Time in Willow Creek: 2 years, 2 months, 2 weeks
Hillary and Harold were supposed to be watching a movie, but they found Abigail to be much more entertaining. The 9 almost 10-month-old was a professional crawler and had been showing a strong interest in standing. Before everyone knew it, she’d be cruising. After that, walking! Time never slowed down, and Hillary wasn’t ready to spend her days running after a toddler. She looked forward to it, no doubt, but if only she could have a bit more time with her sweet, lively baby.
Harold possessed some quality children seemed to love. All his children and grandchildren were crazy about him, and Abigail continued the trend. His age and lazy bones prevented him from getting on the floor with her to play, but they had their own ways of keeping each other entertained. From wherever he sat, he’d say, “Heeeey, Boop Boop. Heeeey, Boop Boop,” in a falsetto voice Hillary didn’t know he had. It was hilarious. Abigail thought so too for she giggled and screeched endlessly.
Babies were so easy. Who needed fancy toys when they had a cool grandpa? The sight always warmed her heart. Did he dote on her when she was a baby? Did he have any cute nicknames for her? If so, what changed? How does one go from being in love with his child to hating her? As much as the reason piqued her curiosity, she wanted to put it behind her. But, Dr. Still wouldn’t let it go. “The source of all your problems is deeply rooted in your relationship with your father,” she kept saying. “You need closure. Try to get him to come with you sometime.” That was totally out of the question. He wouldn’t go even if someone paid him. Besides, she didn’t need closure. Their relationship flourished without meddling in the past. Why go there? It would only open old wounds and leave one or both of them hurting again. It wasn’t worth it.
“Heeeeeey, Boop Boop. Heeeeeey, Boop Boop.”
Abigail’s giggles got shorter and her blinks longer. Naptime came due.
“Come here, sweet pea. Come talk to mama.”
She crawled to Hillary and pulled herself up on the couch with finesse like she had been doing it for years. Hillary gasped. Harold laughed with his old man grunt.
“You gotta watch out now.”
She swaddled the child in her arms. “Guess it’s time to babyproof everything.”
Whether she was just babbling or trying to say “mama,” Hillary loved to hear her speak and had a feeling she would have a very chatty little lady in her future. Well, she always knew that. Abigail had always been very vocal.
“Hey, sweet pea!”
She rocked her. “Yes, I know! You need to sleep.”
Abigail babbled on, trying to ignore the Sandman’s dust. As much as Hillary enjoyed holding her, she and Jase didn’t want her to get into the habit of needing to be held to get to sleep. She placed her in the rocker and turned it on…and Abigail fussed. She hated hearing her cry, but it got easier every day.
“Was I as demanding as she is?”
He laughed. “You was worse.”
Her mouth dropped. “Daddy!” Joy. Not only was she raising a chatterbox, but also a tiny, cuter version of herself. Fun times were ahead. And by fun, she meant frustrating.
Abigail quickly realized she couldn’t win and gave up, leaving her kinfolk in peace to continue watching Roaring Vice. Hillary hadn’t seen that movie in ages. Her mind kept drifting back to Dr. Still’s words and even Juliana’s old words about forgiveness. She and Harold were doing just fine. Did he really need to know she forgave him? Why couldn’t they just sweep everything under a rug? That’s what the Humphries did best. But where did it get them? Talking to Harold about himself and the past was the last thing she wanted to be doing, but it needed to be done. He was in a good mood. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect.
She swallowed the acid which bubbled up from her churning stomach and cleared her throat. “Daddy…”
“Can we talk?”
His body stiffened like a fainting goat before keeling over, but to her surprise, he muted the television though his eyes never left the screen.
She couldn’t do it. He was having a good day. She didn’t need to ruin it. He needed good days.
He glared at her with those beady aquamarine eyes. Fear quickened in her. It had been a while since she felt it. She had to get on with it now. If revisiting the past didn’t ruin his day, wasting his time certainly would.
“…Dr. Still says I’ve been doing good…”
He nodded hesitantly.
“She said I can come less often if I want.”
He grunted. “Good. Save Rebecca some money.”
She knew he didn’t mean it maliciously, still, she couldn’t ignore the harshness of his tone. “Ummm…s-she said…” It was so hard. She wanted to cry. “I, uhhh…” She pinched her eyes closed and took a deep breath. “She said…it might help a lot if…i-if you came with me.”
He exhaled the breath he probably held since the beginning of the conversation and turned his attention back to the muted TV. Though she expected he wouldn’t react well, experiencing his rejection still hurt.
“She said a lot of my problems have to do with our relationsh–“
“I ain’t talkin to no stranger.”
She jumped at the sound of his voice but calmed herself. She expected the opposition. No need to get upset. “All those things you used to say to me…they really messed me up!”
His eyes were still glued to the television. His chest rose and fell faster. The stiffening of his jaw said many painful things.
“I thought you hated me.”
“I ain’t talkin to no stranger.” His voice was thicker than before. Something was happening on the inside. Why didn’t he just tell her what she wanted to know? The door was open. He didn’t need to hide anymore.
The mission had gone south, and she panicked. Not only would it ruin his day, but also it would make their relationship digress. “But she’s nice, daddy! It’s not like it is on TV. She won’t make you talk about anything you don’t want to talk about. You don’t have to say anything! Just go with me one time. Please?”
His head turned sharply toward her, eyes glaring and nostrils flared. “I ain’t talkin to no stranger!”
“Then talk to ME!”
Something inside exploded. Her breaths were heavy, and every part of her body tensed up. Even the hairs on the back of her neck stood tall. “Talk to ME, daddy!” The tears came, and she sounded like a whiny baby, but she was so desperate. So very desperate.
His head hung in his chest for a while, and she hung onto the silence like rope dangling over a cliff.
“I ain’t the talkin kind,” he said in a softer voice.
“I know, but…but I really need your help, daddy! I’m not gonna get better without it!”
His head remained in his chest. It was probably the closest thing to compliance she would get.
“Did you hate me?”
“No,” he said emphatically.
That surprised her, and she almost wished he would have said yes. At least if he hated her he could tell her why and she could go away with something to work on. But, he loved her. It didn’t make sense. Why abuse someone you love? Her anxiety level went through the roof, and her voice escalated higher than she wanted. She couldn’t think about the baby sleeping next to her.
“You made me feel like shit!”
His raised eyebrow let her know he didn’t appreciate her using that language with him, but her words flowed out like vomit and wouldn’t stop. She could apologize later.
“You told me I was fat and always acted like you were soo disgusted by me! Like I ruined your life! I never felt good about myself because you made me feel like no one would ever want me!” She never felt more out of control. Every ounce of blood and water in her body boiled. Her index finger waved in his face. “I went out with douche bags because I thought I didn’t deserve any better! You didn’t show me what love looked like!”
Her body convulsed with every sob. She didn’t want to get upset, but it actually felt kind of good to tell him all those things at last. His hand found its way to her knee, and he patted it a few times. It startled her more than his voice.
After she got most of her tears out, she attempted to resume the conversation. “Why would you treat me like that if you didn’t hate me?”
“Cuz you’re like him,” he shouted as if it should have been obvious.
After all these years, he still couldn’t say his name. Poor man. The picture he attempted to paint became clear.
He sighed and buried his head in his chest again. “Y’all just alike. You don’t look alike, but I see him every day…”
How was that supposed to make her feel? Angry because her father couldn’t get over her dead brother? Pity for him? Relieved because there was nothing wrong with her?
“You pushed me away. All I ever needed was you, and you pushed me away.”
“I ain’t proud!” He seemed to be started by the escalation of his own voice. “Can’t nothin be done about it now.”
That was true. They had already come so far. He stopped berating her long time ago. That’s how she knew he was contrite. This admission was probably the closest thing she would get to an apology. At least she got the information she wanted to obtain. Now, she needed to think about it and decide what to do with it.
“I know.” She grabbed his hand. “I know you’re not proud of it. Th-thanks for telling me. I didn’t mean to upset you, daddy… I love you, and…I forgive you.” She patted his hand and ran upstairs.