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I wish I could say there was something that was odd about the way the night started. It was a seasonably warm April evening, starting to bleed into a cooler night. My dad was sitting in his wheelchair on the back deck looking at the night as it started to settle in. This was one of his rituals. He’d done it since my mom passed away two years ago. He wasn’t lonely in the traditional sense, he had friends that frequently visited him, and he had me, but I could tell he wasn’t the same man since the accident. I guess I wasn’t the same girl either. I wanted to take care of him, to dote over his needs; I guess somehow that gave my life validation. Dad wouldn’t hear of it though. He refused to let me become that person and insisted that I spend time with my friends. Tonight was one such night. Stella was picking me up in a few minutes for a party. I’m not even sure now who was hosting it, if it was Tiffany or Christie or Josie or any one of the endless parade of party girls at my school.
“I don’t have to go, Dad. I really don’t,” I said from the back door.
He turned his chair. “Absolutely not. You go to your party. Come home when you’re ready.”
I smiled and nodded “Sure, Dad. I have my key. I’ll call before I head home.”
The party itself was a blurry mess of black lights, florescent wall art, flashing lights, and techno music. I hate techno music. I just want to go on record with that. It sucks. I won’t claim that the party itself was a complete waste of time; there was some fun to be had in talking with various people from school, even if half the conversations were barely audible over the music. Before too long, I guess about two hours into the night, Stella and I were ready to blow out of there because ultimately this was not our crowd.
In truth, I had a hard time defining what my “crowd” was since the accident. Something about tragedy hitting you early on changes your priorities, which according to my therapist is pretty common for teenagers wanting to dote on their parents as a means of keeping them close for fear of losing them. That makes connecting with classmates difficult when you have a underlying fear that your parent could be just gone at any minute.
We headed back to the house, and it felt like it got dark unusually fast or maybe we’d lost that much time. I don’t know. I pulled out my phone cussing at myself for not charging it before I left. I dialed my dad. A few rings in and he picked up.
“Hey, Kitten, hold your horses, I’m on my way.”
I could hear a loud banging and a girl’s voice calling. “Dad, what are you talking about? I just got in the car to come home.”
I could see him stop in my mind, halfway between the back door and the entry into the kitchen. I could still hear the banging and a girl yelling "Dad, it’s me, let me in!”
“Dad!” I could feel my chest tighten, the air getting stuck in my throat, my eyes burning. “Please don’t open that door!” I said firmly. “I’m about two blocks away and I’m using Stella’s phone to call the police. Do not open that door!” I motioned for Stella to hand me her phone. “What’s going on?”
“Someone’s banging on the door pretending to me, trying to get my dad to open it.”
“Holy shit…” she said as she handed me her cell. I could hear the banging over my phone; it had to be deafening in the house. My chest vibrated with each pounding jolt of my heart. I lost my mom, I couldn’t lose my dad.
“911…” the call taker answered. “Yes, my dad is in trouble, someone’s trying to get into our house. He’s in a wheel chair, he needs help.”
“Okay, ma’am, what’s the address?”
I rattled off our address and she repeated it back. Over my end of the phone the banging was getting intense, and then it stopped. I checked my phone; it was still active, but barely. My dad was breathing heavily. “It…stopped,” he whispered.
“Dad, I’m on my way home right no…”
The doorbell cut me off and for one of three times in my life I heard my dad swear. Then there came a casual knock. “City police!” a woman called.
“It’s okay, baby, it’s the police,” he said.
“Dad wait…I just got off the phone with them…they can’t have made it…”
My phone went black. I dialed as quickly as I could from Stella’s phone. He didn’t answer, after several rings it went to voice mail. I hung up and dialed again; this time it went straight to voice mail.
Finally we pulled up to the front of the house. There was a cop car out front, bathing the street in alternating red and blue lights. I barreled out of the car before Stella even stopped. I tripped and slammed into the asphalt, but pulled myself up and hauled my ass to the front door even as my ankle threatened to give out on me.
Two police officers were coming down the front walkway.
“Is he alright?” I begged.
“Yes, ma’am. Your mom said it was a misunderstanding…” the younger officer said.
The older one, a strapping man that looked familiar, was looking at my face. Without a second question, he turned and pulled his gun out. I don’t know how hard he hit the door, but the frame splintered. I was close behind him, and the younger cop was trying to catch up. Something shaped like a woman bolted out the back door; I ran in and found my dad on the floor of the kitchen, a gash in his neck, his wheel chair on its side.
“It looked like... It looked like...” he said weakly. I could hear the younger officer calling for an ambulance. Out the back door I heard the older cop fire his gun a few times; I don’t think he hit what he was aiming at. Maybe he did and it just didn’t care about getting shot. He was on his radio when he came back in, calling for back up to the area and telling them to be on the look-out for a barefoot woman with dark hair wearing a white t-shirt and blue pants.
The paramedics came and took my dad to the hospital. I rode with them while Stella offered to lock up the house as best she should. The older cop helped her. I was curled in the back seat of the ambulance; I could feel the hot tears on my face, the pain in the back of my head from the stress. The paramedics assured me my dad had lost some blood, but not a lot, like we got there just in time.
I had to stay in the waiting room while my dad was in surgery. The police officers met me there. The older one, Officer Simmons, a brick wall of a man, gave me a hug. He smelled like Old Spice. Something about the smell tickled the back of my mind. It was a shadowy part of a memory that brought a lump to my throat, and I thought I was just stressed from everything.
He said, “I remember you. Two years ago I worked a hit and run accident…”
I crumpled, bawling, but he caught me. That’s why he knew something wasn’t right. He knew my mom couldn’t be there. I remembered him; he was the one who pulled my mom’s lifeless body from the car. He was at her funeral. This wasn’t the first time he’d caught me as I felt like my soul was dying. When I stumbled from the wreck, he caught me then too.
A few days later, Dad was home. I had sworn off parties for the rest of my life. I was ready to swear off everything for the rest of my life. Sitting on the back deck looking at the burnt orange sky, my dad and I existed in an uneasy quiet. He started to say “That…whoever she was that attacked me…”
“I know, Dad. I saw her too. It looked like Mom.”