This nonfiction story by Brandie Swenson is an honorable mention in the 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
Brandie Swenson currently lives in a small town in SW Minnesota with her daughter, Taylor, and fiancé, Jon. Her day job is as an accountant, but her evenings are spent working on her dream of becoming a full-time author. Although she remains involved within her community, her preferred time is spent reading, journaling, camping, and hiking.
It was June and school had just recently been let out for the summer. My mom and aunt were taking me and my younger sister on a week-long vacation to Oklahoma for us to meet their dad, our grandpa. As my dad was fastening my seat belt, I cried and pleaded to stay with him. I asked “Why don’t you come with us dad?” He said “This is a girls’ trip; no men along!” I guess that was true. My brother didn’t have to go along. He would stay back with our maternal grandmother; as he had since birth. Yet I was still troubled and he tried to comfort me as he softly exclaimed, “It will only be for a week now, honey. In no time, you will be on your way back home to me.” As we drove out the gravel drive-way, I waved back at him and wondered if those had been tears in his eyes too.
The week went along smoothly, but on Sunday, I was anxious to start home. I awoke early to discover that my aunt had left in the middle of the night. Mom had other intentions of just a visit. I burst out crying, “I don’t want to be here anymore! I want to go back home to my Dad!”
I had never been away from him before. He was the one who took care of me while mom had served her time in the Shakopee women’s prison for Grand Theft Auto. He had tucked me in and read me stories every night. He had been my primary caregiver. Unlike this Grandpa, who mentioned constantly, that I was a chubby kid and should go on a diet, dad only made me feel accepted and loved.
“No, we aren’t going back to your dad or even back to Minnesota,” she said. “I have decided to leave your father and begin our lives over again here. Besides, your aunt already left, so we no longer have a way back.” As if that was it on the subject and a hint for me to not carry on.
That fall, I began my second year of Kindergarten and was constantly bullied by the other kids. Apparently, grandpa wasn’t the only one who thought I was chubby, only the kids at school and on the bus didn’t say it so nicely. My mom and sister seemed to be adjusting just fine. Mom started a new job at a nursing home and began dating a man. I, instantly, hated him and I felt that he regarded me in the same way. By the end of that school year, he had my mom swayed to uproot us again and travel out to California to be near his family.
We traveled from Oklahoma to California in a big old station wagon. Fortunately, it was spacious because that is where William, my mom, my sister and I slept throughout the summer. We’d spend nights near the ocean. Each night, I dreamed of dad and wished that instead of sleeping in the backseat of a car that I was back in my bed at home, listening to favorite bed time stories.
Dad used to read to me anything from newspapers to fairy tales to even the Bible. I loved to have him close by and to listen to his voice inflections. My favorite was The Story of Goldilocks and the Three Little Bears. I used to giggle each time my dad would get his voice high enough to be that of Goldilocks or that of Mama Bear, but I’d wail in laughter to witness my big old dad imitate the voice of Baby Bear’s. I’d beg, “Dad read it again, read it again Dad!” He’d groan and then give in. As I listened to the waves and breathed in that salty air, I yearned to have dad cuddling with me then.
They both began drinking and arguing more. One night on the beach, they got into one of their drunken fights because mom caught William eyeing some of the local girls in bikinis. We thought he was moving his car from the cause of the argument, but to our horror it was to go sit on top of a bluff overlooking the ocean. Mom was yelling, “Stop this right now! You take us back to the beach, you hear!” William looked at mom sadistically and then back at us. He said “I could drive this car and us right over this cliff! Wouldn’t the young girls down there be impressed? They sure wouldn’t forget about me then, would they?” Mom started to cry and beg, but he just kept revving the engine and rocking the car back and forth.
Mom must have lost all faith in reasoning with him so she started to yell “You girls get out of this car right now! Get out, Get out!” Fish and I scrambled out of the backseat of the car. We watched in horror as mom tried to fight her way out of the front seat. We were terrified that the maniac would take her over the cliff with him. But after a few more minutes the chaos just stopped. They were no longer grappling at each other, but embracing! Could that truly be laughter I heard coming from the car?
Mom stepped out to comfort us. In a sing-song voice, she stated “This had all been a mere misunderstanding. William truly didn’t mean for any harm to come to any of us! Hurry back into the car now, so we can get some sleep.” My tired sister got back into the car eagerly and snuggled up next to mom. I was very hesitant, but truly what other option did I have? Was I wrong to wish he had just driven himself over the edge?
Eventually we met up with his family. We still slept in the car each night, as they had no extra room or food for us. There was a lot of drinking, which only confused me more. That was the reason mom gave for leaving dad. I began to plea every day to talk to him. Either mom grew tired of that or of eating another meal of beans, because she finally agreed to let me make a phone call to him. I had a simple assignment. I was to ask dad for money for a new bike! Oh and Mom warned, “do not tell your dad that I am with William, not even if he asks!”
I recall being taken to the nearest phone booth to talk to dad. Mom and William waited by the car. Eventually my mom signaled for me to wrap up the conversation with my dad so I reluctantly started to do so. Then dad asked that one question, “Does your mom have a new boyfriend?” I froze for a second and stole a quick peek through the glass booth to see where my mom stood. I was afraid that she heard the question too. I meekly said “No.” Dad came back with “Brandie, do you remember when I used to read you Bible stories and how afraid you were of that picture of the devil?” I whispered, “Yes”, as I envisioned the picture of Satan testing Jesus on the mountaintop. Dad went on “Remember how I told you that you should never lie and always tell the truth?” Again I answered, “yes, dad.” So then he goes, “Brandie, I will ask you this one more time-does your mom have a boyfriend?” I confessed “yes, dad, yes, she does!“ Before mom could yank the phone from my ear, I heard my dad say “Then Brandie, you are coming home!” I didn’t even care for the scolding I was bound to receive from mom and William. I was exalted to have heard those words.
By the end of that summer, dad had fulfilled his promise. The same aunt that left me in Oklahoma was the one who came for me in California. I remember waving goodbye to my mom and sister from the bus, but there were no tears shed. It was as if my mom had kidnapped me and I was finally getting to return home!
Looking back on my life now, I realized the importance of those bedtime stories. Would I have received the life lessons that were needed to save me? I shudder to think of how different my life could have been.
See, my mom went on to have seven other kids by him. My sister, who wasn’t my father’s child, who had remained with my mom when I left, was raped by William when she was 13. She bore his child at the age of 14. It was then that social services began investigating. They discovered he had molested all of the children. A judge had ordered for mom to lose short-term custody due to failure to protect and for him to spend his last years in a Nebraska prison.