Standing at the window looking out onto the parking lot of the apartment building I live in, my hands shake and are covered in sweat. My head is spinning with anxiety and I don’t know what to do. Should I go out there? Should I hide? My stomach does a somersault that feels like I’m at the first steep drop on a roller coaster.
A few minutes ago, the apartment rental office manager called to tell me my father was here and wanted my address. He had somehow found out where I lived but did not know the exact unit I was in. Should she tell him how to find me? My mother was visiting and when she saw the look on my face, she grabbed the phone from my hands and told the woman to tell him to go away. That is something easier said than done with my Dad.
You see, my father is schizophrenic and an alcoholic prone to violence.
As a child, I remember him ricocheting back and forth between being a successful salesman to a very scary giant who hurt my mother. He drank beer every night to the point of slurring his words and, when my mother would attempt to stop him, he would beat her badly in front of my little brother and me.
Though my brother did not understand much of what was happening, I understood fully and it was hell. Our neighbors would hear the screaming and smashing of breakables, call the police and Dad would go to jail for the night. My mother always took me along when she bailed him out and I would cry at the sight of him being handcuffed to a table. He would call me over and I would give him the biggest hug and tell him everything would be alright soon and he could come home.
Sometimes he asks me to try to break the cuffs off of him. Being a vulnerable child that lived in a chaotic home, I did try and cried harder because I couldn’t. I could not rescue him from the cuffs and I could not rescue him from his illness. I’d give all this effort, and to no avail, because it would happen again in a few days.
Eventually, an arrest would lead to his hospitalization due to his mental illness and I would not see my father for weeks. Those times were quieter at home if you didn’t count my mother screaming at me all the time because I would ask how Dad was or why I could not go see him. If he was sick in the hospital, I should be there to hold his hand. Right? This was all too much turmoil for a six-year-old to handle.
Reading all of this, you would think that I’d be happy to have such a person out of my life. But I loved him so much. My father used to call me “Kitten”. I felt special whenever he called me that pet name. He would hug me, tell me I was beautiful and never once laid a hand on me. Sure that each and every single time he would come home healthy for good, I always forgave him.
He never did get well. While in the hospital, medications and therapy helped my father return to a controlled state of mental health and he would be released. My mother continuously took him back and soon he would insist he no longer needed the medication; that he was fine now. The cycle repeated.
At the age of eight, my mother finally found the strength to divorce him. He never paid child support but she never stopped him from seeing me. Whenever I was with him, I was always his Kitten and he took me to movies, carnivals and all the things a weekend parenting visit provides. That is, until he would get sick again.
As I got older, he began to turn on me if I didn’t behave in a specific way he wanted me to. He made me feel that I was ungrateful and unappreciative or worse. He took my friends and I to a movie once and when three giddy girls got too loud in his car, he threatened to put them out on the street to walk home alone. I thought I would die of embarrassment and went home crying my eyes out. Though he didn’t hit me, he might as well have. I had replaced my mother it seemed.
Throughout my teenage years I endured this now terrible situation with him. One day he loved me and I was terrific, then I was not and suffered emotional abuse. He would disappear for a long time with no word of where he was or how he was. Then he shows up with no explanation as if nothing had happened.
One time, Dad got arrested for hitting a man at a bar and the man died. My father fled, calling me from a train station asking for money. I was sixteen and had no money. I had to lie to him and say that I would wire the money so he would let me off the phone. While I cried hysterically, my mother called the police and my father was picked up and taken back to the hospital again. He stopped calling or seeing me after that. In my mind, I had blown it with him, never to be forgiven. I was a full-fledged codependent and an adult child of an alcoholic striving for the approval of a person that could never provide that to me.
Though my mother had never stopped me from seeing my father or talking to him, she often told me that he would never get well and would only hurt me again and again; that his illness was too severe and his alcoholism made things even more unbearable and did I want to deal with that? I hated her for telling me those things. But she was right and I knew it. This last incident was proof enough.
We moved a short time later and eventually I moved out on my own, so even if my Dad wanted to contact me he now had no way of doing so. Life went on and, in the back of my mind, I hoped he was alright. Despite it all, I still missed him very much.
And now, standing right outside of where I lived, he was back. My father had been refused by the rental manager for the information he wanted. As he left, he told her he would walk around the complex in hopes of seeing me.
So here I stand, wringing my sweaty hands, tears welling in my eyes, remembering all of those tumultuous memories. I feel scared but, strangely enough, also obligated. How could I not see him? How can I not run out with open arms yelling for him and covering his face with kisses from his Kitten? At the very same time, how could I once again subject myself to this very mentally unhealthy and addicted person?
I could hear my mother in the background telling me that it is my decision whether or not I want to go out there and meet with him—that I know the risk and to think of my son. Her voice sounds far away even though she is right behind me.
Then I see him. He is tall, thin and handsome, just as I remembered him to be. He looks around and slowly walks across the sidewalk, scanning the area looking for me. Me. Everything that was going to happen in the next few minutes hinged on a choice I had to make. I didn’t want this responsibility! Yet, he looks so lost and I can hear him calling to me in his mind.
Kitten? Where are you? It’s Daddy.
It is all too much for me. The tears topple over my eyelids and spill down my cheeks as I put one shaky hand on the glass of the window and bow my head, sobbing. I call out to him in my own mind, saying:
Daddy! I love you. I have always loved you so much and I always will. Even when it was so hard to. I know it is not your fault that you have this illness and I’m sure you would have done things so much differently if you could. I’m all grown up now and life has changed for me. Please understand that I have to let you go. That I have to live my life and take care of my son. Please don’t be upset with me. Love me enough to set me free of this.
After sending him this message in my heart, I watch my father continue down the sidewalk and eventually out of sight. Though letting him go is hard, I do not regret my decision. I know it is the right thing to do for me and my son, and I’m a stronger woman for it.
Remember that it is your choice, and not anyone else’s, to leave a toxic relationship. Yes, you will have to go through a grieving process, but once you find yourself on the other side of the window, hopefully you discover peace.