so bad, we wouldn’t have had to leave.”

“I did it to protect you, because I love you, and because Marcel loved you, too, and I wanted to take you away from that before you might call that into question.”

“Then I guess you waited too long.”
I didn’t want to hear any more, so I pushed up from the couch and walked out of the living room. There weren’t a lot of places for me to go, and I ended up out on the front porch.

I sat on the porch swing and looked out onto the street, which I had played road hockey on so many times. Jo followed me out onto the porch after I had had a few minutes of solitude, joining me on the swinging bench. She pulled her knees up to her chest, planted her feet on the bench seat, and sat so she was facing me, not the street. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see as she bit her lip, scooted down closer to me, and pushed her toes underneath my thigh, presumably to keep them warm. She watched me as I flexed and relaxed my feet, rocking us back and forth in silence.

Finally, I disrupted the quietness with my words. “I just wish that I could go back to how I could pretend that he didn’t exist. In my head, he was as good as dead. But now, I can’t think that. I mean, I saw him with my own two eyes. It had to have been him. And he knew my name.

“I used to walk around these streets sometimes,” I sighed, looking up at the ceiling of the porch. “I’d walk by a house and wonder if he was inside. Or pass someone on the street and wonder if that was him, if that was my dad. But when it actually happened, when I actually saw him, there wasn’t any doubt in my mind, you know? I recognized him. I saw me in him, or saw the resemblance.”

“Yeah, I could tell that you two were related. You almost looked like the same person.”

I rocked us back and forth a few times before I spoke up again. “Mom’s trying to paint him as someone... I don’t know. But I know he’s a horrible man, a horrible excuse for a human being, because otherwise he wouldn’t’ve acted the way he did. Even now, I could hear in her voice that she loves the man he was. A decent person would never hurt someone who loved them so much. I wouldn’t. You wouldn’t. That’s all the proof I need.”

Jo nodded, keeping quiet. I kept going. “It didn’t have to end up that way.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, they were happy and living their dreams together.” I cleared my throat. “That is, until I came along and ruined it for them.”

“Kris, babe—”

Shaking my head, I cut her off. “Don’t. Please, don’t. She told me. She said that they didn’t want to have kids yet, that I was a surprise. They weren’t ready for kids, unprepared, and it ruined their lives. I ruined their lives.”

“No,” Jo replied defiantly, reaching out to touch me. She cupped my hairy cheek and tried to turn my head toward her. “Your mother loves you so much. Maybe you were a surprise, but you didn’t ruin her life. You are her life. Parents love their children unconditionally, and nothing you could ever do would ruin any aspect of her life.”

“That’s bullshit. Flat out bullshit. I broke up my parents’ marriage. I’m the reason he drank, the reason my mom and dad didn’t have the kind of life they wanted, and the reason why my mom had to leave him. Me.”

9 comments:

  1. I'm on my way out the door, now with tears in my eyes. But I wanted to post because I'm NEVER the first to post. I'll be back so for now just wow.

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  2. wow, krisss! don't think that!
    :(

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  3. Awww what a sin :( I hate when poeple think like that it makes me sad :'( Hopefully everything is good with Kris and his mom but Kris can't think like that, thinking and saying those things makes everyone close to him hurt even more.

    This story is at the top of my list for the best stories I have ever read!! Keep it up.
    Great chapter can't wait for more :'D

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  4. Kind of a surprising turn of events here, since Kris's mom did not tell him the story that he was expecting. Although you never know exactly what the truth was, his dad is sounding a lot better than Kris had thought, but instead of this being a comfort to him, he once again takes responsibility for everything bad.

    It's nice that Jo can say parents love unconditionally since that's not exactly what she has experienced. But she'll have her hands full trying to get Kris into a positive frame of mind. Plus, let's not forget about the playoffs!

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  5. Seems to me that the boy needs to be comforted. wink * wink

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  6. Very, very moving and the explanation from his mom was not all what I expected which is what makes this chapter so good...excellent, as always!

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  7. I know Marlene didn't mean to make Kris feel like he ruined their lives. But when I was reading this, that's what I heard too.

    She paints this picture of a good man with big dreams, they were so in love. What a happy life they had, working together to achieve their goals...
    **But then... I got pregnant, ... You arrived a few years earlier than we had planned for**

    **When you were born, though, it was clear that something had to change. No one had told us how difficult—how expensive—having a baby would be.**

    **He was barely making enough working part time to make the rent and pay the bills we had, and we couldn’t afford formula or diapers or clothes or any of the necessities. Mamie helped, she bought us things, but it wasn’t enough.**

    ** We couldn’t live like that for two more years, until he graduated and could start work at a firm. So he dropped out.**

    ** But he hated that that meant he couldn’t pursue his own dreams of being a lawyer. It wasn’t the life that he had seen for us. So he drank and swallowed his big dreams like horse pills**

    I know I left out all the nice things. How much they loved him, surprised with a healthy baby etc. But that's the stuff you expect to hear, so it doesn't register as much in your brain.

    The other information is new and stunning.

    Combine all that information with Kris's sense of responsibility and the fact that children of divorce tend to think it was their fault and you get

    ** I broke up my parents’ marriage. I’m the reason he drank, the reason my mom and dad didn’t have the kind of life they wanted, and the reason why my mom had to leave him. Me.” **

    Particularly upsetting since he thought he knew what happened.

    My biggest question, why is Marlene defending him and painting him out to be this good guy? Even if she thinks it's okay that he sometimes hit her, which it's not, why didn't he come after them. It's not like he had no idea where they were. He loved them so much but never a word in 20 years. He's never offered support financial or emotional. It seems he has proven time after time he is not the man she thought he was.

    Can't wait to hear more!

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  8. I hate getting so behing on your story, but I love just sitting down and reading a few chapters at the time. And I can't say anything else, but brilliant. I'm sitting here in tears right now, Jay. I absolutely love the curveball you threw in with Kris' father coming back onto the scene. And I love the backstory you gave. The explanation Kris' mom gave was not what I was expecting at all. It totally threw me for a loop and I love that you never write your stories in a predictable manner. I'm scared that Kris is really going to keep blaming himself for the split up of his parents and the 'ruining' of their life. Kris needs to understand that he had nothing to do with it, that it wasn't his fault at all. This is just so heartbreaking. I can't wait to see how it all turns out, and how this ends up affecting his gameplay. Wonderful, wonderful chapter.

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