I was only nine when my Dad walked out. Just nine.
Have you ever wondered why people grow up thinking something is their fault? Maybe it is. But we never get told the truth, do we? As a child you will have lies streamed into you, to make you shut up, or to make you understand from an easier point of view.
I woke up in the middle of night. I’m not sure what nightmare it was that woke me, I used to have them all the time, and I still do. My light blue spotty sheets were soaking up my sweat; I had them wrapped around me, like a cuddly safeguard from the monsters under my bed. Yet, now I’m older and things are different. My Dad can’t be the one to comfort me anymore, and my Mum sleeps with these little red sweets, they look like smarties in a posh box, so nor can she comfort me.
I called out and I called out. I called out until my throat was bone dry. I called out until I ran out of tears. I was gripping my sheets so tightly. Throwing my head into the pillow, I wept silently, without tears. I couldn’t call out anymore, my mind was flooding with images of my fears all gathering round my bed; locking me in, standing back to back like the towering bars of a cell.
It was then that my Mum called out: “Josh! Come downstairs!”
I stayed silent, hoping she’d come and fetch me. Carry me through my room and downstairs. Where we’d sit on the sofa and I’d tell her about my dream whilst my Dad heated up the milk, then they’d listen to me. They’d listen and Dad would nod reassuringly, whilst Mum would say comforting things whilst stroking my hair. But…
“Josh, come down honey. Please.” The desperation diluted her voice.
So clambering out of bed, I closed my eyes, shut them tight, and stumbled out of my bleak room. Tripped over my toys. Their sharp edges jabbing at my feet, warning me to turn around and hide under the sheets again. Where the problem might just fade away. When I was out of my room, I ran. I ran as fast as I could. I ran straight into the kitchen and grabbed my Mum’s leg, squeezing it tight like a cuddly toy and hugging her for comfort. Weeping and mumbling I held firm, like the stubborn and naive child that I was.
She gently pushed at my shoulders, “Come on Josh, please, get off, you have to say bye to Daddy”. I could hear the strain in her voice, I knew one of us was crying, but I thought it should’ve been me.
My Dad spoke in his warm and friendly voice, “Son”, he took a hold of my shoulder and eased me away from my Mum’s leg. Turning around I saw him crouching down to meet my wondering gaze. His black sports bag laid just behind him and his unlaced boots hung limply on his feet. “Me and your mother have to spend some - some time away… From each other” pausing I could see the corners of his eyes moisten, the grey bags hung like drapes under his sockets and his chin was rough with stubble.
I shook my head, over and over, because maybe that could fix everything. Maybe if I shook my head hard enough, then I’d be able to shake the fear out of his eyes; shake the bags away and tear them down, like tearing down ugly drapes from the haunted house I felt I was trapped in.
He rose up and grabbed his bag, shaking his head too. It was like we agreed, like father like son. Neither of us wanted him to leave, but it only took Mum’s word to make him go. So I watched whilst he took one last look at my Mum, and said “I love you”. Both of us stayed silent. I was silent because I had to be, I was the man of the house now. I didn’t know why my Mum stayed silent.
The light poured onto my Dad’s back as he turned, ran his hand over the kitchen door and started walking. His boots pounding the wood floor with each step, I stared and stared, I didn’t even say bye.
Nor did he turn back to hear my whisper.
He grasped the handle of the front door, pulled it open and stepped out into the unforgiving night.
The door clicked and my Mum stayed strangely silent.