Thank you for joining me as I share a short story from an anthology I’m compiling for release later this year.
Cassandra pulled the SUV into the parking lot of the old motel. She killed the motor and sat watching the sheets of rain blow and billow in the world outside the safety of the car’s interior. The storm grew louder and added an electric charge to the environment. Adding its own shades of darkness and volatility to her mood of uncertainty. It had taken the Private Investigator she’d hired months to track down this location, and now she was hesitant, reluctant to discover the truths that may await her. Would the past be best left undisturbed? Perhaps. Yet the questions would remain forever unasked if she didn’t find the strength to ask them now.
Just why she’d made the choice to try and locate her father had made some sort of sense at the outset of this journey.
The answers she’d hungered to hear for twelve long years may now only be one conversation away. Yet she reminded herself one more time that her father had appeared to have no desire to be found. He’d changed his name several times in the years since she’d last seen him. She needed to prepare herself for the fact that he may not be at all pleased that she was here. He may be in no condition to even recall who she was if his drinking had escalated beyond what it had been in the long months after her mother had died.
She’d watched on, too caught up in her own pain of dealing with a world devoid of the loving and reassuring presence of her darling mother to help her father with his own debilitating grief and his agony of loss. She was thirteen years old when her mother had passed and utterly powerless to give him much measure of comfort beyond being there to reach out for if he’d needed it. He never did.
The military had flown him home when his wife’s illness had deteriorated. He’d been with his wife of twenty-years as she passed. Cassandra recalled her desperate need of his reassuring presence in a world suddenly gone mad. She’d sought comfort from him and found him unwilling or unable to offer it.
He’d started drinking heavily soon after the funeral. She began finding him asleep on the couch or the floor, wherever in the house he’d had the final drink that rendered him unconscious. There was no extended family to reach out to. He and her mother had both been the only child of only children. There were no siblings around her to help absorb the intensity of that sudden stark and empty aloneness.
She’d begun to flounder and withdraw from her old world. Watching her friends interact within their own tight-knit family groups had simply been too painful to witness.
She’d watched her father dive deeper into any alcohol or substance that would give him the numbness he craved. Money would be tossed carelessly on the coffee table alongside the perpetually full ashtrays and empty bottles. His bong sat alongside the marihuana he smoked with increasing regularity. The glass-topped coffee table was smudged with the residues of the cocaine now added to the mix.
For over a year their only shared conversations were his slurred questions about the availability of food. He seemed content with what she’d managed to purchase and prepare, although he existed on very little apart from the daily replenishment of alcohol he now had delivered. Refusing anything she offered up as a meal if she dared try and recreate a dish that was her mothers. She’d soon discovered that the easiest way to feed them both was a continual stream of cheap food to go or frozen TV dinners. He needed and wanted a relationship with his drug dealer. He craved no such bond with his only child.
He’d always prided himself on his level of fitness and Cassandra recalled all the times her friends had commented on it. Indulging themselves with a comment here and there about their own father’s lack of the determination it took to work out daily as he had done whenever he came home on leave. It now shattered her to see him asleep in his own vomit amidst the stench that went right along with his unwashed body.
Cassandra’s grades had slumped and she began to fail all her classes. Her lack of attendance at school had drawn further attention. Her father’s failure to respond to repeated requests to see her school counselor hadn’t gone unnoticed. The principal had felt he was left with no option but to express his concerns about her continued well being to Child Services.
The welfare folks had come by and her father was too inebriated at 10 o’clock in the morning to even stand up, much less impress them with his willingness to change the situation. His one expressed desire was for them to get the hell off his property and mind their own damned business.
Two days after their visit he was gone. He’d left five hundred dollars on the kitchen bench. There was no note, no explanation, no nothing.
Cassandra sought comfort by telling herself repeatedly that he’d simply gone on another bender. She managed to do that for a few weeks until the phone calls about missed mortgage and credit card payments had begun coming in. The five-hundred dollars kept her fed for quite a while, but she knew it wouldn’t last her much longer.
His buddies had stopped calling by. If no drinks were on offer at the address then they had no desire to be there. The fact that she was a thirteen-year-old girl alone didn’t factor into the equation.
Child services were called in by a concerned neighbor who had noticed her father’s continued absence. Cassandra had ignored the knocks on the door at first. She’d stayed silent and hidden until the police had arrived and convinced her to open the door.
Cassandra was ultimately placed in a loving and caring foster home. It had taken time and dedication and long months of counseling for her small world to begin again to function. She was lucky and grateful to have them in her life. The abandonment issues she faced as best she could.
It was her upcoming graduation from Harvard that had finally prompted her attempt to locate him.
Knowing that the proud event would be celebrated by her foster family should have been enough. Cassandra acknowledged that and yet knew that somehow she wanted her father to know how well she’d done. It was some half-assed need to prove to the man that she’d managed just fine without him.
She guessed she still wanted and indeed still craved his approval.
Cassandra pulled her thoughts back to the present as she watched a man stagger and lurch his way up the stairs that led to the motel units. He balanced himself up against the rail that bordered the walkway as he fumbled in his pockets. His long grey hair surprised her a little but there was no mistaking her father. She opened the car door and stepped into the rain as the man leaned over the railing and threw up. She shuddered as she watched him open the door to unit 6. Her father’s room.
Even as she walked upstairs she could hear the screams that accompanied her father’s arrival.
She waited till the door had been slammed shut.
She sucked in a deep lungful of air and willed herself to knock on the door.
A woman around her own age answered. She was thin to the point of emaciation and the rolled back sleeves of her dirty blouse showed the dark blue and purple track marks that covered the inside of both arms.
“Who the fuck are you?”
“I’d like to speak to Brad, please.”
“Don’t know no one called Brad. You got the wrong room.”
The man she’d recognized as her father came into view behind the woman and he roughly shoved her out of his way. “Who are you and what do you want?”
Cassandra looked into his face and caught the shock and denial in his expression. “Sweet Lord Jesus you look just like your mother.”
She stood there and waited for more. His eyes filled with an expression she couldn’t quite recognize.
“What are you doing here? What do you want? I’ve got no money to give you.”
“Money? Dear Lord, is that all you can say? I’m your daughter. I’m not here for any damned money.”
The woman he’d pushed away from the door started screaming. “Did she say she was your daughter? What the fuck? You didn’t say you had a daughter?”
“Shut the fuck up, Kerry. Mind your own business.” He turned and gave her a hard shove and the woman fell backward and landed in a screaming heap on the floor.
He stepped outside and slammed the door behind him.
“If it’s not money you want, why the hell are you here? I got nothin’ to give you.”
Cassandra looked at him without speaking until he could no longer meet her eyes. He moved to turn away.
“You’re quite right. You’ve got nothing to give me. You never did. Thank you for finally helping me understand that. I won’t ever bother you again.”
She had no tears left to shed for the man she’d once believed him to be. He’d died right alongside her mother fifteen years ago. She’s already mourned his loss, now it was time to bury him.
She climbed back in her car and grabbed her cell phone. Craig Bannister answered her call “Hello, sweetheart. Are you okay, did you speak to your father?”
“I’m speaking to the only father I’ll ever need right now.”
She heard the sharp intake of his breath as he responded. “Thank you, sweet girl. I’ve been so proud to be considered your father. Will you be home in time for dinner? I’m cooking your favorite. All the gang will be here.”
“Yes, dad. I’ll be home.”
Cassandra drove out of the parking lot and never looked back.
It was up to her now to lay the past to rest.
She graduated from Harvard with her extended foster family all in proud attendance.
The future waited in all its burgeoning promise. She went forward at last to greet it.