I remember not even realizing I had said it. When you’re a kid and you learn a new word, you just can’t help using it over and over again. Especially when it’s a “bad” word. It’s too tempting – the word burns the tip of your tongue.
So whenever I’d learn a new one I’d load it into my arsenal, ready to fire at will.
Like the afternoon when my Mom wouldn’t let me go out on the lake with my friends.
The problem was there weren’t any life jackets and she was worried we were going to tip the boat over. So she said no, and my friends set sail without me. Side note: they tipped it over after 5 minutes.
That afternoon I stormed off into the bathroom and cupping my hands over my mouth, rattled off every bad word I had ever picked up from the neighborhood kids or read carved into the back of a bus seat.
Shit. Shit. Shit.
With the receiver cradled between my shoulder and ear, all I can hear is breathing.
Duplicity. That’s the word I most often use to describe my Dad. A man who would buy $10 worth of super bouncy balls to drop on unsuspecting victims and end an argument by smashing a lamp against a wall.
If I had to guess I’d say I was about 7 or 8 when I could recognize what alcohol smelled like on his breath. And by 10 I could tell what kind he’d drank that night.
We process odors by routing them through our olfactory bulb, which connects to our amygdala and hippocampus. Those two regions of our brain are responsible for memory and emotion.
If I smell burning leaves, my mind jumps to the backyard of my childhood home. Or when kneading pizza dough, I’m suddenly impatiently waiting in line at my favorite restaurant with my parents.
When I smell alcohol on someone’s breath, I only think of one thing.
Now we’re both in the dark, driving towards his house. I’m waiting for him to break the silence or roll down the window. Tonight was vermouth and the car was plastered with the smell.
A little later on, I’m going through the motions of making dinner. Nobody has spoken in an hour. I know he’s upset, that’s easy. I just don’t know why.
A minute or two later, he’s joined me in the kitchen. He walks up behind me and presses against my back. In the next few moments, he’ll open the kitchen drawer, grab my wrist, and hold it down against the countertop.
This wasn’t the goofy guy who couldn’t walk by an eyeglass store without yelling out “HELP! HELP! I CAN’T SEE! I CA–oh, whew…okay, my eyes were just closed.”
This was the other guy. Like I said – duplicity.
With his free hand, he pulled out a knife from the opened drawer.
Dangling the knife above my hand, he pushed his face against mine. He didn’t need to say anything that his breath hadn’t already said.
“You never tell me to shut up. You understand that? Understand I’m your father? You don’t speak to me like that. You don’t speak like that.”
He wasn’t yelling. He wasn’t crying. He wasn’t breaking things. He was calm. Peaceful.
Could he see it in my eyes? Could he feel it from my pulse? Did he know?
Satisfied, he loosened his grip and laid the knife back down on the counter. He went to bed that night without speaking to me again.
Whenever our weekends would end, and right before I’d get out of his car, he’d turn around in his seat and ask me the same question he’d asked every Sunday afternoon: Who loves you more than I do? And I’d reply, no one.
That’s right, he’d say. No one.