"Wake up!!" he screamed.
I sat there, numb, my scattered mind firing on all pistons to make sense of what he had said. Could it be true? Had I… No! It couldn't be right! Dad had been with me the whole time. He was right by my side when I made bail the last time, right? Who else could have come up with that money? Mom was useless, she couldn't have done it. She didn't even have a job, the pawn shop was…
Wait. That's not right. At tax time, she always came with me to the lady, what was her name, Angela? She did our taxes free, because she and Mom got along so well. But she'd never mentioned Daddy. How could that be?
Jesus GOD I remembered it now. But it wasn't true… was it? I mean, Daddy was supposed to pick me up after Mom dropped me off, it was part of the agreement for the therapy, and…
Why did I need therapy?
Dr. Kaufmann, that pretentious jerk-off, was talking again.
"Your father wasn't a knight in shining armor. He was just a man."
That was so false I didn't know what to say to refute it. But I heard footsteps outside. The door handle turned. Daddy!
"You never knew him, and you never will."
Daddy, you're here now, show him how wrong he is!
But the doc just kept on talking about how Mom wasn't the monster I knew her to be. Even when Dad walked right up next to the doctor, Kaufmann didn't notice him. It would be impossible not to see Dad in that hideous Hawaiian shirt he had on. I loved that shirt, he wore it the day he left Mom and got his life back.
But he wasn't really there. Or else Kaufmann wasn't, and I knew he was in front of me. Mom had shaken his hand when she made the appointment.
"You are alive. And you need to live your life."
"Cheryl." Both men had spoken at the same time. The doctor still had not seen him, even when he came right up and knelt next to the couch.
Near tears, understanding now that my Daddy was long gone, but my psychosis was still right here, I croaked out, "You've been with me for so long…"
"I always will be." he said, as warmly as I always remembered him being. But this… this wasn't right. Some distant, rational part of me knew the truth, and knew I would never get another chance to set it right after this. I wouldn't have the guts to peek at reality again, and I knew it. Choking back the sobs that were aching to come forth, I looked Dad in the eyes one last time, mentally bidding him a farewell I knew he would hear, since he was only part of me anyway.
And I shook my head and told him silently to leave and be at peace.
When he had been completely consumed in ice, I turned back to the doctor. "May I be excused now?" I asked, trying without much success to hide my rage at him for breaking me. Daddy was my world. He was everything, and this bastard stole it. He took Daddy from me! You son of a BITCH!!!
"Cheryl, you can blame me for what you just did if you want. I recommend it over blaming yourself or your mother. But maybe you should try accepting death as a part of life, instead of screwing yourself over further by continuing to blame others for your father's death."
"You BASTARD!! How dare you suggest…?!"
I had stopped. I didn't even know what I was about to protest. He just looked at me.
I cracked. I just looked up at him, at his face that was no longer angry or frustrated with me, but heavy with compassion and understanding, as it would have been if I'd admitted my father's fate in the first place, and collapsed into sobs that wracked my entire body. Every memory I had of my father, my Daddy, seemed to shatter in my head at once, and the world vanished as the violence of the breaking finally took me. I had never known such misery… I had saved up all the hurt I would have felt eighteen years ago if I'd accepted Dad's death, and let it stew until I could understand what had happened. All the shoplifting, all the mug shots at the police station, all the talking back and arguing with Mom… it was all to find some way of getting attention from a father who had never existed in the first place. For the first time in my life, I wished for death to come.
An hour later, I was calm again. Kaufmann had talked with me some more, trying merely to relax me. The session had gone way over time, but he refused to send me home without knowing how I would be when I left. I let myself out.
Mom was waiting out in the snow for me. When I staggered out, still scared to oblivion of facing a world without Daddy, she saw my face and understood. But she didn't hug me. She didn't know what to do with me. How awful I must have been to her…
I reached out to touch her arm, and she laid a hand gently on my cheek. We walked arm in arm to the car in utter silence; I didn't even hear the wind whipping around us, stirring the snow into my unseeing eyes. She sat me in the car, buckled my seat belt, and we drove home.
When we arrived, she paused for a moment before getting out of the car. My face was still a blank, but my mind had begun firing again. I thought she would say something, but she didn't. Reaching for the handle, she opened up the door, and swung a foot out of the car, but I couldn't let her go inside without speaking first. I shot a hand over to her shoulder so fast she thought I was going to hit her, and made to block my shot with her hand. What had I put this poor woman through?
"Mommy…" I began, already starting to cry again. Her face registered shock. I hadn't called her anything but Dahlia when we were alone for fifteen years. Regaining my composure enough to finish my sentence was difficult, but I got enough in that when the last word turned into a pained wail, she still understood me.
"I'm so sorry!"
Once more I wept, this time with shame and crushing self-hatred for how I had acted towards a woman who wanted only to help her beloved daughter. I felt her body move in a jerk away from me, shocked at what she heard, then she left the car. Abandoned again. I deserved it. I didn't ever deserve to be loved again. The cold air from my right side surprised me. My door had been opened. Hands were on my face. I opened my eyes, blinking tears away in my surprise, and Mom's face was right there.
"My little girl…" she got out, and then we were both bawling like infants, wrapped up in each other for comfort we had done without thanks to me for nearly two decades. We actually slept in my bed together that night, mother and daughter, finally a family again and unwilling to let each other go.
That was nearly two years ago. Since then I've gone back to school and begun a degree in child psychology. I have a clean living boyfriend, no more thieving screw-ups, whom I love very much, and my mother and I… we smile together now. I've taken a job waiting tables over at Neely's Bar, which has become a full restaurant since they renovated. Our rent is never in doubt anymore. Daddy wouldn't want me to forget him, but he wouldn't want me to neglect Mom either. I still see him on street corners sometimes, and I weep on those nights. But my days are filled with life again.
Daddy said it should be that way for me, always.