“Why is there a priest in our living room?”
Mom was arms deep in dirty dishes when I asked, and very unlike her, she didn’t hear what I said. That was another hint that something very wrong was happening here. I took a step closer, putting my gym bag on the kitchen chair.
“Mom? Why is there a priest in the living room?”
She heard me that time. Whatever she had been so diligently scrubbing clunked on the bottom of the sink, followed by an exasperated sigh. Her arms emerged from the suds, raised to support her and the grand burden that seemed to be attached to the answer of my question.
The silence was haunting. I could hear the priest breathing in the next room. The water that ran down my mom’s arms splashed in deafening brilliance on the counter.
“He’s here to talk to your father.”
Dad hadn’t been living in this house for 3 months. He had left in a drunken stooper one night, vowing that he was done with this family. As my mom wept on the front step, and my sister clung to her stuffed rabbit, I meet his vow with my own: I would never have anything to do with my father, ever again.
“Why is he here?”
“I just told you, Henry.”
“No, mom. Not the priest.”
Sorrow filled her eyes. No one had talked about my father, not even a passing mention since that night. It was a blight in our family life that we all wanted to forget. And it seemed that we had. But now…
“He’s here because he needs help. He has no where else to go.”
I don’t know which hit me first, the anger that boiled my skin or the sickness that made my inside practise an gymnastics routine. That he was here, and here because he needed us, filled me with such an uncomfortable feeling, I fell forward into a kitchen chair.
My mother rushed towards me, and I heard the priest get up off the couch. “Is he okay?” He said, with a surprising sincerity in his voice. There was no immediate answer. The weight of my body and situation was almost too much for my arms to handle. My mom’s arms swooped in around me, supporting me as I tried to get my footing.
“He’s okay….you are okay, Henry?” The worry was oozing out of her. But mixed in there was the pain that I was feeling.
I looked up at her, meeting her own pain filled stare with mine.
“Mom, how are we going to do this? After what he did? What he did to you? To Annie? To me?”
The worry on her face was overwhelmed by the pain of the past. What our father had done was so horrendous, so evil, we wouldn’t name it. We wouldn’t give it any life, and yet it wielded great power over us. It had crippled us before, and now the memory was attempting to do it again.
“I don’t know Henry. But we have to do something.”