I was surprised to feel an awkward lump forming in my throat, and quickly reminded myself that this terrible structure had been the showcase of all my failures for all of my twenty-one years.
Father, I thought to myself. I clutched the box tightly and bit my lip. No, no, I couldn't think about Father now.
I finished emptying my clothing drawers into the clothing box and sealed it up with some packing tape. I grabbed a black magic marker and wrote on another small box, "Heather's Linens". I surveyed the room and took in what I was leaving behind: yellowed ABBA posters, a long-empty gerbil cage, my dusty plastic Fisher-Price record player. I looked down at my forest green sleeping bag on the floor beside my bed, and bent down beside it to begin rolling it up. I thought about how nice it was going to be to sleep in a bed again when I was living at Mike's. I'd moved from the bed to the floor the night after my seventh birthday. For my party, I'd had Tara Bailyn, Francis Adams and Lori Nohl over, and my mom had let us have all the pop and chips we wanted as we gossiped and played in the backyard all night long. I guess I had too much pop, for that evening I had wet my bed. When Father found out, he had shot me a look of disgust that penetrated to my very core, and yelled that he would disown me and never again acknowledge my existence. My mother had calmed him down eventually, but he had declared that the soiled sheets must remain on my bed until I was twenty-one to remind us all of the great shame I had brought upon our family. Mother had tried to calm him, but he had just muttered "why did this happen, why did this happen, why did this happen" for the next three days.
Brushing a stray tear from my cheek, I began sorting through my junk drawer, tossing most of the silly trinkets into the trash, keeping only those items whose significance I could still recall. I was startled to come upon a large chunk of my old cast. The cast. I'd been wagon racing with Francis Adams on her steep driveway, and had somehow flipped off the wagon and landed with my arm underneath me. I recalled the disappointment in Father's eyes when I had come home crying and displayed my scraped and purplish right arm for his inspection. He didn't speak to me on the way to the hospital, and had tried to act like he was there with one of the other children while we had waited in the emergency room.
I perused the colourful signatures on the cast: "Heather, Get Well Soon - Mrs. Grantham", "Tough break! - Your friend Bonnie", "At least it wasn't your head! - Tom" ... and, of course, "You have disgraced our family once again, deepening my feelings of disappointment in you further still. You shall wear this cast as a badge of shame until you are twenty-one. - Father". I sighed a long, sad sigh, and again thanked God that the cast had fallen apart after less than two years. I compared the larger chunks of the cast to my small, Tyranosaurus-like right arm. I managed to convince myself that my arm had grown a little since then.
After hauling my boxes downstairs to the front hall, I went into the kitchen for a glass of lemonade. As I headed in, I deliberately avoided looking at the toaster, and the two taunting slices of toast it held. I had burned the toast when I was seven, on Father's Day. The toast hadn't been badly burnt, just a little browner than usual, but when I had presented the meal to Father in his bed he had broken into tears, gazed heavenward and spent the rest of the day simply mouthing "why" over and over. When he had finally come out, he had refused to look at me, but had instructed my mother to tell me that the repulsive, obscene mockeries of toast which I had created would remain in our toaster until I was 21 as badges of shame. He had also had my mother ask me, in my capacity as spokesperson for Satan, what our family and all our ancestors had done to earn such endless torment and humiliation, why he had blighted our family with such a pathetic embarrassment of a daughter. I had to tell my mother that I didn't know; she said she didn't think I would.
My adolescence only deepened my father's shame in me; the humiliation I brought upon Father the time when I was late for class after the bus caught on fire, the embarrassment I had caused my family when I had needed to use the washroom during our drive through the Prairies, and the deep mortification I had caused all my ancestors when the dentist announced that I would need braces. I had really thought Father was going to jump from the roof, but after a few days he decided he had a duty to go on living in order to remind me what a hideous disappointment I was.
I took a final look around the house of shame and closed the door behind me. My taxi was waiting.
I struggled not to shed any tears in front of the driver as he helped me load my few boxes and we pulled away. The traffic was heavier than usual, but I didn't mind, as it gave me some time to think before I began my new life with Mike. I was eager to share my awful memories with him, and have him hold me and tell me that now everything would be okay.
I paid the driver and stepped out onto Mike's driveway. As I started unloading my boxes with my good arm, Mike emerged from the front door and walked towards me with a serious expression on his face. I waved at him but he did not smile.
"Mike, what's wrong?" I asked in a concerned tone.
Mike averted his gaze and looked at his watch. "You're late," he muttered, hanging his head down low and slowly walking back towards the house.
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