The Guardian

I’d love to try to help Kara, but my daughter just can’t help herself. We’ve tried everything. Moving her and Cody in with us. Paying for her to finish school. Money for clothes, job training, a car. Anything for Cody.

Mary cried when I kicked her out. Didn’t speak to me for weeks afterwards. Like I enjoyed tossing my junkie daughter to the streets and having my wife look at me like a monster.

Christ, I’m sixty years old and raising a kid again. The world’s gone by me more than a few times. It’s so different now, this parenting stuff. So hands on. All rounded edges and soft corners. Gadgets and toys and what not. Books and blogs and it seems everyone has an opinion. Tough shit. I’d spoil him good. The way I see it, he’f earned it. Besides, I’d rather shell out the money for the kid than give it to Kara’s dealer.

Tough love was harder on Mary. At least the kid can get her to smile, on most days. He helps her forget that our daughter had crawled into the slimiest sewers and back to get that junk in her veins. He helps me see Mary like a mother again, beautiful and nurturing, the love in that woman’s eyes is what pulls me out of bed each and every morning.

And it was a cold one when we got back from a failed venture to the park. One of those crisp almost spring days when winter reminds you who’s still in charge.

I pulled into the driveway and Mary gasped. Because our daughter was waiting for us. Leaning on my truck, one knee bent, her hair flaying and her arms crossed cold because she’d probably hawked her coat. That famous Kara scowl all over her face. Meanwhile Cody was carrying on in the back, wearing that silly dinosaur hat Mary got for him a few days ago.

I asked Mary to stay in the car. She took my arm tight in her hand and told me to at least listen to her. I stepped out, knowing I’d heard it all before as I started towards the most stubborn human being I’ve ever met in my life. Her eyes were puffy and wet but otherwise clear. They met me head on, determined as they were the day she talked me into yanking the training wheels off her bike because she’d got it stuck in her mind that she didn’t want them slowing her down.

I was expecting another loan request, so I wasn’t prepared for what came next.

“I’m going to get clean.”

My steps dragged, staggered by the urge to take my baby girl in my arms like I did when she fell off that bike. Sure, I’d heard that before too, just not so… God, she was the spitting image of her mother at that age.

She dabbed her eyes. Stared at her feet, then lifted her head and looked me straight-faced in the eyes. “I want Cody. I want to be a good mother to him.”

She waited for my response. For me to snap or scold or tell her how disappointed I was. Instead I turned back to the car, where Mary was turned around with the boy. A bit of her singing in the car.

“I love that voice.” I said, realizing that if I chased her away this time she might never come back. Neither one of them.

A crunch of gravel. “Please Dad. I’m through with it. At least I want to be. All I want is for my boy to love me.” Then with the dagger. “For you to love me.”

My tears fell without shame. Cold with the breeze on my face. I shook my head, cursing needles and dealers and boogie men that lurked under every dark shadow of every street. My daughter needed me. I turned and faced her, holding out my arms as my little girl fell into my chest.

“I love you so much Kara.”

We stayed like that for a while. Until I heard the car door open. Mary, with Cody in her arms, his eyes wide as the bright blue sky, strikingly like his mother’s. I let Kara go, and she ran to them sobbing and sniffling.

Mary looked to me, the way I’d wanted her to look at me for so long. I reminded myself that it was a beginning, not an end. That Kara needed me to be a soft edge in a sharp world. To catch her when she fell. And tough love, tough shit, I would.



–Pete Fanning/2016


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