The summer I am 21 years old, I stand in my parents’ kitchen with the lights down. My mother is running errands. My brother is out with friends. I envy him. Our parents never give him the shakedown when he gets home. They never tell him he was gone too long. They never tell him he’s a useless, lazy person who’s going to kill himself one day. In fact, they tell him the opposite. “You’re going to be president one day,” my mother has said to him since he was five years old.
Both of us loathe parents who decide what their children will be before they can even read. A useless suicide or a messiah-president. Two sides of the same coin. Both delusions destructive. Neither myth about the child but rather about the parents’ wish fulfillment. I’m fairly sure my teen brother is out drinking at a friend’s house. For years, he and his friend have helped themselves to cheap vodka and whiskey until they get fall-down drunk. Black-out drunk. Puking-drunk. When my brother is gone overnight, I know it’s because he has passed out into oblivion.
I heat a skillet on the stove. I am browning a quesadilla for lunch. Not a real quesadilla. A lazy one. A white flour tortilla loaded with Monterey jack cheese and sliced onion. Margarine sizzles in the pan. I glance out the kitchen window.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see my father behind me. He is standing at the edge of the kitchen. Watching me.
I don’t say anything to him. I have nothing to say to either of my parents anymore.
I am busy with my university classes, which my father still won’t allow me to discuss at the dinner table. I am busy riding the bus to and from my tutoring job at a community college, to and from book fairs where I sit at tables, selling copies of the literary magazine I worked on and that has won a regional award.
Sometimes, before my classes—History of Ancient Greece, Intro to Statistics, and Literature of the Sublime—I walk down Main Street to Hillcrest Bakery. It’s a Dutch bakery, and I’ve never particularly liked the crumbly textures and tart flavors. But now, sometimes, I go there before my classes. I buy an apple turnover, taking out my wallet and sliding out a five-dollar bill that I have earned. The baker hands me my change and tucks the turnover into a white paper bag. I walk back up Main Street, past the studio where Frank once taught me ballet, the building now a blank unleased storefront. The bakery paper crinkles against my fingers, and some of the syrup sticks to my palm.
I have never known happiness like this.
The joy of freedom.
I earn money, and I have my own bank account, which holds over $5,000. I have bought furniture. My own computer. A stereo system. I have exceptional credit.
There is still the constant refrain from my father—you owe me—but I am carefully laying each brick in the path that will lead me away from Bothell. Away from him. I am counting down, and I am on track to graduate early. Seven months left. Already, I am browsing apartments, assessing rents and deposits. A studio apartment in Tukwila looks promising. Possibly Kent. Working as a grade-school teaching assistant might be a good way to start while I earn my teaching certificate. I have already volunteer-taught in elementary schools and community ESL programs. And once I’m a teacher, I can continue to write during my summers off. At home, I keep a tidy three-ring binder under my bed. I print out every possibility, every job opening, every apartment complex that might be promising and file it away in the binder.
At long last, I have a plan.
A painstaking, perfect plan.
* * *
None of that happens.
Instead, my father crosses the parquet floor while my back is turned. I pay him no attention and slip the spatula under my quesadilla. Just as I flip it, he steps directly behind me. Suddenly, his hands are on my hips. I freeze. What the fuck is happening? He slides his fingers around my waist, then down until he grips my butt cheeks. He gives my ass a good, hard squeeze.
Then, quickly, he steps away.
I swing to face him.
I had known my father was a horrible man. I hadn’t known he was capable of this. I am still holding the spatula, but I am too shocked to use it. I am frozen, rooted to the spot. I cannot move. My brain is stuck, like a stylus snagged in a single groove. My thoughts stuttering. He didn’t— He couldn’t have—but he did. But why? I don’t— I can’t. He couldn’t have—
In an instant, everything I had wanted to believe falls away. He is not and never has been my father.
I had long sensed he got a sexual charge from our fights. I had felt, even as a kindergartner dressed in a skirt of green streamers for a hula performance, that he looked at me the wrong way. The way he laughed at and mocked my body. The way he constantly tried to make me feel ugly. To punish me for existing. To punish me for ever thinking I might be desirable.
He is not my father.
He never has been.
He is my predator.
He starts to laugh at me. My look of horror. Of shock. Of terror.
This is all I remember:
I am staring at my father in a darkened kitchen.
And he laughs.
My father has just groped me, and he laughs.