This story is by C.Y.Corbett and was part of our 10th Anniversary Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
This has happened to me before.
I am not a fan of weird.
Strangely, although I’m certain I’ve never been here before, I can clearly remember this space; walking through that doorway; these people milling about. But when, or where is it? This bizarre sense of recognition unsettles me. There ahead of me, waiting, apparently for me. A man in a dark suit.
There is something familiar about him. My father? No, it can’t be. Intuitively, inexplicably, I recognize him as the man I’m about to marry!
No no no. This is all wrong. This is not my memory. My heart twangs as I realize this memory belongs to my mother. Why is it in my head? That spineless bitch ruined my life – I do not want her in my head.
I’m nervous. No, she’s nervous. She does not want to marry this man. How am I remembering this? I wasn’t even born.
But I was there. My breath catches in my throat as I recognize this truth. I was there as an unformed fetus, absorbing my mother’s nervousness, tension, fear. What is this craziness; this time warp vision from the past? A creepy message passed on by a babe in a womb? Was this marriage a mistake? Was I a mistake? On his wedding day, did my father know about me?
I’ve often wondered what attracted my mother to my father. Father is a distant man, exacting and demanding. His way or no way.
And I have never understood why my mother wouldn’t stand up to him, if not for herself, then for me. To my knowledge, she has never opposed him on any issue. I have never known the man to strike her or abuse her physically, but his power over her is absolute. And for that – her compliant servility – I have always resented her. She clearly doesn’t care how her submissiveness affects me.
As a young child I adored my mother. Like any little girl, I emulated her, clopping around the house in her high heels and costume jewelry … until Father complained about the clatter I was creating and put an end to that game. She was a fantastic cook and I thrilled at the invitation to ‘help’ her in the kitchen … until Father objected to the unnecessary mess I was making. And that put a stop to that.
“One cook in the family is all that’s required,” he said. “Lorraine’s time could be engaged to better purpose by learning housekeeping skills.” So, from a very young age, I dusted, I mopped, I laundered. In short, I became a household slave. Housework and school homework were the ‘approved’ activities that filled my ‘leisure’ hours … both admirable pursuits, apparently.
When I discovered the delicious escape that books afforded me, Mother got me a library card. My flights into fantasy were complete joy with a storybook in my hands … until my father discovered the unsuitability of my reading material.
“The child should be engaged in more uplifting recreations,” he declared and promptly assigned me a Reading List: History and Geography, chiefly; suitable to my age of course. His lists, and the book reports I was required to present to him, kept me so fully occupied I had no time to indulge my own frivolous preferences.
Mother has never intervened on my behalf. “But, surely, Mason …” is the closest she has ever come to challenging my father before his dismissive gaze silences her. My childhood was stolen from me by an over-zealous father and an under-zealous mother. No frivolous birthday parties for me. No school friends invading my father’s domain with childish clutter and chatter. And every inch of our home was my father’s domain. Closed doors were anathema to Father. The door of my bedroom might just as well not have been there. It was to remain open, always. My privacy was never a consideration. I learned to dress and undress in the confined space behind the closet door. I say “the” closet door because it was never mine. It belonged, as did everything else, to my father.
In spite of this, I’ve always adored my father and blamed my mother for the things he denied me. Wasn’t it she who allowed it? Wasn’t her lack of objection an explicit form of agreement? It was she who presented me with exciting activities and then abruptly snatched them away from me. After all, she knew Father wouldn’t approve.
My life was devoted to acquiring my father’s approval. Report cards were presented to Father first; potential friends introduced to him first. Seldom did he approve of them, but he always had plausible reasons for his objections. Mother never disagreed.
I admit I followed my mother’s example. Only once did I ever ‘talk back’ to him. Only once. It wasn’t until my teen years that I began to develop a perspective in opposition to my father. I inherited my mother’s good looks; boys were attracted to me, not that it ever did me any good. I wasn’t allowed to attend my grade eight graduation after-party. Crushing disappointment overcame caution and I blurted out, “But everyone else will be there!”
“Lorraine,” Father said in his courthouse voice, “if you wish to convince me otherwise, you will certainly have to produce a more compelling argument than that one.” He knew – and I knew – there was no argument he couldn’t destroy. Lesson learned. Subject dismissed.
My mother didn’t even bother to suggest shopping for a high school prom dress. She knew it would be another exercise in futility. My father disapproved of every boy who asked me. Phil laughed when I asked him to take me. “Imagine the scandalous headlines: Prominent Judge’s Daughter Dates Janitor. Silly girl.” So, I missed that one, too.
By the time I had met Phil in my senior year, I realized there was no point in introducing him to my family. And it seems, on its own volition, my life changed.
Phil was a custodian at my school. He adored me; he spoiled me; he changed my way of thinking. He laughed at my naiveté. He made me laugh. He opened my world to new experiences. I saw him as my savior.
He was also seven years older than me, and my best kept secret. He taught me to lie.
We met in places where my parents were never likely to discover us. Father monitored my time so closely that the only intervals we could steal for ourselves were from my classes. I began skipping school in small increments that gradually became more frequent. Naturally, my grades began to slip, but I was ready with excuses and promises to do better. My lies bought me more time with Phil. The subterfuge was exhilarating. I was gloriously happy with a man who genuinely valued my company. Imagine – I was valued!
The first time he called me ‘babe’ it brought tears to my eyes. The first time he made love to me, I was alarmed. My mother had never told me about this. I was a complete innocent. Phil reassured me with talk of marriage; and I equated ‘marriage’ with a solution – an escape. It meant being in charge of my own existence. Free to make my own decisions. Sign me up … I’m in. By the time my parents discover the marriage, I reasoned, they will be helpless to do anything about it. I felt free – marvelously alive.
But then, that nagging doubt.
I shake off the déjà vu incongruity of the memory. And now, with sudden awareness, I grasp the significance of today’s date: it is the anniversary of my parents’ marriage. How could I have missed that? Because, of course, it was seldom mentioned, never celebrated. My skin prickles with apprehension. Could this be why I’m experiencing my mother’s memories? An intuitive warning? Is she looking out for me?
There, ahead of me, standing next to the pastor of this small chapel, is the man I am about to marry. My step falters. I feel the babe within my womb move. Is it feeling my tension? My indecision? My fear?
I stop where I am, unable to move forward. Phil makes an impatient gesture with his hands. My pulse skips. The gesture is my father’s.
How have I failed to see the similarities? Like my mother, have I been blinded by the same desperation to marry because of my unborn child?
With complete clarity now, I recognize that Phil is always impatient with me. Always disapproving. Always correcting me. I’ve chosen a man who is the image of my father.
And I remember the feeling of my mother’s panic on her wedding day … a memory from my own peculiar vantage point.
It’s up to me now … the decision is mine alone. I’ll find a way somehow.
I turn and walk away. My child deserves better.