Settled into bed after the hustle and bustle of a long workday, Penelope’s eyes closed. Shoulders relaxed. Breaths long, but deep. There was quietness, almost like peace – something she strived for.
Penelope was awakened by the loud noises. She sprang up in her bed – shaking like a leaf. She was scared. The house was silent, but her knees were knocking like a woodpecker on a tree.
Penelope slid from her bed onto the floor. She huddled upright in a fetal position, pulling her knees to her chest. She silently moaned as a rampage of thoughts went through her mind – was it an intruder or her father acting out?
She needed help. She felt around in the dark for her cell phone. It wasn’t there. Crap, where is it?
Penelope shuttered at the new noise. It sounded like glass shattering. Was someone breaking in? Did her mother throw something?
Her heartbeat was racing. She feared being seen, so she didn’t turn on the light. She returned her knees to her chest, frantically waiting for another noise. When nothing happened, Penelope gradually stood up – trying to encourage herself to do something. She reached for the baseball bat next to her bed, then cautiously walked downstairs.
She used her memory and the moonlight shining through the windows to help maneuver the house. She slowly moved through each room – first the living room, then ending in the kitchen. With each step, the knot in her stomach twisted. Nervousness accompanied the fear she already had.
Then she heard something move – like someone walking lightly. She stopped. It was coming from outside near her front door. She slowly crept towards it, then took the bat to gently move part of the curtain. It was only the neighbor’s orange and white cat. Penelope sighed with relief – then she saw the mess.
“Damn cat! Did you have to break every flowerpot?”
She turned on the light in the living room and sat down, leaning the bat against the sofa. She recalled the night. It was understandable to think there was an intruder – she lived alone. But it was silly, somewhat crazy, to think her parents were there. They were gone.
Penelope felt sad. She missed them. Then she remembered their last day together. She smiled – then cried. Why?
On July 4, 1984, seven year old Penelope and her parents went to the county fair. She always enjoyed the fair – the taste of pink cotton candy, smell of smoky barbecue, and the excitement and thrill of the rides. She’d walk in-between her parents, holding each of their hands. Everyone was happy.
When the sun had faded and darkness filled the sky, the crowd chanted for the fireworks to begin. Then a loud boom with a burst of colorful, sparkly embers filled the sky. Penelope shuddered. She liked the glittery lights, but not the noise. It scared her. Her father knew this. He set Penelope on his lap.
“Ready for the next one baby girl?” he asked.
Penelope shook her head anxiously up and down. Then he covered her ears. She felt like a daddy’s girl. Her mother looked over at them with a smile on her face brighter than sunshine.
Somehow on the ride back home, things went left. Penelope heard her father yelling at her mother. She wondered what set him off this time.
“I saw you flirting with him MaryAnn! Don’t deny it!”
“What are you talking about David? I wasn’t flirting with anybody! Why do you have to ruin a good night?”
Penelope’s father was driving, but that didn’t stop him from giving her mother a backhand slap. Penelope’s eyes grew wide.
“Don’t hit my mommy!” she yelled at her father.
He turned towards the backseat threatening to backhand her as well. He swerved almost making the car leave the road. He turned back around and chose to look at Penelope hard and sternly from the rearview mirror. Penelope was scared. She grew quiet.
“It’ll be alright,” her mother said soothingly.
Later that night, Penelope was being tucked into bed. “Mommy, why does Daddy act like that?”
“Honey, I’ll explain it to you when the time comes,” she answered.
Penelope wondered when that would be.
The next afternoon, chaos erupted. Penelope curled up in a ball on the living room floor – trying to make herself
invisible. She was crying, hoping someone would help or at least make it stop. No more she kept repeating in her head though the attacks continued. Thing was, the abuse wasn’t happening to her. It was happening to her mother nearby. She hated being afraid, and how her father treated her mother.
Penelope’s mother got away momentarily. She tried to defend herself by throwing a picture frame. It missed him, but broke when it hit the living room wall.
“Pleeease David. Stop!” her mother pleaded. He ignored her and kept slapping and punching harder.
Then he walked over to a nearby cabinet. Penelope heard the door creak open, while her mother sobbed uncontrollably.
“You brought this on MaryAnn!”
“Run Penelope!” she warned.
Penelope couldn’t move. She could only manage to repeat, “No Daddy, no Daddy!”
A smell similar to exploded fireworks filled the room. Penelope screamed and covered her ears. She didn’t want to look, but she had to know. When she opened her eyes, she saw her mother on the floor looking back at her – with a blank stare.
“Mommy! Get up!” Penelope cried. Her mother didn’t move. Next to her was a suitcase now covered with splatters of blood.
“Wh-what have I done?” Penelope’s father uttered with wide-eyed disbelief.
He ran from the house into the woods nearby. The next day, he was found dead from a single bullet wound. Penelope was now an orphan. It was hard to believe 24 hours earlier, they were happy – as a family.
Penelope came back to her current reality. Her sadness turned to anger. It’s been 30 years since “the incident” as her Aunt Mae and Uncle June called it. Why was she letting it get to her again?
After “the incident”, her aunt and uncle took her in, insisting on therapy. It helped Penelope cope with the hurt she felt. But it could never erase her parents, the desire to know why her father was abusive, or the reason her mother tolerated it.
Aunt Mae tried to explain once, “Your father had a hard childhood. MaryAnn did the best she could.”
Uncle June’s spin was, “He’s always been that way. Your mother should have left him long time ago.”
Penelope knew her aunt and uncle meant well – and she appreciated that. But the truth was she needed facts, not well-intentioned opinion.
She spent her youth and part of her adulthood trying to find answers. She finally found a neighbor, Clarice, who knew her parents when they first married. Clarice recalled Penelope’s mother confiding in her.
“MaryAnn, why do you let him go up side your head?”
“I love him…and, I feel sorry for him.”
“He was abused as a child. He doesn’t have anybody else to love him.”
Now Penelope understood. She even felt sorry for her parents. But why couldn’t they get it together for her sake?
Penelope felt her shoulders tense up. The vein in her forehead was pulsating. She was mad at her parents again, and at the cat for causing her to lose sleep. She huffed loudly then got up to make herself a cup of tea to calm her nerves. When she returned, she sat in the oversized chair and tucked her legs underneath her.
This is getting me nowhere. Gotta try something else. Penelope put her cup down and knelt in front of the chair. She clasped her hands in front of her face and said, “Heavenly Father, help me. I can’t seem to move on. Help me let it go.”
Silently, she opened her eyes and sat back on her feet, placing her hands in her lap. She waited like something was supposed to happen. When nothing did, she got up and sat in the chair – leaning on her arm. She started to doze off.
Night faded into morning. The sun was shining through the living room window. It woke Penelope up. Two robins appeared on the windowsill outside. They were looking at her, chirping as if speaking. Something about them seemed familiar – human-like. Was this her parents in animal form? Then they took flight. Penelope rose quickly to watch them soar high, out of sight.
In her heart she believed it was her parents making amends. It was time to move on. She accepted that she couldn’t change history or how her parents were. What she could do was forgive, let go.
Finally, there was peace. She was free. She could live. And so she did.