I heard soft sobbing inching toward me from behind. I cocked my neck, as if to prepare myself for something and heard a man’s trembling voice.
“Kelsey, is that you?”
I hardly recognized his unsteady tone. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my dad emerge from the darkness with tear-filled eyes and a blotchy, red face. I had never seen him cry before. His eyes met mine and I stared for a second, curious. He slowly gathered himself on the couch beside me and his voice quivered as he asked to share something with me. For a moment, his sadness almost made me forget why I hated him in the first place. Nonetheless, I stared blankly. My face remained cold and unwelcoming.
I had always been a sneaky kid, wandering around looking for ways to get my brother or sister in trouble. I’d often sneak out of the laundry room window at night, knowing that if my parents ever caught on, I’d find a way to blame my sister. I was a troublemaker in that way, I guess. One day, while mom and dad were out, I quietly rummaged through my mom’s T-shirt drawer, hoping to find something – anything! – to hold my attention. My heart beat faster as I lifted up a black, worn leather diary.
“Yes!” I thought. “Jackpot.”
I shuffled my way to the isolation of my bedroom closet and sat down. Excitedly, I opened the diary as if it were a best-selling book. The worn white pages, all neatly dated at the top right corner, were covered with frantic scrawls. What I thought was the jackpot was anything but. As I flipped through the first few pages, my heart sank: this wasn’t going to be a pleasant read.
Each page reeked of pain and betrayal; my mom’s teardrops smeared the outlines of ink that were once words. Between words of despair, my mom confessed, indirectly, that my world would never be the same. My dad was gay and had had multiple encounters with different men. She wrote of her humiliation and desperation to feel wanted again; images of her walking to gas stations in sexy black heels and a short dress flashed in my head.
She wrote of times she sought solitude in empty rooms of our home to cry. The words before my eyes reminded me of times I heard her crying through the bathroom door but was never allowed entrance. I sat for hours and read as she candidly described her feelings of unworthiness and shame. In that moment, I ached for the opportunity to protect her.
I closed the diary and shook in anger. Picking up my cell phone, I dialed the first number on my speed dial: Dad. I wanted to hurt him like he hurt my mom – or hell, like he’s hurt me – I blurted out the first thing that came to my head.
As I hung up the phone, I withered to the closet floor, bewildered. I asked myself a question that would stick with me for months.
“How could I not have known?”
Growing up, my dad and mom never fought; his calm demeanor seemed to comfort her. My dad always carried himself with confidence. His upright posture and mannerisms made him the perfect businessman. He had all the right answers; at least, the certainty in his tone of voice indicated he did. He was the ultimate family man; he gladly drove me to my gymnastics practices, attended all musicals and plays, and was the “grill master” during every family barbecue.
A Cuban native, he had a certain feistiness about him. His quick tongue and knack for dominating arguments left all nannies, teachers and colleagues at his hands and feet. His expressions were serious during discussions of business, punishments and family. I blamed my Latina “flare” on his background and yearned for the same respect he had earned. I was proud to be his daughter.
But that diary, or rather the content within it, changed the dynamics of my family forever. My parents avoided any conversation in front of my siblings and I. Soon after, my parents asked my brother, sister and me to join them in our living room. For hours, we discussed what would be our new truth: we were no longer a family. They were getting a divorce. Watching tears fall on my mom’s quivering lips as my dad calmly explained the situation made my stomach churn. As my brother pressed for answers, I stood and stomped away. I could no longer sit and listen to what I already knew. I wouldn’t let my parents break me. I wouldn’t shed a tear. Instead of discussing the anger and disbelief that boiled up inside of me, I let it build each day. It didn’t take long for my “tough-guise” persona to take over. I was hurt, maybe even scared of losing my family, but I wouldn’t let anyone know it. I was the biggest, baddest bitch around.
For months, I cringed at the sight of my dad around my mom. I stayed in my bedroom, shutting myself off from all contact with him. I no longer looked forward to his coming home from work, resisted his punishments and laughed at his requests.
“What makes you think I’d do anything for you?” I’d scream at him.
I always hated his response.
“Because like it or not, I am your father!”
It was evident that I no longer respected him. I no longer admired him. I was no longer proud to be his daughter.
But there we were, sitting beside one another on the white leather couch in our living room. His demeanor was vulnerable. He sat slumped over; his elbows and forearms rested on his knees as he helplessly looked up at me. He composed himself and quietly cleared his throat.
“I was in church, all alone,” he started. “I was crying and asking why God did this to me.”
My dad looked up at the church ceiling. As he closed his eyes, he saw a light. That light, brighter than any other he had ever seen, gave him a feeling he hadn’t felt in years: comfort.
“I then heard a voice,” he said.
Startled, he opened his eyes, and as the voice drew nearer, it spoke.
“Why did you think you needed to change? I have loved you all along. No more fighting, just be.”
As I looked at him, desperately sobbing with his palms rested on his eye lids, I felt something I hadn’t felt in months: I wanted to hug him, comfort him, tell him “it’s OK” and that despite everything, I still loved him. I huddled up next to him in fetal position and felt as his long arms wrapped themselves around me. I felt like a kid again, protected by my big, tough dad. When I hugged him back, I finally cried.