Valentine’s Day was here. That evening was a typical February evening, cold and dreary, but my Daddy’s warm heart came in and lit me up, as it always did. He brought all of us gifts for the very special day. For Mom and Aunt Betsy, potted plants and for me, the biggest card ever and a balloon that said “I love you.” I kept the balloon roaming free until it lost its last breath of air, then I pinned it and the card to my wall for years as a reminder of that love and innocence.
My Daddy wrote how much he loved me in his beautiful penmanship written with his special red felt pen. He showed me how much he loved with decorated hearts all over the card and the envelope, like he always did. Hearts were his thing. He even gave himself a heart tattoo on his right hand when he was a kid.
Dad gave me a big hug, then announced he was taking Mom and me out for dinner to one of my favorite places, a restaurant made out of old train cars. It was super fancy. I got dressed up in my favorite dress and my white stockings with red hearts on them. We ate, they drank, I got dessert as my Dad ordered his usual favorite drink, tia maria with coffee. As we drove home, the energy shifted, my Dad seemed agitated. He drove much faster with abandon and the music became unbearably loud. I pleaded to have it turned down because it hurt my ears, but neither of my parents could hear me up front since they were shouting at each other. I sat helplessly in the back seat covering my ears.
When we got home, things got really blurry, as if I put myself to sleep to escape a nightmare. I went somewhere else. When I came to, I was crouched in the corner in the kitchen with my Mom holding me close, she was shaking and her tears were soaking my hair. I looked across the room where I would sweep after dinner every night, Dad was standing over dirt and broken pottery that was all over the floor, the remains of the plants he gave as gifts just hours before. There was so much dirt and brokenness, I could not even make out where the plants were, if they were still there at all, dismembered into pieces.
It was all over now, everything was destroyed, the plants and my image of my Dad. He was some sort of demon. He looked back at us with red hot eyes, maybe he was still mad, or maybe he just woke up from my nightmare too. And then, he just walked away, went upstairs to his study, like nothing happened. Mom peeled away from me to clean up the mess and she sent me to bed. We never spoke of that night ever again.
The Valentine’s Day card hung on my wall for years as a bittersweet reminder symbolizing both my Daddy’s love and the loss of my innocence, from then on I never felt quite safe. It was the first time I saw a darker side of my Dad. I soon taught myself how to watch for the signs of the rumblings of Earth below me. What I thought to be solid ground was no longer stable. For my survival, I kept myself awake and quickly learned when to flee to a safe place.