It’s a casual afternoon around the house. We’re working on school, sure, but mostly just being together. Pleasant energy fills the room along with the sunlight through the kitchen window. I’m on the couch, so when the phone rings nearby I grab it. It’s school hours, a dangerous time for a non-adult to answer, but I’m not worried today, feeling safe. “Hello?”
It’s Dad. He’s yet again remodeling the Fly Shop near the State Park, where some of his labor is paid in trade for beautiful fly fishing equipment. But his long time love/hate relationship with the shop’s absent minded owner always leaves him dark and volatile. Busy and brusk, he snaps what he feels is enough information, which in usual style leaves me hoping against hope what he means will become obvious later: “I need to know _____ and it’s probably in the shop, in a stack of papers.” It’s pretty typical for us to be the perpetual business secretaries, since he works from home and we are at his disposal. I hang up the phone and rejoin the family chat, every intention of making the long trek to the shop soon, but with a conversation to finish.
Less than 5 minutes later, the phone rings and my stomach flops. I already know where this is heading. I chide myself for getting distracted. Still, I know on some level that I wouldn’t have had time to make the walk yet even if I’d left immediately.
“Hello?” I answer with dread.
“Did you find it?”
“Did you look where I told you?”
“I’m about to.” The age of experimenting with self assertion is upon me.
“You should have done it IMMEDIATELY. You do what I tell you!”
“I’m sorry, I was doing school with Mom. I didn’t know you needed it–”
“I DON’T CARE WHAT you were doing! You do what I tell you! (He shouts into the phone and my practiced fingers move to the volume control) I am the most important! If I say to do something it doesn’t matter who else says what else, you drop absolutely everything and serve me! (I remember these words distinctly– ‘serve,’ ‘most important,’ and especially this next:) I am the HEAD of this household! I am your Father. I am your KING. Anything I need is the most important thing in your life! My time is worth more than yours. My day is more valuable! If you don’t drop what you are doing to obey me you are a rebellious daughter!”
I understand the subtext, I note the intended Biblical references. I know he is summoning God to his side. This, more than the unfairness of his anger, makes me ill. I know he is wrong. I don’t know what to do about it. I am standing by the kitchen counter, phone in hand. I stare at the cabinets as he shouts, thinking about the color and texture of the paint, then at the fridge where my eyes linger on a note in my father’s all caps handwriting– shouting, always shouting– outlining exactly how something in his home is to be organized, reminding us to obey him when he’s gone. Mom and Saturn sit at the table, Emerald in the living room, watching. All eyes on my silence. All conversation, joy and light have gone. All eyes are on the phone, guarded eyes watching the Presence seep out of the phone and into us. All looking for a way to help, but finding none. All ready to move at a moment’s notice, poised to act and diffuse as soon as I am free to share. All glad they didn’t get to the phone first.
The haze of memory does not distort this fact: The yelling continues for thirty minutes. It’s average length for a lecture, but unusually long for a phone call. We’re usually safe if he’s not home. Family members eventually shift around uncomfortably as I wander from room to room listening. I’ve already learned my “non-committal consonants” so I respond only with “mmm” and “hmm”. He doesn’t care, he’s not listening to me. He has something to say. At last I am released to hang up the phone and I am instantly assailed with Saturn’s horrified “What WAS that??” Teeth clench, whole body flushed in fury at the deep injustice, reeling from being denied a voice of defense against hurled accusations and feeling violated by untrue “truths,” I recount choice bits word for word. Their eyes get wider and wider. This is a new and shocking extreme. This is unprecedented. This, I feel and later confirm, is a turning point.
Mom echos my quotation: “King? Serve?” I nod. “And if it was so extremely important, why does he suddenly have 30 minutes to lecture me?” I cling to the one absolute argument I feel will affirm the broken logic of the King, avoiding any discussion of biblical roles. I’m never quite sure how right he is on those. But if he is so wrong elsewhere, maybe, just maybe, he’s wrong about God too. I hope.
The oldest, Saturn wants so much to protect me. “I’ll answer the phone next time and give him the information.” I shake my head. “No, then he’ll demand why I didn’t do it, and probably think I refused. That will make it worse. I’ll do it.”
Impotence. My primary state of existence. Impotence and fear, and over time, a highly developed sense of injustice.