My daddy always smelled of musk and cold air when he came in on Saturday mornings. It was the first time I had seen him in days, since he spent his weeks in New York trying to earn a living while my mother raised us. His scent was all I could remember when he wasn’t home. He would hug me so tightly that I would laugh. Dad acted as if he wanted to hold me forever. I was his princess; he never showed any affection toward my mother and rarely approached my sister. I knew something about my family was odd, but I was only six. As the years passed, Daddy’s touch grew weak and his familiar smell turned sour. I realized my family wasn’t odd, it was broken.
At 5 a.m., I awoke to a door slamming. I could hear our kitchen door splinter, as if some angry force had just shoved its way in. I sat up in a panic. I tiptoed out and found my father in the kitchen with a blue bottle in his hand that smelled sickeningly bitter. Being 12, I could only guess that it was alcohol but wasn’t sure. I saw my father stumble and the bottle fall, shattering. As I slipped up the stairs, I felt tainted. I hated him and knew I would never see my daddy the same way again.
We all heard it. Mom asked the next morning if Dad had scared me during the night. I blurted out a barely comprehensible “No,” and hid my face. When Dad came in the room, his eyes lacked their usual luster. He took my hand and my fingers tightened. Daddy’s grasp scared me now. His customary smell and comforting touch were replaced by a rough hand and a nauseating aroma. I wasn’t his princess anymore.
That one night became every night. He stumbled in, cursing our family for nothing in particular. His “meetings at work” were code for a long night of drinking. “Weekend trips” meant a visit to his girlfriend’s house.
Dad couldn’t drive me anywhere because he was always drunk. My friends were afraid of him. He would come home and try to have a civilized conversation that would always turn into a horrendous fight. Dad always forgot that he had kept us awake for hours each night, depriving us of sleep and sanity. Family dinners and vacations no longer existed.
The six-year-old girl in me waited for my daddy to come back. I hoped that one day he would realize what he had done, how he had broken us. Parading his girlfriend around our town and even bringing her to our home, he shamed us all. Dad tried to make up for the pain with gifts and meaningless gestures. He couldn’t recall the insulting things he would say to me day after day.
I would never be his wide-eyed daughter again. I was damaged and cynical, and would never be good enough for him. I finally viewed the world through a 17-year-old’s eyes and saw the person my father had become. He had no love in his heart and nothing but selfish thoughts in his head, so there was no place for him in my life. My daddy was gone.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.