Another story for you, written in 20 minutes:
We lived in a manse. The house is square, red brick, and old. One side faces the road. It’s called County Road on our address. One side faces the graveyard then the Church. The fence pens in cows behind our property. And then it’s corn in all directions.
It was my Dad’s house to me. Mom’s was far away. Dad’s house was quiet. Dad took a walk down the road for miles every morning. Alone. He came back to the quiet house when we were at our Mom’s.
Dad didn’t like pets. He didn’t understand them. I think he sees why people like pets, as companions, things to be proud of. But, they’re a waste of money, time and energy. What good do they do? They take up space. They eat things. They have to be provided for, and looked after. Oh, the vet bills alone! Why would you pay for a leech?
Dad warned us one night coming home. “Girls, be careful, there’s a dog outside the house. I don’t want you to be scared.” He told us he’d call animal control, and the second they showed up, the dog would vanish. “He won’t bother you, just leave him be.”
I watched with big open eyes out the window of the car as I spotted this great big dog. He looked like a German Shepherd, but bigger. Great big pointy ears stood on top of his head with little hairs coming out the sides. He had black-brown fur, thin fur, with lots of speckles of gray. His belly was almost all silver.
He didn’t look mean to me. But this was Dad’s house; Dad didn’t want him here. He didn’t belong here. Dad couldn’t get rid of him. The dog seemed happy to be there. I liked that he didn’t listen when he got yelled at. And Dad would yell at him. The dog sat and watched and smiled.
He followed Dad on walks. He guarded the house. Dad tried his best to chase him off. “He has no collar. He won’t leave.” I wanted to invite him in the house. I knew what Dad would say, I didn’t ask.
Every weekend I saw him. I didn’t pet him. He didn’t hurt us. He’d follow the car to the end of the driveway. He seemed happy to be alive. He sat next to the tree that bloomed pink little petal leaves. He sat there for months. I thought Dad might secretly like him.
I asked what happened to the dog. Dad said he finally left. He said it with a smile. We took a walk along the road that weekend. There was a skeleton on the riverbed. Maybe it was a deer.
The dog loved my Dad. Whether he lost his mind or not. Even if he had another master and got confused. He protected. Dad left him to stay outside. We never touched him. That great big dog, who had no name, outsmarted my father, and got to stay for a little while.
We drove from my Mom’s house to my Dad’s house. This was my Friday night. Headlights going down the highway in the rust polka-dotted, old geo-prism. My sister wasn’t with us. It was just me and Dad and NPR. I passed the time by road ogling for an hour fifteen.
I think he was trying to bring up a woman’s issue. I was in 8th grade. About to be a real teenager. About to be in High School. He brought up the importance of self-confidence for young women. He didn’t mean me specifically. He meant, young women as he knew them, as the idea ideal. I said, “I have like zero self-confidence.” I’m not sure if I was joking or not. Self-confidence isn’t something someone tells you how to acquire, they just seem to measure. My Dad turned his head from the highway to look at me. He usually spoke to you like he was a recording, and when you were talking he was only on pause. But this time, he seemed to look at me. I knew I’d done something wrong.
From where he drove, I was his little girl. He didn’t get to spend enough time with me. I was just growing up so fast. I seemed happy enough. I talked about my friends. I was good. He had nothing to worry about. I made my grades. Not the grades he wanted, but the grades I worked for. He wasn’t sure about my school. The history teacher seemed to have his facts and opinions too close together. But I’d be fine. Grades don’t matter till high school. I seemed to care.
He must have read a book about this somewhere. Mom told me once he was so nervous about being a Dad he read those books. A good student till the end. A student of black and white in print. And this self-confidence thing, now that was something bad. He had to fix that. That couldn’t go on. Self-confidence was very important for young women. I was a young women. He had read this is important. He must have decided he knew he could improve my confidence.
On the way home, we stopped at the library. I picked out a couple movies. At the checkout counter he said, “these are for you.” He handed me a stack of books. I walked out to the car with them piled in my arms. I read the titles once we were half-way home. They were themed. Improve you self-confidence, how to be a better you, how to love yourself the teenager, find the good inside everyone.
Right then, I think, no I know, I saw my Dad for his faults. First time. How did he not know this wasn’t how to fix me? How did he not know his own daughter well enough to know when he did something to upset her. Worse, when he upset me, why didn’t he care? He never should have told me there was something wrong with me or my confidence. He never should have given me a book. He never should have tried to fix me. I learn through talking. Why didn’t he talk to me instead of past, over, and to my sister? I put those books down. In one of my first acts of teenage rebellion, I never touched those books again. He condemned me with a library card. If he would have said anything to me, I would have been better off.
He scared me. In retrospect, he might have asked those questions, and I probably wouldn’t have answered. I was just nerves. I worried whatever answer I gave might not be the right one, and I’d get a lecture, or he’d raise his voice. So I started not telling him. He couldn’t hurt me that way, if I didn’t tell him something might be wrong. I can’t be fixed if I won’t tell you anything important. So I stuck to safe topics. I learned to have non-issue opinions that would keep him talking. No one could tell me something was wrong with me. I’d be perfect in the middle of the road, normal. You can’t suggest to the perfect.