A Childhood in Retrospect
Society is governed by concepts. Family, you were taught, is beautiful. It leads to good character, to strong bonds and acceptable behavior. Those years, however, you remember in jagged pictures, stories – they're important. But for you, what do they mean?
When you were young, a small golden dog that would sleep at the foot of your bunk bed defined your childhood. She had large brown eyes and fur as soft as down, floppy ears and a small stump of a tail. Your father called her Daisy; he was the one that picker her up from the pound, saying it was essential to anyone's family life to have a puppy.
The image of family, you know now, is deceptive. It's an idea that people live in some form or another, but sometimes the image is skewed to the point where you life is fucked. And inversely, others grow so dependent on the concept that when it falls apart, so do they. Divorce, domestic abuse, child abuse, money problems – this is all dysfunction, and it's common.
But you're drifting. This isn't the point – not yet, anyway. You're reflecting on Daisy, the creature that you confided in despite its involuntary silence. For show-and-tell, you brought her to school. As you grew, she stayed small. Boxy. A beautiful, mute companion you played with after school, that you showed to friends.
When you're doing homework assigned on your second day of third grade, you hear fighting. Your mother's voice rising to a sharp shrill laced with threads of anger and fright. She runs out of the house, keys in hand, crying. Daisy follows after her but your mother doesn't notice. Your companion escapes as well, bolting after the small, hasty figure.
Your father says they'll both come back. Your mother is a bitch, hey says. Don't ever be like her.
Maybe you were upset, or maybe you were confused. Your father had grown accustomed to calling mother all sorts of names, and you've been reduced to sewn lips and a reluctant to ask why. Why is this happening? Why does mommy run off every day? Why does daddy yell at her? You don't know, and maybe even then you were smart enough to enjoy that ignorance. Just think, though. You're eight years old and this is what you knew of love. This is what you still know of love. You're condemned to live a future that you witnessed in your past, and it's not fair, but this is what you know.
Both come back eventually. Unfortunately, they come back different. Daisy, you find out, is going to have puppies. Your mother is sad all the time, though, negating something that seems exciting. And sometimes you catch her glancing at bruises on her arms, or piling make-up on the black and blue smears above her cheekbones, below the hazel eyes that watched you grow. And you don't understand. You're far too young to be able to comprehend the meaning of all the colors, and how fucking awkward and unreadable her body language is. A child isn't supposed to know what her mother would act like day to say is she was always being smacked in the face. A child isn't supposed to know how anyone would react to being abused by the one that loves you. Honestly.
Time passes and your Daisy is ready to deliver her pups. Today your father is pacing around the house, anger drenching him like a corrosive rain. From what your mother yelled before she left the house, your father was supposed to bring Daisy to the vet to deliver her babies.
It's your fucking dog, she had screamed. I need to get out of here. Before long, it became it's your fucking kid, as well. And then it was just you and him. His words, his hands.
He's furious even hours after she left. You're afraid to speak. You're afraid to ask him questions, because he probably won't hesitate to scream at you.
What do you think happens? Nothing positive. This is a memory, and you already know the outcome.
As excited as you were for this day, to have more dogs to love and take care of, you're now frightened and panicked. Daisy was supposed to be at the vet. Instead she's lying on the kitchen floor, a scarlet, thick mess spilling from her body and onto the sallow tiles. It's beyond comprehension. It's macabre and horrific and you hide away in your room. You hope your father will take care of the dog that now resembles some blood soaked rag flecked with rough dirt, but you're afraid because you have a feeling bad things will occur if he doesn't. You just don't know what, and what's worse than that?
But maybe the fears were unfounded. Maybe your father was just angry. You fortunately learn that newborn puppies are ugly creatures that occupy all of their mother's time. Daisy seems overly exhausted and half dead, but she's taking care of the small, fleshy pups.
Time passes, turning some memories to stone. And some turn into paper, and those are filed away. But this is not enough for the memories of him. This is not enough to go by when you realize how gimped you've become because of violence. You have no trust for men. Why should you, honestly? And what is family, and what is friendship? Your future has been defined. It seems to destined, so inherently prone to failure.
Daisy is at the end of her nursing, but she's sick. Your mother tells you your dog is dying, but everything will be okay. Your father is taking care of it. A bad thought, you realize.
What about the puppies?
She doesn't answer.
Time passes, sure, but your father's endless anger kept certain memories close. Like the first day he hit you because you spilled milk on the table, and a day soon after that when he touched you and said it will be okay. You love Daddy, don't you? Just keep doing, don't worry.
Today he's exceptionally anxious. He scared your mother off again, screaming at her about her apparently worthless job. Don't you ever turn out like her, he says, tugging at your hair until it draws tears into the corner of your eyes. And shut the fuck up. Stop crying. She's coming back.
He told her, before door closed, you're fucking worthless.
Thought you keep these things hazy, you remember keys. He threw his keys at her and they hit your mommy in the face, sharply, drawing lines of blood against her pale, ashy cheek. The red on white that looked like her scars before they thickened, hardened. The fresh wounds. It wasn't the first your saw. It wasn't the last, either.
When he lets you go, you decide to sit on the floor with dying Daisy and her puppies. They have fur now, and look like miniature versions of the only part of your family that ever stayed consistent and strong.
He comes to you, first as a shadow. You see him first as an outline of ink, as the colors that were constantly smeared across your mother's sullen flesh. You can feel him. You can feel his presence, that menacing aura of hate that never actually disappeared. Sometimes it would just ebb inward, and this, lately, has become rare.
When he stomps your way, he's carrying a large sack. He tells you to grab Daisy as he throws her puppies into the black thing he's carrying.
You do, and you follow him to the car. He tugs on your hair until you start tearing again, and he tells you to sit in the front.
Time passes, and you're driving on the highway. You see a sign welcoming you to a different state, but you forget what one. The sign zooms by, a flash of blue and white. The puppies are yipping in the bag, crawling over each other in darkness. They don't know what's going on. Neither do you – you're just as hopelessly blind, crawling through the opaque black of your own mind. You can't figure it out. You just can't.
Trees and a dirt road. The woods, you guess. His car stops near the edge of some lake, the surface resembling the stained glass of a beer bottle. Dirty. No Swimming Here, a sign reads.
He steps out of the car and tells you to get out as well.
Give Daisy to me, he says, holding the black, pup filled sack. Reluctance warrants a slap, apparently. Cheek stinging, you hand over your dog. The small, boxy golden dog with big brown eyes and floppy ears. And you watch your father stuff half dead Daisy into the bag with her puppies. You watch him pick up stones. You watch him add them to the bag, helpless.
Barking and whining ensues. A mad, furious chorus of animals, some more than likely being stoned. When your father is finished saturating the bag with large rocks, he ties the sack tightly, grunting.
He starts wading into the lake. Chest deep in the stained, dirty water, your father drops the twisting, living bag. It penetrates the glass surface of the lake silently, and you can barely understand what this means. You just don't see the bag anymore, and faintly understand that it just sank to the bottom. Euthanasia, he told you when you were older. A way to put Daisy's suffering to an end.
When you were young, this defined your childhood. After this, life became a blur of misplaced hands and sharp, dirty words. Eventually your mother stopped going back to him, but she stopped going back to you as well.