Ever since the night her police officer father couldn’t prevent a man from committing suicide–and a YouTube video of the incident promptly went viral– Rowan’s life has been in complete tailspin mode: her friends have alienated her at school, the media has been haranguing her family, and, worst of all, her father has become someone she barely recognizes. Caught in the turmoil, Rowan doesn’t know who she can trust; until she finds a most unlikely ally in Eli, a boy who was also at the scene that fateful night.
May always gives my mother spring fever, and she stalls as long as she can so as not to stress my father but finally, almost halfway through the month on a Wednesday night, she can’t take it anymore and decides the dining room needs a fresh coat of celery-green paint.
“I’ll do it,” my father says slowly, rousing from his spot in the recliner. He’s wearing his reading glasses and has been staring blankly at the same page in Stephen King’s latest novel for the last fifteen minutes.
I know, because I’ve been surreptitiously watching him from over the top of my book. Observation has pretty much become the routine we’ve settled into, seeing as how talking about how he feels, even to try to help him, has the exact opposite effect and only makes him feel worse for failing us.
His words, not ours.
“Really?” my mother says, sounding surprised, and then adds hastily, “Well, that would be great. I’ll pick up the paint tomorrow after work. If we can get it done by Saturday I’ll invite the grandpar- ents over for Sunday dinner.” She catches the sudden distress on my father’s face and adds, “Or whenever. There’s no rush. And we don’t have to have company right now. We can always do it next week, or even the week after. Whenever you feel up to it.”
He nods slowly, his expression easing, and goes back to staring at his book.
I glance at my mother, who gives me a slight shrug, a quick smile, and gazes down at her laptop.
Ten bucks says she’s researching depression, because that’s the way it is now here at home, with my quiet, slow-moving father see- ing his psychiatrist once a week and my mother doing everything she can to keep life as calm as possible until his antidepressants kick in and hopefully get him back to normal again.
And I have to give her this: She’s really trying. When the TV is on and we’re talking and it’s too much for him, kind of a sensory overload I guess, the TV goes off and we move to the kitchen. She makes his favorite foods and pretends she’s not crushed when he can’t bring himself to eat them. She gives him vitamins. Stays cheer- ful, thoughtful, supportive. She’s taken over all the chores he used to do so he isn’t struggling with the weight of impossible-to-fill expectations right now and I got home from work yesterday to find her near tears, wrestling to replace the stupid spool on the weed whacker so she could finish trimming the grass.
And him standing helpless in the living room, wringing his hands and watching her.
The problem is that he’s depressed, not stupid, and he knows what she’s doing, he can see it even though she’s trying her best to make the added burdens no big deal. He is very much aware that he’s letting her down—his words, never hers—and he keeps apolo- gizing because it torments him . . . but it’s like he’s suddenly an in- valid, paralyzed with no physical wound to justify it, like everything he was got sucked out of him and left this terrible, gray, empty shell sitting and suffering in a chair in the dark.
So I took the weed whacker from her, fitted the spool and fin- ished the trimming, quick, sloppy but done, feeling his anguished gaze on me the whole time, and then all but threw the stupid thing back in the garage because really, it’s grass, and if my father can angst over grass then he can get better and go out and do it himself.
I want the real him back, goddamn it.
I feel like I’m two completely different people forced to live in two different worlds, that I have to leave the cheerful, happy, hopeful me at school or work every day and shift into a quiet, tiptoeing, worried me just to get in the door at home.
I hate it, and I hate seeing us like this.
I don’t understand why it’s happening and why he just can’t somehow be himself again. I want my father back, the smart, brave, reliable man who runs into burning buildings and drags people out, the man who once held a child’s bleeding, chopped-to-the-bone leg together until EMS arrived, after she’d slipped and fallen under a riding lawn mower while the blade was engaged. I want the man who was given his wristwatch at a commendation ceremony for being a hero, the man who protects us, who locks the house up every single night without fail, who cuts the grass and changes the oil in the cars, the one who promised to teach me how to drive and is making me a hope chest.
And sometimes I want to yell, “Stop it, Dad! Please be yourself again!” to try to snap him out of it—but I don’t because he’s always on the verge of tears these days as it is, terrible, helpless tears, and it would kill me to make him feel even worse.
This is exactly what happens the afternoon I come in and see him sitting alone in the living room, eyes closed, laptop open on the coffee table, the screen glowing in the shadows.
I stand in the doorway gazing at him, thinking he’s asleep and not bothering to mask the impatience on my face, the scared, angry wish of an immature, self-centered girl for him to just stop it, to get up and be all right again so life can go back to normal, when he opens his eyes and looks right at me. The torment in his gaze rocks me, knocks me speechless, and I stand there unable to move until he turns his face away as if ashamed and says in a dull voice, “Go, Rowan. I don’t want you seeing me like this.”
And one side of me whispers, Get in there and hug him, say something nice, something filled with love and comfort, because he looks so sad, but the other side is riveted, aghast, because the screen he has open is the website with all the terrible, hateful comments about him. Knowing he’s read them leaves me helpless, furious at their malice, at his weakness and my own, embarrassed by the stranger he’s become, and so I just mutter, “Sorry, Dad,” step back, and leave him to battle his demons alone.
Will Rowan be able to keep her family–and herself–together, or will the fallout from a tragedy no one could foresee tear them apart forever? Pre-order your copy today to find out! Me Since You goes on sale February 18th, 2014.