“The next part I’m going to tell you, Seliah, is really hard to discuss. So keep with me.” My father cleared his throat and dropped his eyes to the table. “I’m not going to make excuses, and I know what I did was wrong. But I’m human, and flawed, and thank the Lord I can also be forgiven.”
He sets his coffee mug down on the table. We’re at the table on the far left of the diner. The same one he’d always sat at all that time.
“I reached out to Rachel in 1961. I missed her good spirits and the way she made things seem so simple.” He took a breath. “Things happened between me and Rachel.”
I listened to my dad talk and felt tears well up in my eyes. I was a grown woman now, collecting these stories to help piece everything together. This was a healing project for me, and as much as I wanted to spare my father his memories, I also needed to know his side of the story.
I can’t pretend like what I did was okay. It wasn’t, and just because my wife had done the same to me didn’t make it right. But I know you’re not here to practice judging me. Like you said, you just want the story.
So here it goes. Rachel and I started seeing each other at Danny’s, the diner I had been going to for years. We both thought it was just as friends at first, but as we got to talking and laughing and crying over what all we’d been through these last many years, something just clicked inside of me. She was willing to invite me to her place, and I was willing to go.
We carried on like that for several months. I kept telling myself that all was fair in love and war. That your mother, if she ever found out, would understand. My imagination told me she’d stand up and applaud me for doing something for myself for once.
That didn’t mean I wanted to run home and tell her or anything. You know how she could be. Never knew if she’d be your biggest fan or your worst enemy, and especially with news like that, I thought I’d just let it play itself out. See where it goes, yunno?
I’d been coming home later then, but I’d always call in to your mom if it wasn’t going to be anything too late. I didn’t want her worrying. So every time, I’d give her a jingle. Didn’t tell her where I was, of course, but just let her know when to expect me. Every time. Except once.
Rachel had surprised me in the work parking lot for some reason. Can’t say I remember now, but I just forgot. It had been no big deal for so long that I guess it slipped my mind.
When I got home, your mother asked me, straight up. “Roy? Are you having an affair?” She wasn’t angry, and it was like she had asked what I wanted for dinner. No fireworks, no slammed doors. Her quiet surprised me, honestly.
I told her I was.
The look on her face about killed me. She crumbled, a sand castle washing away into the ocean. I smiled at her and kissed her forehead. And that’s when she shattered.
Next thing she was grabbing anything she could off the counters and throwin’ it at me. The toaster, the cutting board, the canister of ladles and wooden spoons…
When she ran out of things from the counter, your mom opened the cupboards and started whipping glasses at me. I tried to reason with her, to get her to talk to me, but she’d have nothing to do with it. So I sat down at the dining table and tried to dodge the flying glassware. I let her do it, let her get out all the rage until she grabbed the big kitchen knife.
I stood up and grabbed her. Pinned her arms against her. I had no problem with her tantrum, but sure as heck wasn’t going to let her take a stab at me.
“Toni,” I said, “you get a grip on yourself now.” I might have shaken her a bit. “You’re a grown woman, Toni. And I didn’t do anything to you that you haven’t already done to me.” She started shaking herself, like a scared rabbit. And then came the tears.
“Listen, Toni. I know it hurts. I wasn’t doing it to hurt you. If it’s this much of a problem, I won’t see her again. Tonight will be the last word I speak to her.”
A sound escaped your mother’s mouth – an unearthly, wretched wail. I’ve never heard an animal make a noise like that before and I’ll be just fine if I never do. I let go with one of my hands and reached for the knife with the other. I took it from her and slipped it into a drawer.
She ran from the room and locked herself in the bedroom. I figured I should let her work through it alone for that time being.
I remember shaking my head and laughing at the ferocity with how she reacted.
The next morning, after a fitful sleep on the couch, I knocked on the door to our bedroom and let myself in.
“Toni?” I asked. She wasn’t sleeping, she was sitting up in bed facing the wall. I sat down on the opposite side of the bed and reached out to touch her. “Are you going to forgive me?”
She turned to me, her eyes swollen and caked from tears, and she said, “No, Roy, I can’t.”
Not sure why I was so sure of myself when I answered, but I did, without hesitation. “Well, then, Toni… You’re going to have to leave.”