Father Figures and Other Dysfunctions – an excerpt from The Angel Twin
Note: This is another excerpt from the NaNoWriMo Challenge. I don’t post continuous excerpts and only plan on doing a few. Keep in mind that the story is being told from the angel twin’s point of view. Wish me luck as I enter into week two of the challenge, a place that I’ve heard can unwind the best of writers. Here you go:
A seven-year-old Sami sat in the darkened movie theater with a father that she didn’t know very well. Her parents had divorced three years ago and she had seen her dad once in that time. The lights dimmed and a picture of a sunrise filled the screen. The voice over said “in the beginning was the word, and the word was God…” Sami’s father leaned over and whispered in her ear: “promise me you will never believe that.” Stuck for a response, she weakly replied “Okay, I won’t.” The words were engraved in a long line of criticisms, disapproval, and above all, invisible edicts that underscored the expectation of how she was supposed to be in the world.
That summer, her mother had sent her across the country to be with him. Sami had not seen her father in two years, which was a very long time when you are only seven. He had picked her up at the airport and driven her to his small apartment in Alexandria, where they ate canned ravioli and watched Paladin on the grainy black and white television. Her father still had the bunk beds that had been her brothers, back when her parents were married, and it was here that she would sleep in what was to be her room this summer.
The next day, her father’s girlfriend, Virginia arrived to spend two weeks. Virginia was a nice woman, slightly plump with short red hair who brushed and braided Sami’s hair and could be heard moaning in the night in the closed-door room that was her fathers. Virginia wore low-cut tops that pushed her boobs together and created a line. Sami wanted to know what “that line” was and Virginia explained that it was called cleavage. Sami later tried to create her own cleavage with a crayon, but it didn’t look the same.
Virginia stayed the two weeks and did kind and useful things that a mother would do. Her father also stayed at home for two weeks, having taken vacation time from his job in Washington DC. They made a good little unit for that time, visiting Mt. Vernon and the Washington Monument; walking through the Smithsonian. They picnicked on the banks of the Potomac and ate pistachio ice cream at Howard Johnson.
Then Virginia, packed her bags and went home and her father went back to work. Seven-year-old Sami was left to her own devices with a $5.00 bill for breakfast each morning, and the knowledge of how to get to the swimming pool in the apartment complex. She made herself a bologna sandwich and wrapped it up in wax paper, putting it into a little bag that she carried to the pool. She swam all day long, with nothing else to do, her only friends being those that she met at the pool. She waited for her father at the bus stop in the evenings and they walked back to the apartment together for TV Dinners and an evening of television or reading. On weekends, he sometimes went to the pool with her or planned an outing in the area.
The movies had been such an outing. An epic film about Ben Hur, and an unexpected direction about the state of her beliefs. At seven, Sami wasn’t really too sure what to believe. Her mother was a non-practicing Catholic who still kept statues of the Virgin Mary around the house. Her grandmother feared for her “immortal soul” and could be heard chastising her mother for not baptizing Sami. There were plenty of beliefs to go around—one that said don’t believe anything, and a bunch that said if you don’t, something bad is going to happen to you.
Sami had gone to church with her grandmother. Trips to the bins of scarves at Woolworth’s, downtown, allowed Sami to choose a scarf to wear to the Sunday service. She liked the candles and the incense, the ceremony of the man in the fancy robes, and the light that slid in through the stained glass windows and wrapped itself in colors around your feet. Though she didn’t understand the words, she was lulled into peacefulness by their rocking, song like sound. Better though, than the hours in this building, were the hours in her grandmother’s garden, a garden filled with statues of saints and angels, nestled among snap peas and tomato plants. It was here that she sat with her grandmother on the cool ground, sun on her neck, pinching back leaves like her grandmother had shown her. She had sweet and warm memories of pulling weeds, while her grandmother fingered a rosary with one hand and place removed the green beans from the vine with the other. Sami believed in God when she was here, could feel it, in fact.
“Promise me you will never believe that” and the response that Sami gave in her weak “okay” was a lie. Sami knew there was something greater, something better that lived in the sky and the clouds and protected her grandmother in the garden, made the vegetables grow and kissed her neck with sunshine.
Even though Sami had flown across the country to spend the summer with her father, he was as absent in those hot and humid months as he was in the rest of her life. But it was the incident at the pool with a new friend, that made Sami realize once and forever that he would never really be around when she needed him, that faith in the garden God would better serve her.
Sami had met a friend, Cathy who came to the pool everyday–a friend whose mother worked in the city and was not around during the long summer days, either. Cathy was also seven and lived in the same complex, near by. Each day the girls would meet and swim, making up games and stories to entertain themselves. After a day of swimming and sunning, the two were walking the side of the road back to Cathy’s apartment when a pick-up truck slowed down and a man leaned over to talk to Cathy. “Oh hi,” Cathy had responded to his greeting. “That’s my baby sitters brother, Eric” Cathy said proudly.
Eric asked if the girls wanted a ride and my feathers went up and on high alert. Cathy climbed into the cab, and then Sami. The truck moved toward Cathy’s building, while I hovered. Sami was looking straight ahead when she got a hard elbow in her side. Cathy was nudging her and pointing a Eric’s john willy, which was now fully exposed and in his hand. Seeing that the girls had noticed, he asked “Do you want to go to the woods where there is a river.” Sami, started yelling “stop the truck, stop the truck” as she was pulling at the handle of the door. “Stop the truck.” Now Eric was laughing, but he did stop the truck and Sami grabbed Cathy’s hand, pulling her out the door. The two little girls ran as fast as they could to Cathy’s building where they made it inside and slammed the door, locking the dead-bolt at the top. They were laughing a nervous little laugh when they heard him knock and ask to be let in. That’s when Cathy began to cry, and Sami did what her mother had taught her and that was to pick up the phone and tell the operator what had happened. The operator stayed on the phone with the girls until the police came.
Parents were called and Cathy’s mother came home first, concerned and comforting. Then Sami’s father showed up and he was pissed. But he wasn’t pissed at Eric the perv, he was pissed at Sami and Sami didn’t understand why. Later that night as Sami lay in the bunk bed, she heard her father talking to her mother on the phone. “She is just a willful child with an over-active imagination. I don’t believe that any of that ever happened and she is certainly in no danger, she just got hysterical.” At her mother’s demand, Sami returned home early and finished the summer at home. Her mother had found a day camp for Sami and Sami was not left alone to fend for herself for the rest of the season. They never talked about what had happened, but her mother hugged her a lot more.
Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God—Step 3. Sami reviewed her life, playing out scenes like the one with her father over and over in her head and on this day as she sat in her favorite place outside, she felt the sun on her neck and thought, “this is how I understand God. God is the kiss of the sun on my neck; God is in the vegetable garden; God is in the life that is held by those trees.” For the first time in a long time, Sami felt a kind of peace that the seven-year-old Sami had known. There was something in the quiet of her heart that she had been afraid to face. She had kept it at bay with drugs and drink for most of her adult life, and now what she once thought was the dread was holding her in peace as she cried.