Well I took my three youngest kids and their friends to Santa Cruz. Bought them sodas at the boardwalk, played in the waves, had a great day. And then shit, the real fun begins.
When it’s time to go Alice and I get in a tiff cuz she doesn’t want to leave and finally I say “Fine you can walk home.” Home is twenty miles over the mountains, and damned if that brat doesn’t start walking. I figure she’ll be back soon, tail between her legs, so I don’t go after her. Then we all wait. And wait. She’s twelve years old for godsake, setting off alone over the Santa Cruz mountains at dusk. So I send the tads off to find her saying you better find her before I do, for her own good.
Finally they bring her back, cat-eyed glasses flashing. I tell them all to get in the van except for Alice. Grab her by the shoulders and start in on her, saying she could have gotten lost or kidnapped and why does she have to be so fucking stubborn. The damn kid sometimes I could just kill her.
There’s a bank that drops eight feet to the sand and I shove her towards it. The kids in the car start shrieking “don’t, dad, don’t!!!” and I’m shaking her shaking her all I wanted was to have a fun day at the beach with my kids goddamn it was that too much to ask. My father never did that for me but I do it for my kids. My mother taunting your father hates you hates you hates you hate and everything is swirling and there’s that shack on the river where he lived with his bottle and did those things but now it’s me shaking her and seagulls are screaming and people are staring and oh god no I do not hate her and what the living fuck am I doing?
I swear I did not mean to hurt her and I didn’t hurt her, not really. I crack a smile, tell her “it was for your own good, now give your old pappy a hug.” Pull her into my arms for a nice big hug like I always do to make it all better. But this time she doesn’t hug me back. Her arms hang limp as socks on the line. I lift them, shake them, say: look!
She says: what.
“Your arms! You’re not hugging me back!” I shake them again but they just flop lifeless and she’s staring at me with this new flat look, and it hits me in the gut — oh goddamn it all to hell she is not my little girl anymore.
Printed with permission from Helen Jones, copyrighted by Helen Jones @ 2013. This piece originally appeared in Issue No. 14 of the Los Angeles Review.