Under Control

Emily Rutledge, Writer

Go into a career that makes you money, not one that just makes you happy. Do not be in a relationship; you will turn out like your sister. Watch the kids. Go into the medical field. Break up with that guy. Your grades are going to drop. Fine arts will get you nowhere. Psychology is not good enough either. Be a doctor. Bring that B up to an A. Here, hold your brother. Talk to your mom for me. I promise I am paying child support. No, you cannot go out tonight. Do not lie to me. I bet you are just going to that boy’s house. Learn from my mistakes.

Words from my father constantly cloud my mind. Filled with an insatiable rage, yet also an undeniable sadness, I contemplate my life. I have a good family. I am well taken care of. However, I cannot seem to shake the past or figure out my future. There are many things I do not completely recall from my younger years, but I remember enough for it to haunt me and to know the reasoning behind my father’s strict expectations.

My parents officially met at a club 18 years ago. They had known each other somewhat for months through a mutual friend, but my father had a girlfriend at the time, so my mother steered clear. She worked at a steel company in Jonesboro, and my father worked in a factory in Pocahontas. It was the cliche “love at first sight” moment. They quickly became attached and spent the next two years together, eventually getting married in 2002. From what I understand, they were happy. The years after my sister and I were born, however, led to the corruption of their marriage.

By this time, we had moved to Alexander. My father began working consistently at a hospital while my mother stayed home with us. In his free time, although we believed he had none due to work, he rode his motorcycle, drank alcohol or spent his nights in the beds of other women. We did not see him often, but when he was home, I would only witness heated arguments between my parents. It was not until I was older that I could see the true cause of the conflict.

I believed my father every time he told me he was going to work late in the night, despite my mother’s sad eyes as she watched him slam the door shut. As I grew slightly older, I began to notice the sadness in her eyes shift to fear. The fights moved to their bedroom behind a closed door, but it could never block the sound of my father’s anger. I could see that she wanted us to leave, but also that she was afraid, and that she still loved him. I also knew my father would not let us leave, so we did what we had to; we stayed.

There was later a point before we reached the eye of the storm when the arguments seemed to ease, and for the most part, my father was consistently working. We would often go to the hospital to eat with him during his break, and although it may have just been a way for my mother to spy on him, we seemed like a family again.

Sadly, this was short-lived, and we were thrown back into the storm. Wanting to surprise my father with dinner and his kids, my mother drove us to the hospital where he was supposed to have the night shift. Instead, we found him on his motorcycle, pulling out of the parking lot as we approached him. If lying was not enough, he was not alone; a blonde nurse sat directly behind him, wearing his jacket. I was confused. I had never seen him with another woman before, and I was still too young to comprehend what my father was doing. My mother looked broken, and I could do nothing. She turned to look at us and masked her feelings with a smile, as she often did.

My mother decided to follow them, and it turned out that I could be of use after all. Acting as the navigator, I told her which way my father turned and lead the chase. I could tell my mother attempted to make the situation fun, and as a seven year old, it was. Reaching the woman’s house and seeing my mother tear her off the motorcycle, however, was not as much fun. Looking back on it, I almost find it humorous that my mother caught him and almost broke her thumb in the process of fighting another woman, but as a child, it finally allowed me to perceive the problematic marriage my parents were in. It was the first time I considered the desire for them to split up. The thought was pushed away, though, because I knew that would not happen. My father would not want it, and my mother could not gather enough courage to leave. He was controlling and manipulative, but she still loved him.

The final straw was drawn in July of 2011. Vacations are meant to give families a chance to bond and let go of reality for at least a short period of time. This was my parents’ intention when we went to Florida for our “exciting Disney trip.” We had the whole package deal: the fancy condo, tickets to Walt Disney World, lots of food and the entire family, including my half brother, half sister, her two children and her husband. The thrill lasted for about a day, though, before I wanted to return home and lock myself in my room.

By the first night, it was impossible to sleep while listening to my father bellow at my mother and her cries in response, pleading with him to leave. I attempted to block out the dispute by desperately pressing a pillow to my ears, but like my parents’ bedroom door at home, it was not enough. The sound of a door slamming shut told me my father had gone out to drink again, and I knew he would not return until the next day.

Our vacation was shortened, and we left after a few days, my father speeding all the way home. My mother repeatedly asked him to slow down, but he maintained his pace, luckily avoiding any tickets or a wreck. When we reached our home, my father threw our bags down inside the house, got on his motorcycle, and drove off without even a simple “goodbye.” He was gone for days, and none of us knew his destination or purpose until later.

He returned, and weeks had passed when my mother discovered images on his phone, taken on the same beach we had returned from in Florida, but with a different person. Another woman lay on a beach towel, smiling brightly at the camera. My mother did not even seem surprised, but she had a look I had not yet seen from her– a look of determination.

Once she was sure my father would be working another night shift, my mother had us pack our bags. We loaded the car and we left. We started at a local hotel so she could figure out where we would go with the little money we had. The next day, my dad tracked her cellphone, but we had already been on the road for a short time. It did not take long for him to catch up to us in his intimidating white GMC truck as we rode in a small Grand Prix. We stayed on the road for what seemed like an eternity in fear of what he would do if we stopped, but he still remained close behind. My mother’s phone buzzed on a loop, and there was no escape. As if the odds were in our favor, my mother managed to lose him in traffic, and we stopped shortly after. My mother discarded her phone at a gas station, where we picked up snacks and left for Jonesboro.

We stayed with a close friend of hers for a few weeks and hid from my father. Although I was afraid to speak with him, my mother had us call him one day. I can still hear the urgency in his voice, demanding to know where I was, but I could only remain silent as he interrogated me while my mother sat adjacent to me shaking her head. I was caught in the middle, and in that moment, I had to choose a side. I chose my mother as I handed her the phone, refraining from spilling any information. I should have hung up the phone though, because as soon as my mother placed it to her ear and I saw the tears stream down her face, I knew we were going back home.

She faced punishments for leaving when we returned, but my father was glad we were back. He spent slightly more time with us; however, the arguments and intensity between my parents remained. August 11 of the same year, my father chose to divorce my mother. Our reaction seemed senseless after all we had been through, but we still begged for him to stay, and he still left.

Post-divorce seemed worse than the actual marriage. My parents battled in court and received joint custody of me and my sister. Days with mom were a relief from what I had to go through during time with my father. Without the constant fighting between them, I believed that the worst was over and things could only get better. I was wrong. Afternoons with my mother consisted of quality time spent with her, laughter and joy. In my father’s household, however, I had to take responsibility and become a mother for my sister. My father continued to work for the majority of the time, and when he did not, he had a variety of women come home with him each night. I was eight years old when I had to learn how to cook, clean and raise my younger sister.

I went into therapy after a few conversations with my school counselor, and although it took many weeks for me to open up to a stranger, I learned to appreciate the outlet that allowed me to release everything I had bottled up inside. In the end, though, I knew a weekly hour of comfort would not change what occurred at home. I believed my father would never change, and I would forever be under his control.

That was years ago. My father is now a successful entrepreneur, a better husband (although to a different wife) and overall, a good father to me and my siblings. Avoiding alcohol and the temptation of cheating, he seems better than he once was. Despite this, the man who kicked my oldest sister out of the house for getting pregnant in high school, who drank until his words slurred and everything made him either laugh or yell, who abused my mother, who never came home, who sought out other women, who was selfish and manipulative, the man who still lingers deep within, is the man I still fear when my father raises his voice. I know he is different now, yet I still let the past contradict everything I currently believe him to be. I am still afraid. I still, at times, witness some of those characteristics reveal themselves, primarily control. Instead of my mother, who is now free from his tainting words and actions, I feel as if he continues to control my life.

My father wants me to take after him as a medical professional when it comes to a career, because he values wealth more than passion. I believe that is the case because he has never experienced passion himself. He does not want me to be in a relationship, because he fears that I will get pregnant like my sister. If I do not have straight As, I am bound to fail. I must balance homework with time to watch the children. He hardly ever allows me to leave when I am with him. He claims to pay child support to my mother, but he does not. He expects me to be the link between him and my mother, to communicate with her about things I should not have to be involved in, which may stem from the regret and guilt I truly hope he feels. I know he believes he made many poor decisions, because he consistently lets me know that I have to be better than he was. He does not trust me, though. If I slip up, he never fails to advise me. He expects perfection, something I cannot achieve.

I wish I had more courage than my mother did when she failed to leave my father and accepted her fate. Although I have friends and my mother to talk to, I do not believe they always understand my conflicting emotions, and I cannot help but feel isolated in my current state. If I were brave, I would tell my father what a horrible person he was, how he hurt me and my family, how he cannot control me and how I will never be like him. That I am successful in my own ways, and despite the mistakes I occasionally make, I will go far in life without him and be much better than he ever was. That I am grateful for the life I have lived, because I know from his example what I should not do, and that is what encourages me to be as successful as I am and will be. That I have learned from his mistakes.