He forgot you one day when you were twelve, left you there standing on the street, waiting. You made excuses for him. You told yourself it was normal. You were right. He is normal. You are normal. It is normal.
You live in the country, a small town in the Northern Rivers of New South Wales, a place known as the ‘green triangle’; you seem to be the only person who has never tried it.
You don’t judge them, it is all about being a teenager, experimenting, having fun, you understand. In fact, you envy them, their carelessness and secretly try to predict how many will end up like him.
You could even call yourself lucky. You don’t have a father who hits you, argues, or gets angry. He has never stormed out or made you feel unsafe. He has never cheated on your mother or gambled the house away. He would have to care for that.
You think of yourself as lucky because he apologised that day, he said he loved you. You can’t remember him saying it but it must be true.
You never saw him smoke the marijuana. You can’t even remember when you first found out.
You just remember the times he was there. Like when he let you lie in the tray of his ute all the way into town because there wasn’t enough room inside the cabin and the smell of the rust, the cold of metal on your cheek and the weight of the shade cloth over your body.
You remember him at your sports day, in the leopard print shorts, not standing with the other parents cheering kids but on the other side of playground looking at the trees.
You remember his clapped out, bright-orange ute, with the plastic toy dinosaur strapped to roof, and the huge, brown bags of raw sugar he brought home from the mill. You remember him urging you to jump from the brick wall, three times the height of you and set a metre back from the edge of the pool.
You remember him chasing snakes and bringing them home to wrap around the handrail of the stairs and excitement of his motorbike rides, racing through the cane fields, chased by dogs, all three kids on at once.
You remember him ironing your school uniform, each pleat a perfect crease until he burnt a hole the size of his fist that he patched with material from his old undies. You remember when he took your bed and moved out.
Your mother has a magnet on the fridge that says ‘the best thing a father can do for his kids is love their mother’. You wonder when she got that magnet. What she thinks when she looks at it?
He told you not to tell her and you never have. You never told her that you gave him the cash from your part-time job or that he asked for it. You never told her but you never forgot. You were embarrassed, wanted to protect her. You were fourteen and supporting your farther. You always thought that the parents were supposed to support the kids. Maybe that is just another myth like Santa Clause or Cinderella.
He is different now but the same and it makes you wonder how much was the drugs and how much was just his personality. Can you inherit the ability to make someone feel abandoned even while you hug them?
He goes to Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous; he says he is better, independent. He warns you about dysfunctional behaviour and co-dependence. He has read all the books. You can’t remember him ever reading to you and you still don’t understand. How are you are meant to have a relationship that is not co-dependent? Isn’t that the point? Can’t you need him? Does he not need you?
He has a tattoo on his leg. It is on the side of his calf just below the knee and it is of the date he last had a cigarette. Its lines are purple and blue and the numbers stand out against his olive skin, a reminder of what he has achieved, of the constant struggle. He is two years clean. He is proud of himself. He forgets to buy you an eighteenth birthday present but spends time mentoring kids trying to get clean. That must mean he is a good person.’Are you’ a bad person for wanting him to spend time with you instead?
He comes over sometimes. He has a way of saying the one thing that will cut you to the bone without even realising and you feel the sting of tears but you won’t cry in front of him. You shouldn’t care what he thinks. Other times he talks of going back to school, having a relationship, making money, and you wonder why he waited until you were all grown up to get it together.
But most of the time when he comes over you sit in silence and watch your mum pretending to be friends, trying to act brave. She won’t cry in front of him either and it is at these times that another myth comes crumbling down, one you never even realised you believed in. Parents don’t know everything, aren’t super human, they are just people with a history and a limit to their knowledge. They are vulnerable. It is knowing this about your mum that kills you, is the one thing you wish you could take back. It is his fault that the illusion shattered, his fault you saw the truth. But you can’t blame him, not really, because it’s normal, everyone smokes dope. Right?
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