A pervasive awkwardness hung in the room. It was uncomfortably silent, save for the sniffing that punctuated the silence at regular intervals. Jenna still watched her father with enraptured curiosity. It was the first time he had ever displayed such emotion. Well, that she had seen, anyway. He was so strong. Nothing was supposed to phase him – that is what he used to say. Crying was not for men like him, oh no! He was not a girl and only girls cried. To him it was a sign of vulnerability and weakness. Yet now, this man sobbed like a child. To be honest, it wasn’t the reaction she expected. Lying, accusations of fancied imagination and it all being in her head she had prepared herself for. The curveball threw her.
Casey fumbled in her pockets and pulled out two pocket-sized tissues, handing one to Robert and the other to Jenna. “Here you go.”
Jenna’s dad managed a nod, his eyes firmly fixed on the beige carpet.
“I thought crying was for little girls and weaklings?” Jenna stated matter-of-factly. She was aware each word would lance through Robert like a hot knife, but she couldn’t resist. It was her turn to make him suffer.
The only response was wiping away the snot that had begun to leave an unsightly trail down his nose. Pathetic.
“You’ve joined the ranks of the weak, then? Gosh,” she sneered, “I really don’t recognise you at all!”
“Not helping, Jenna!” David’s voice barked. He placed his hand reassuringly on Robert’s shoulder.
“You both need to talk,” he advised. This time, it was Jenna’s turn to stay silent. He pressed on, insistent, “no shouting, no slagging each other off. Calmly.” He looked at Jenna firmly in the eyes. “Can you both do that?”
Somewhat mollified, Jenna consented. Her father, still mute just jerked his head. Finally, the voice she had yearned to hear joined the conversation. It was faint and muffled. “I’m so sorry Jenna.”
What? An apology from her dad? Lately that had been unheard of! She was so used to him being wrong and strong. Those four words filled her with ambivalence. She was relieved to finally hear this seemingly admittance of wrongdoing but she was still unsure whether this was all just an act to get David and Casey on side. She would have to probe further.
“Sorry for what exactly?”
Composing himself, he took a breath and continued. “You are right. I haven’t been myself.”
“Really?” her voiced dripped with sarcasm.
Robert seemed oblivious to it. “I’ve lost my way and I’ve been taking it out on you.”
Did that seem honest? Jenna thought so. So far, so good.
“I think we should go into the other room,” Casey suggested. She rose with her dad, prepared to leave.
Jenna grabbed her hand. “Can you stay please?” she pleaded. She looked imploringly at David, “to make sure we actually talk calmly?” They reclined back into their seats. Jenna turned her attentions back to her father.
“Why?” she questioned. “Why have you been taking everything out on me?”
“Because…” his voice trailed off.
“Come on, dad. You have to talk!” Jenna was becoming exasperated again.
“You…” his face creased into a frown, “you remind me of her.”
Jenna swallowed. Her. There was only one person he could be referring to. This conversation that had been forbidden for months, suppressed and festering in the darkness, had finally permitted chinks of light to seep through, making sense of things.
“Yes. Your mannerisms, your hair, your eyes and your nose.” His daughter recollected her mother’s face. Her laughing emerald eyes, her slightly hooked nose and her chestnut hair that she regularly wore in a ponytail down to the middle of her back. Sometimes they pretended to be sisters. While there were similarities between the two, Jenna had to admit, when it came to beauty, her mother undoubtedly reigned supreme.
“You did look quite alike.” Casey interjected sympathetically.
Robert was deaf to her comment, drowning in his own personal despair. “But she is gone. Forever. She will never come back. She broke my heart.”
“Why do people keep talking like she is dead?”
“She might as well be” her father sniffed. “She deserted me. Out of the blue – no warning!”
“Mum didn’t just leave you. She left me too. Both of us!”
“I know. I took it badly. I was hurting too much to sort myself out and things just spiralled out of control. I virtually became a recluse. I had no reserves of strength for myself and I couldn’t even help you, my own daughter.” He sighed heavily, “I am so ashamed of myself!” Each tear that she witnessed welling from the corner of his eye and trickle gracefully down his now blotchy face felt sacred. She imagined it as him being purified from within.
Honesty resounded in his voice. Jenna knew it. She interrogated him more.
“And making me feel badly about myself and my grades?”
“I wanted someone to hurt just as badly as I did. I know that’s an awful thing to say, but it is the truth. I just wanted you to be the best that you can be.” He swivelled his position to Casey. “I am sorry for the strain I have put on your friendship. You are a really good friend to my daughter. Please don’t fall out over my selfish actions.” She nodded.
He clasped his daughter’s hands in his own. “I do love you, Jenna, very much. I know I haven’t said it in a long time, but I mean it, and I will say it every day. Can you forgive me?”
“I’m getting there, but a lot has happened. We need to talk about this more, just the two of us next time.”
“I understand. Okay, but after your presentation. I’ve already spoiled enough things for you. I don’t want to ruin that too!”
Jenna threw her arms around her dad, wrapping them tightly around him. She could feel it – her real dad was returning. Finally.
“Well it’s high time things returned to normal,” Robert proudly declared.
“I wouldn’t say no to that!” They all laughed.
Her dad pinched her playfully on the nose. We’ll talk more after your presentation. Okay?”
For the first time in six months, Robert pecked Jenna on the cheek. He turned around, eyes glinting.
David’s lips curved upwards into a smile. He already knew where this conversation would be headed.
Robert dashed upstairs to change and before long, they were both throwing on their coats and pulling on their shoes, ready to resume their Sunday ritual.
Jenna turned her attentions to her friend. Nerves gripped her slightly, but she would have to ask. “Casey, are we okay?”
“You okay to tackle some of that history project?” Casey asked, playfully.
Jenna laughed, the weight of the world, seemingly lifted from her previously burdened shoulders. “Yeah…I think so!”
MEANWHILE…JOIN IN THE DISCUSSION (comments section below)…
- Does it help to talk with others in the room?
- Would you accept Robert’s apology or would you want more detail from him?
- Is it ever justified to take out your frustrations caused by someone else on another person?
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