Not the Worst Thing
At dinner, Don's new girlfriend
talks about the one time she hit
her son. He was five and screaming,
squirming loose of his seat belt harness.
She kept half turning, reaching
behind to strap him back in, begging
him to stop as cars sped by, horns
blared. When she started to pull out,
he grabbed the back of her hair
and yanked. She turned, smacked him
twice. Two years ago and her eyes
show she isn't close to forgiving
herself. Don strokes Sue's hand
with his thumb. She's separated
from her third husband. Each one
sounds more abusive than the one before.
Don stopped speaking to his parents
years before he started to suspect
they did unspeakable things to him.
Somewhere, deep down, he's measuring
those two slaps and what they mean
to his girlfriend, her son, their future.
I dip a chip in the salsa, ask if
her son ever pulled her hair again.
I agree it's not the point, but I'd bet
he hasn't done anything like that again.
Sometimes, a good well-timed smack
across the face isn't the worst thing.
When I say this, they glance at each
other. The waitress brings the check,
I have to hurry, meet my new girlfriend.
in fifteen minutes. She's half my age
and we ended up in bed too quickly.
We're learning about each other,
finding out how we fit together
while she lies against my chest
and waits to see if my cock will get
hard again. Last time, she talked
about her white trash Jersey childhood,
the night her next door neighbor called
the cops and her dad was arrested.
Her head had swelled big as a watermelon.
She said it was her fault and she still
feels bad. She kept sticking her face
into her dad's face and asking him
if he felt good beating up a girl,
daring him to try and shut her up
every time he was ready to stop.
I didn't know what to say. I shifted
position, leaned on one arm. I touched
her hair, kissed her closed eyes
until she started to kiss me back.
My father hit me four, five times.
I can still feel the weight of his hand,
the sting hitting my skin, flashing
down my spine. I remember trying
not to cry until I made it to my room,
my little brother sitting on his bed,
asking if I was alright and telling him
to leave me the hell alone. Probably
I put on headphones, played the loudest
music I owned and filled my head
with scenes of torturing my father
as he wasted away in a nursing home.
Hours later he would knock on my door
or call me down stairs to talk. I think
we'd apologize, make promises. We might
have hugged, or maybe we didn't touch
at all. Still, I always felt better, almost
closer, as if we had forgiven each other
something terrible because I loved him
and I knew he loved me more than anything.
First published in Slipstream