The Answer
A Short Story by Scott Warfe
Written using the suggestion "Why on earth would a man raise his hand against himself."
Originally featured on 12-13-2010
As part of our series "The Benefit of Doubt: Stories Written to Explore Domestic Violence and Abuse"

You’re not weak, Allie. You’re just scared. You’ve been lethargic as of late, and I know why. I know your anger. I know that you’re heartbroken and lovelorn. You have been patient—patient on your wedding day, waiting a half an hour for him to show up undressed and drunk. But this patience is different. I can see it wearing on you, on your shoulders, in your eyes. Love has let you down. You have fulfilled your half of the obligation—trust me in this.

I wanted to offer you something, a sort of reprieve. I wanted to tell you that everything is going to be okay. I wanted to be able to just snap my fingers and make everything better. But, I’m not magic—at least not anymore. And, after days, weeks, and years of searching, all I had was this: a reminder that I know how you feel, that I once mistook my strengths for weakness, that I—or should I say, we—have overcome this before.

Do you remember that ride in the car that changed our lives forever? After school, twenty years ago, when I was about your age. Do you remember what lead me to turning the car around?

When you were still only three or four, you were just getting to that age when you started noticing the differences between boys and girls. You wanted desperately to be a princess, and I wanted badly for you to be one. You would flirt and follow boys around at the playground, as though they were princes. They almost always ignored and shunned you, which hurt you terribly.

I can remember one time in particular. You had been following a toe headed boy around the park. Every move he made, you imitated. After a while, the boy tired of you, and, as you began to follow him up the stairs of the slide, he turned around and kicked you off. You tumbled to the ground from the bottom step. The fall wasn’t very far, and the kick wasn’t very hard. Nevertheless, you cried convulsively. I ran to you and swept you up in my arms. I tried to console you. I tried to control my own anger and sadness so that you could see, through me, that everything was okay. But, your crying only deepened. So, feeling the eyes of others at the park, we left.

Whenever you are sad or lonely, your movement becomes subdued, as though every ounce of energy is being spent in contemplation. This was the first time I noticed it. I drove around for what felt like years, waiting for you to calm down. When you finally did, you refused to talk. You just sat and stared, not moving except for the subtle kicks against the back of my seat.

It would be a few years later before I would notice it again. Your father was watching you while I was at work. He let you watch Dumbo by yourself while he was next door drinking with his friends. At some point, you decided to drag all of our pillows outside and cover the lawn with them. Imagine my surprise when I got home. I thought we had been burglarized. But, aside from you, I knew we had nothing of value. Still, I rushed inside and was relieved to see the house as I had left it in the morning, but more surprised to see that you were alone.

It wasn’t until we watched Dumbo together on my day off that I figured it out. The way you swooned over the babies parachuting to their mothers made it pretty obvious. It certainly would not have taken a brain surgeon to figure it out, just an attentive parent.

For weeks afterward, I noticed that you couldn’t take your eyes off the sky. It was very cute, but I kept imagining you walking into oncoming traffic. So, I decided to tell you the truth about babies.

You didn’t really believe me at first, and I can’t blame you. You had seen storks dropping babies from the sky with your own two eyes. When you asked me how babies got inside mommies, I really wasn’t prepared to answer it. I tried to explain, but you just sat there on the couch, staring up at me, the heels of your feet slowly tapping against the seat cushion. I thought about giving you the “when a man and woman love each other” speech. I thought about honesty. But, I knew you would understand neither. So, I gave you the best answer I could.

“Mommies are magic, sweetie,” I said. “Mommies make babies because they are magic.”

Though you believed me, I felt guilty for having lied. But, what could I have said? I didn’t know where you came from or why you were my daughter. I didn’t know how you got to be so much like me or why your weaknesses—how you make yourself sick with love, how you can over think the simplest of things, how you just internalize every snicker, every sneer, every tease—were my weaknesses. I just couldn’t imagine how you had come to be mine. It must have been magic, I was sure.

As time went on, your father’s drinking caused more problems. Our arguments became more frequent and more violent. He would blame me for everything, and I would blame myself as well. Though you never said anything, you didn’t need to; your heaviness said it all. For years, you and I seemed to live our lives underwater. I was slowing drowning, pulled down by the weight of my guilt. I felt too weak to change. I was to scared to try. But, you would change that.

Do you remember the day? You must have been ten or so. The day I picked you up from school. When you got in the car, you didn’t say anything. You just quietly percussed against the back of my seat, looking as empty as a cold coat hanger. I asked you what you were thinking about. You replied, plainly, that a boy at school had said boys were better than girls. You asked why God made Eve from Adam and if it were true that God had created Hell to punish Eve for disobeying him.

I tried to give you answer. I told you everything I knew: that God made Eve from Adam, that he made them equal, that God had said they shared the same flesh, that in God’s eyes, we were all just one person, that the boy and I were the same, that your father and I were the same, that the boy and you were the same, that we were all beautifully equal.

I gave every word I owned to you in hopes that you would understand what I, myself, did not fully grasp. It was desperate—I can see that now. But, I was desperate. I was feeling like you are now. I was tired of being patient, of being scared, of being tired.

We were pulling onto our street when I slowed the car to a stop. It was quiet. You weren’t moving. There were no subtle kicks against my seat. You just stared at me through the rearview mirror, and I stared back.

Then you asked: “So, how could dad raise his hand against himself?”

The question was so simple, but it was something that I could not bring myself to ask. I had always wondered why, but I had never considered how. I didn’t answer you. For the first time, I felt like I didn’t need to. Instead, I turned the car around, knowing that none of this was magic: not where you came from, not how you came to be mine, not my ability to bear the unbearable.

We never looked back, you and I. Even when times were difficult, we never dared to look back. We had our weaknesses, but we also had each other.

Now, you are the mother. You are the one with a child who devours the world at an alarming rate: a son who will share your weakness, who will grow to contemplate the same things that once troubled you, who will ask you life’s most difficult questions. And, when he does, Allie, how will you answer him?

Read More By Scott Warfe

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