Collateral Damage

Collateral Damage.png

She checks her phone again and holds in a sigh.

One hour and thirty four minutes.

The television is loud, the room quiet. In her periphery, a cigarette burns between wrinkled lips. Smoke wafts through the room and she rests her elbow on the edge of the recliner, inconspicuously blocking her mouth with her hand. A man at death’s door has no reason to think about secondhand smoke, but she worries when her coughs sometimes resemble his - like they’re coming from the depths of a damaged body - if it’s been making her sick too.

One hour and ten minutes.

An empty can thrown back for every last drop, then immediately replaced with a fresh one - never mind the bourbon that chases each cigarette. The Cubs play the Cardinals and his eyes are glued to the television even though it’s no surprise Chicago’s behind by two runs. She keeps her eyes there too, looking but not seeing, because it’s better than looking anywhere else. It’s better than seeing the bruises on his arms from this week’s stumble, or the way his left hand lies limp at his side. It’s better than staring at him and trying like mad to figure out what are the symptoms of being a drunk and what are the symptoms of illness. It’s better than trying to decide if it even matters, as this illness was born out of neglect and self-indulgence.

Fifty-three minutes.

She tries to convince herself that she’s just watching a simple game of baseball with her dad, but the more she avoids his gaze the more guilty she feels for hating that he’s ill, and that his filter is gone, and that he says exactly what he means even when it’s cruel and bitter. She just wants to watch baseball without thinking about how he’s letting himself die and forcing her to watch it happen.

Deep breath. A hard blink of the eyes to wet drying contacts. Thirty-six minutes.

A trip to the bathroom where she lets out a breath that’s as shaky and restless as her insides. A two-minute safe haven, even if the white walls have turned yellow over the years. Safer than out there. She basks in the memories of laughing as a child in that very tub, before the veil of naivete fell from her eyes.

Before - with memories of the music he would blast when smiles came easy. When all she could remember was a house filled with laughter, and summer, and standing on his feet while he showed her how to dance. When the biggest problems were Dorito-dusted fingertips; sticky watermelon juice dripping off the chin, and convincing him to let her stay outside even as lightning crackled overhead. Before she saw how greed was there in the background of conversation. Before she watched him when he thought no one was looking, drink straight from the bottle of vodka and replace what was missing with water.

With every ounce of willpower, she retreats from the refuge.

She calms just enough to give him a soft smile as she walks back to the recliner next to his. Her phone lights up. A message that reads, “How’s it going? I love you.” She relaxes for the first time since she got there and tries to stay focused on that feeling: to love and be loved, no strings attached.

Twenty-three minutes.

When he asks how she’s doing like she’s a bomb about to go off, she re-reads the message, trying and failing to stifle the fear and anger inside of her. She can’t help but dwell on the fact that depression is passed down - what if he’s running from his own ghosts and accidentally trampling her in the process? What if he’s just trying to bear the reality of his own life? What if the weight of the world and everything he’s lost is what has made him so cruel? What if she’s just collateral damage?

A man who lost everything when his everything was his pride turns to the bottle, but a daughter with no role model uses him as a guide of what to avoid.

She recognizes the parts of him she sees in herself. Recognizes her tendency to become dependent on what makes her feel good is the same as his. Recognizes that she doesn’t understand the point of casual drinking. Recognizes that she likes drinking soda for enjoyment and liquor to numb the world. Recognizes she has the same inflated ego stemming from insecurity, the same tendency of the mind to think the world is out to get her. Recognizes the addictive nature inside of her, begging for something to latch on to, just like his.

She recognizes that she needs to stop.

Recognizes that she needs help.

She finds the fuel to get that help. Not the fuel of self love - she’ll work on acquiring that much later - but the love she has for others. Focuses on the fear of having kids who resent her as much as she resents him. Focuses on the desire to love without fear of the rage behind closed doors. She focuses on her mother, who never lets her down.

She focus on coming up with dreams for her life and eventually believing she can have them.

Every day she repeats the mantra, “I am not the men who have let me down, although my brain tries to say it’s so. I am the legend of my mother, and her mother, and hers. I am my ancestors who came before me. I am my mother, I am my sister, I am me.”

She fulfills the obligation to hug him, body so frail and malnourished she worries she will break him. She drives away with the sun shining warm on her skin, the smell of freshly mown grass filling the air, and her hair flying behind her. She has a precious moment of euphoria. The joy of being alive.

Zero minutes left.


Author: Morgan Gjoen