The glass jar is heavy in my hand, but I refuse to let go because Daddy asked me to feed the birds this morning, and I must learn to follow through with tasks that have been assigned to me, even though my hands are small and the smooth edge of the cookie jar is slipping though each of my five-year-old fingers, sliding closer and closer to the dirt driveway, which never gets plowed in the winter, only shoveled, because loose rocks pop up under the plow and get stuck in the large blade, so us kids shovel, but not Daddy, because he has an old heart, and three years ago his friend Mr. Sylvester’s heart quit working when he came by to help shovel the driveway, and then he was gone—just like that, Mr. Sylvester’s body toppled over into the tall mound of snow that he had just made, snow from our driveway, a perfect pile that could have been used for a fort or king of the mountain, but instead, it was completely crushed by Mr. Sylvester’s stiff body, and then he was dead, and his two daughters, Sharon and Cindy Sylvester, had to go to school the next week and tell their classmates and their teachers that their Daddy is dead, and maybe they told them that he died shoveling the Dickinson’s driveway, which never gets plowed, only shoveled, because of the grey rocks that I can see through the clear glass of my shiny jar, forcing me to hold tighter…tighter…tighter…until I hear CRACK!
That’s how I remember the first and only time my father hit me. He didn’t yell or tell me why. I don’t remember if it hurt, or if I cried. I only remember the thud of his meaty palm against my shoulder and being shocked. Looking back, I think Dad was surprised, too, although he wouldn’t have said so. I’m sure he was upset about the possibility of glass getting in the bird food. Dad was serious about his birds. Yes, I’m almost certain that it had nothing to do with me, because my father didn’t hit me, not even when I walked into his friend Joanna Paquette’s house without knocking.
Dad was sitting at the table with Joanna and her sister Juanita that day. They were drinking coffee. I had been sitting out in the Buick with some of my older siblings. As I write this, I can’t remember which of my six siblings were in the car, but I do know that we were stuffed into Dad’s car, and that we were all hot and tired of waiting for him to come out.
It had been decided by someone in the car that I would go in to get Dad because I was the youngest and his favorite. Each of my siblings took turns telling me what to say, explaining the best way to get Dad to come out of the house. Finally, I was sent on my mission. I skipped up the long walkway, rehearsing my lines as I jumped over the cracks in the pavement. My brothers and sisters had said so many things in the car, and we had laughed a lot, so I couldn’t remember which thing I was supposed to say. I thought and thought, standing on Joanna’s front steps. And then I remembered something that my older brother had said and how everyone had laughed after he said it. Maybe that was it. I knocked lightly on the screen door. Then I walked in before anyone answered.
Dad, Joanna and Juanita were sitting at the kitchen table. I hesitated, not because my father was sitting with two beautiful women, without my mother, but because I realized that I had just entered someone’s house without being invited, and I was still trying hard to remember what my siblings had told me to say. I was the baby, or at least that’s what they called me, and I often got things mixed up. I had to get it right. I had to make them proud. I had to get Dad to come out. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and puffed out my chest. “Dad, get your fucking ass out here.”
This time no one laughed, not like everyone had in the car when my older brother had said that same thing.
This time Dad jumped up from the table and walked me back to the car and hopped into the driver’s seat. He didn’t hit me or yell at me for being disrespectful. He drove home in silence. Later that day I told my brother what I had said to get Dad to come out of Joanna Paquette’s house. That’s when I found out that I had said something bad. But even then Dad didn’t hit me, which confirms that the one time that he did hit me had nothing to do with me, just the birds.
Kassie Rubico is an essayist currently working on a memoir. Her work has appeared in Guide to Kulcher Creative Journal, Insight Academic Journal, Parnassus Literary Journal, the anthology, River Muse, Tales of Lowell and the Merrimack Valley, and Toska Literary Magazine. She has been a guest columnist for the Lowell Sun and a freelance writer for Coolrunning.com. She received a Master of Arts in Creative Writing and Literature at Rivier College and an MFA in Creative Nonfiction at Pine Manor College. She teaches writing at Northern Essex Community College.