No More Walking on Eggshells

I remember the first time my mom and I walked into a house in Minnesota we had decided to move into, and inhaled deeply. We finally felt like we had room to breathe again. My dad was no longer in the picture, his anger was not an obstacle to our happiness, and our hearts felt light despite the pain he had caused. My dad’s anger had been a constant in my world of inconsistencies.

I remember choosing a paint color for the walls. It was a temporary home, and we knew that, but it was exciting all the same. I painted my room a light purple and we chose blue for the basement. My sister came to visit from college and helped us paint. We slowly filled the house with furniture while cautiously unpacking the boxes of memories that were stacked in a corner.

In our new house, we imagined what country we would move to next. My mom and I stayed up one night and thought about what kind of weather we would want, what kind of culture would be a good fit and what part of the world we hadn’t gone to yet. It was the way we dreamed.

We called his anger “being in a mood”. We walked on eggshells in the house with him, never sure when he would be in a “mood” or not. In Costa Rica, I messaged a friend one night saying, “Sometimes my dad’s anger really scares me”, after a night when my dad stormed after me into my room, yelling. He had raised his hand and I closed my eyes and waited for it to land. He never hit me, but it was the first time I thought maybe this wasn’t normal. My friend responded saying sometimes their dad got angry too, and that was it. Life went on and we thought nothing of it.

My father was in and out of the picture after my parents divorced. My mind and heart wrestled with the pain and guilt of setting boundaries and knowing when he was lying. He still yelled, even when I only saw him every few months. I became exhausted with his rage. No one told me that it was okay to stop. That it was okay to tell your father to not contact you. People didn’t tell me a lot of things, like the red flags that we thought were normal. He said he had changed, even though he didn’t, and people told me to keep trying — to keep trying to be close to someone who lied to me and yelled at me. I was filled with guilt for years because I attempted to set up boundaries to distance myself from him but felt bad because he’s my dad and a daughter should not ask her dad to stay away.

This is what my dad’s anger did — memories of favorite places were tainted with his temper. I could write a book of each city we lived in, filled with all the reasons he yelled. Things like speaking too quietly, speaking too loudly, milk being spilled or dropping a bag of candy on the floor. Our move to Minnesota began a new normal for my mom, sister and I, our life as three instead of four. We relocated so many times that we accumulated a lifetime of memories without him. Pictures with all four of us disappeared around the house and traditions changed to reflect our new life.

Home is a shifting word. It was new every day; sometimes it felt like Lima, other times it felt like laughter in an empty room. My mom, sister and I laughed a lot, in situations that weren’t very funny, because eventually we ran out of tears and that was all that was left.

We look back and make jokes about his anger now. It’s the only way to relive some of those memories without the pain of how it actually felt. We didn’t realize what we had to live with until he left the picture. The anxiety we didn’t realize we experienced daily with him was overwhelming. I’ve learned to tell my life story in a quick, condensed way, listing cities and countries, briefly mentioning the divorce and ending with where I currently am. Sometimes people push for more and my heart comes up to my throat and I choke on my feelings. Someone told me to thank my dad for the strengths I gained from his weaknesses. Maybe I will. Maybe I’ll just hold onto the fact that our life is filled with both constant movement and a lot more peace now. That’s enough to be thankful for.