Little Joanna sat on the floor of the living room, one leg propped up, she concentrated on tying her tennis shoe.
“You make a loop and hold it like this…,” her mother had been teaching her.
“I can’t do this,” she’d told her.
“Yes, you can. It just takes time and patience.”
But her mother wasn’t home now. When her father walked past her, Joanna had wanted to ask if she could go outside to play, but she was afraid her father would yell at her. Her father was in an angry mood. Joanna was almost five. This was one of her earliest memories.
* * * *
Seated at the table, the family prepared to eat dinner. Mom sat on one side, Joanna’s father on the other. All six children sat in their designated places. Joanna, now eleven, the oldest child, sat on the left side of her father. Tonight Joanna struggled to eat the green peas that rolled across her plate.
“Eat your food!” her father’s words stung Joanna’s ears.
Joanna lifted another bite to her lips, managed to take in a few and then lay her fork down for a moment. Exhausted from her efforts, Joanna put her elbow on the table and rested her head in the palm of her hand.
Joanna’s father picked up his own fork and plowed it into the back of Joanna’s arm, “Get your elbow off the table!” Everyone froze in their places; no one dared move or speak.
Joanna straightened up, filled her fork with peas and pushed them into her mouth. She swallowed hard, the tears along with them.
* * *
Joanna parked in the driveway and grabbed her school books out of the back seat. She spotted her father working in the garage and could tell by his reckless movements that he was in one of his moods. Hoping to pass by without incident, Joanna moved towards the back door, but her father’s harsh words followed her into the house.
Inside, her mother stood at the kitchen sink, washing dishes. Turning towards Joanna, she could see she was upset. “What’s wrong?”
“Dad hates me!” Joanna’s words exploded.
“He doesn’t hate you,” she offered.
“Yes, he does!” Joanna struggled to remember the last time she had felt her father’s affection. But one snapshot after another of hurtful memories readily flashed through her mind.
“You know how your father gets when he’s angry. He loves you. He just doesn’t like you right now.”
“Mom, you can’t love someone you don’t even like.” Her mother just stared back at her, soapsuds dripping from her yellow rubber gloves onto the blue linoleum floor. Joanna walked towards her room, the sound of her door slamming filled the silence between them.
Joanna’s relationship with her father had been like riding a roller coater with occasional highs but far too many lows. The ride was completely unpredictable: one minute it seemed to be on level ground; the next, Joanna could barely hang on as it spiraled out of control. After a particularly bad ride, Joanna often swore that she would never try again, but then after a while she would, hoping that this time it would be different.
Joanna and her father shared a cup of coffee at his kitchen table. “Recently I’ve been going through some of your mother’s personal things, most of it junk, and I’m thinking about giving it to charity,” his words tested Joanna.
“Dad, before you give anything away of my mother’s, you need to give us kids a chance to see if there is anything sentimental that we would like to have.” Joanna fought to control her anger.
“She was My wife! I’ll decide what happens to your mother’s stuff!” Her father never liked being told what to do.
Old wounds ripped wide open. “She was My mother! Do you have any idea what that means?”
Later, Joanna would try to recall all her father had said, horrible things, words no father should ever say to his daughter. But by the grace of God, Joanna had forgotten most and didn’t try to remember.
Joanna suddenly stood up from the table.
Her father glared at her.
Joanna just shook her head, “Dad, I’m sorry, I can’t do this anymore. I’m fifty years old. In the thirteen years since my mother died, I have really tried to work on our relationship. I really am sorry.”
Joanna turned and walked out the door.
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