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Her Father -- creative nonfiction by Chloe Gray

I remember the first time I held her, how her little pinky gripped my thumb as her dark, cloudy eyes roamed my face. The warmth of her through my sweater, despite holding her gingerly in my arms. I looked at her, and she stared right back at me, an unblinking, immobile baby with a pink hat. There were still bits of blood on her face, white goo caked to her nose and her hair was matted with a clear liquid. As she closed her eyes, a dry crumb-like substance became loose. I looked up at my dad, who had been watching intently as he sat next to his wife, the mother of the baby.

“Audrey,” my dad said. “I can take Emmie back now,” I nodded and held the baby out to him. He walked over to me and carefully lifted her from my arms, tucking her into his chest. Gently, he sat down on the hospital bed, with his shoes still on, cradling the baby. “Do you want to hold her?” he asked his wife Heather.

“No, it’s okay. She looks comfortable. You can hold her,” she replied, tearing her attention away from the baby as she looked up at him. “Okay,” he replied and looked back down at the baby. “Hello, Emmie. Hello!” He whispered. “I’m your daddy! I’m going to teach you all about the world. First, the blue stuff is called water. It’s what’s in the oceans.”

“Yes! And I’m your mama! Ma-ma!” his wife said, enunciating the syllables loudly and clearly in the baby's face, making me scrunch my nose and turn away.

I made eye contact with my sister, Chloe, who looked back at me and shook her head ever so slightly, then looked back down to the floor. I glanced out the window, feeling the warmth of the sun on my face, which was unusual at this time in November. On the other side of the room, I could still hear my dad and his wife cooing at the baby. I closed my eyes, kneading my hands together, and immediately an image of my mom appeared. What about my mom? I wondered. Confusion racked my body, making me hunch over, cross my arms, and shift my weight back and forth. Images flashed before my eyes from when I was younger, and I was with my mom and dad, and there was no baby, no new wife.

I saw myself in a wooden pew, next to my sister, with our mom and dad on either side. I remember looking out of a stained glass window, seeing the breeze ruffle the branches of the new buds on the trees, with the sunlight slanting down through the branches, into the window, and onto the ground, with my mom and dad and sister all sitting next to me. I was thinking of the Easter egg hunt later, willing time to move faster.

I saw one Christmas morning when I was young. I was only ten years old. I was sitting in the family room, among my new toys from my parents and the wrapping paper strewn around the room. I left and went upstairs to my parents, who were brushing their teeth. As I climbed the carpeted stairs, I began to hear hushed murmurs coming from their room: my mom’s voice with bitterness etched into it, and my dad’s, pleading. Distinctly, I remember hearing my mom say, “Why would you get me this? I don’t like it. I don’t shop there. I never have. Maybe other women do, but not me.”

I heard silence, then my dad’s voice. “But? I thought you would like it. The woman - the woman in the store, she helped me pick it out. Love…”

“Don’t call me that.” I heard footsteps in quick succession, then my mom turned the doorknob and stormed outside, so fast she didn’t even see me.

I opened my eyes. I looked at my dad, the baby, and his wife, all together on the tiny hospital bed. “I’m going to get water,” I managed as I stood up from my wooden chair. My dad glanced up at me, nodded, then returned to smiling at his baby.

I walked outside, past the images of the mothers cradling their bare babies in their arms, the images of mothers touching the babies to their foreheads, and the babies smiling up at the camera. I passed the signs next to the rooms in the maternity ward, where feminine handwriting had written “congratulations!” with the name of a family until I reached the cafeteria. I took a water from the cooler and sat down at a table among weary-looking nurses and doctors eating salads by themselves. I sipped my water slowly, savoring each swallow, feeling the cool water cleanse my body and my mind, keeping my memories at bay. But soon, they clawed their way into my mind again, sending me back.

In my mind, I heard my mom’s voice, deranged, almost inhuman. “I knew it, I knew it!” she screamed. Her screams pierced me as they became louder and turned into sobs.

“Give it back to me. Give it back!” my dad cried, his voice harsh, but also frantic. My mom let out another animalistic scream, waking Chloe up, who sat up and peered through our open door.

My mom ran out of her room, carrying my dad’s phone, and thundered down the stairs, with my dad close behind; her sobs and his frantic cries of “give it back” filling the entire house, breaking it with the sound. They ran outside, and my sister and I ran to the window, stumbling through the dark, out of the comfort of our beds. Though we couldn’t see well, we could make out the shape of my mom and dad, running across the lawn, my dad finally catching up to my mom, catching her by the arm and dragging her to a halt. I imagined his fingers digging into my mom’s arm, drawing blood. I heard my mom weeping, though it was now muffled and quieter. Between her sobs, she cried, “No, stop it. Stop it! That hurts!” And she broke down again.

“No! Mommy!” Chloe cried, grabbing at the screen on the window. I stood to her right, my chin quivering, my eyes watering, my fists balled, silently mouthing, “no.”

“You’re tougher than that,” my dad responded, cruel and mocking.

My mom twisted to look at him in the face, threw his phone on the grass, and stared at him again. He stared back. After a moment of silence, he released her, and she stumbled before walking back quickly to the house. She opened the door and closed it quietly. She turned on a light, illuminating the patio, and my dad’s back. He was still sitting on the ground, his knees tucked to his chest and his head in his hands. His phone remained a couple feet away, now forgotten. The only sign of movement was the silent shaking of his shoulders.

I turned to look at Chloe, staring out the window at our dad. She stared at him until our grandparents car drove into the driveway and he climbed into the backseat and they drove away.

The light turned off and I heard my mom slowly climb the steps. She appeared in the doorway of my room, her pink pajamas frayed and ripped on one sleeve, her bare feet covered in dirt. She hesitated a moment, her eyes bouncing between our disheveled beds, and us at the window, now staring at her. Then she walked in, took us both by the hand, and sat us down on Chloe’s bed.

“Girls,” she said and hugged us both. “Your father and I have separated. He’s gone to your grandparents’ house.” She paused, looking us both in the eyes, her mouth quivering. “We separated because when one person in a marriage isn’t faithful, you can’t stay together anymore.” I stared up at her, the simple words reverberating in my head. I looked down at my hands, and began to mindlessly move my fingers together then apart. I looked back up at my mom, then down again.

Later that night, I found myself lying next to my mom in her bed, with Chloe on her other side. I watched as my mom scrolled through her phone, texting her friends about what had happened. I watched as she searched for “Joy Wilson,” and clicked on her biography. She was 23 years old and blond. Not pretty, but not ugly. I watched my mom furrow her brow as she zoomed in on her bright blue eyes, the thin lips of her smile, the brown roots of her hair, the freckles that dotted her nose. I fell asleep to the glow of her phone, still lit up with Joy Wilson’s face.

It was my mom’s tearstained face and deranged voice I kept seeing in my head as I sat in my chair next to the silent doctors and nurses. It was my mom who talked to a therapist on the phone, in her room with the door closed and locked so my sister and I wouldn’t hear. It was my dad who appeared to bounce back quickly from the divorce, moving to Boston immediately after that night in Nantucket, leaving Joy Wilson behind, but meeting and dating Heather after only a year, moving in with her after two, marrying her after three, and having a baby four months later.

It was my dad who repeatedly upended my life the way I knew it. So, here I was, sitting on my chair among all the doctors and nurses, feeling sorry for myself, for my mom, for my sister, and for the past I’d never experience again: for the Easter mornings on perfect spring days.

Finally, I stood up slowly, walked past all the doctors and nurses and returned to the room with a newborn baby, her proud mother, and her doting father.



 

Chloe Gray is a high school sophomore from the East Coast of the U.S. She enjoys playing tennis, reading, and listening to music. She has been previously published in Teen Ink.

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