By the time cheerleading practice was over, I rode the sports bus and walked the rest of the way home after my drop-off — it was dark. The house was empty. Usually my father was home, sulking, simmering — I never knew if he would stay silent or if he would explode. I used my key, crept into the darkened house and turned on every light — even though I risked his wrath at "wasting electricity" because I always felt scared to be in the house alone.
In the kitchen, I opened the frig to see what we could have for dinner, and there on the kitchen table was a small tape recorder and a yellow legal pad the long lines filled with my father's almost-illegible scribble. Though it was addressed to my mother, I read through the first few sentences before I heard the door open, looked up and saw my mother, worn and tired, come into the room.
"Where's Daddy?" she asked.
"He's gone," I said in a small, unemotional voice. I looked at her carefully to see if she would react, understand what it all meant. "I think he left a tape for you," I added, pointing to the small machine plugged in to the wall socket.
Without a word, my mother — still in her coat — sat down in one of the heavy, clunky, dark wooden Captain's chairs that crowded around the small round kitchen table.
"How does this thing work?"
I hit the button to play and out came my father's voice — issuing instructions and commands about where to find this, what to expect or how and when to do that. It went on and on but the only thing that registered in my ears was his last line:
"You're all better off without me."
My mother shrugged off her coat, read through what he'd written out in his awful scrawl, put down the pad, let out a sigh, went over to the telephone and called my sister — crying.
I felt bad for my mother and as I tried to quiet the roar of thoughts exploding in my brain — in the pit of my stomach I knew she blamed me. I heard the muffled sounds of my mother crying and talking in the background — but in my head, all I clearly heard was his voice saying — "You're all better off without me."
It may have been the first time I agreed with anything my father said.