Lies make baby Jesus cry

When I was five, my mother caught me taking a cookie from her special jar before dinner. She snatched it from me and asked my why I took it when she specifically told me not to. When I replied that I didn’t despite all evidence to the contrary she slapped me hard on my left cheek. I started to cry and she asked why I was crying. I told her that she hurt me, to which she replied ‘You got no more than you deserve. Lies make baby Jesus cry.’

She then pulled me by the arm to my seat and told me my father would hear about this.

This scene would be a familiar one through my life, whether I actually lied or not. The only thing that ever changed was the slap would get harder. At one point, when I was 13, one of her friend’s who lived two or three blocks away told her that I threw stones at her house with my ‘degenerate friends’. I told her that it couldn’t have been me, that I was with my cousins at my grandparents who would back me up. The slap she gave me left a red mark for the rest of the day, and the start of the next, all while her friend gave me a look of righteous anger as if I had impugned her good name. Again, my father would hear of this.

And he did. While he almost always worked away from home, traveling the country to finalise deals for some marketing company he would call home every night. Mother made sure to tell him every little thing I had done wrong. Meanwhile, I had to sit there in silence, until she thrust the handset in my face and told me, smiling, ‘Your father would like to have a word with you.’ When he came home, I would always run to the door to hug him, and she would always catch me and make sure he would was told the latest thing I had done wrong and punish me for it. When his spankings weren’t hard enough for her liking, he would try to say he was tired from the plane journey, and she would verbally tear him apart. He was a lousy father, and absentee father, and if he wouldn’t discipline me, she would have to herself.

I never blamed my dad for any of this. He wasn’t to blame for my mother being twisted. He had to provide for us, since she was never going to. He always made sure to take me out and apologise, with ice-cream when I was younger, ball games when I was older. He tried to catch up with me, get to know me better, and promise that one day, he wouldn’t have to go traveling anymore. That he was this close to getting a promotion, and that he just had to do one more trip, and then another, and another.

It all came to a head when he declared he was going on his final trip, this time to Hong Kong to open an office over there. I was 16, and begged him privately not to go, but he went anyway. He always did.

Coming home from playing baseball with some kids from school, I found a black Jeep I’d never seen in the driveway. It wasn’t the type of car any of my mother’s friends would drive, and my grandparents stopped voluntarily seeing her when dad wasn’t around. I left my bike on the front lawn, gripped my bat tight, and unlocked the front door.

There was loud music coming from upstairs, a heavy hip-hop beat pounding on the floor. My gut felt on fire, my body going into fight or flight, but I started walking up the stairs anyway, slowly avoiding the creaky boards every teenager remembers to avoid waking up parents in the middle of the night. I started to hear a dull repetitive thudding on the wall. I got to the railings at the top and saw that my mothers’ bedroom door was slightly open. The music and the thudding was coming from her room. My heart raced as I walked up to the door, and getting ready to swing, I gently pushed it open.

They kept going until my mother finally noticed I was there and screamed. Whoever he was, he got off her as she pulled the covers up around her. Reality sunk in and I bolted for the door but he was quicker and caught my arm, saying we could just talk about it and it would make sense. I punched him harder than I’ve ever punched someone in my life, blood streaming from his nose as he fell back on his bare ass. I ran to my bike and rode the 15 miles to my grandparents, who took one look at me and told me I’d be staying there for a few days.

She turned up with the guy in his Jeep about an hour or so later, and my grandmother refused to let them in. The guy tried to threaten my grandmother, who was the most unshakable woman I have ever known, while mother screamed for me to come out and talk. My grandfather looked at me and told me to stay in the kitchen. He took his hunting rifle from the cabinet in the front room, walked to the door and calmly said, ‘You can leave and never threaten my family again, or you can get a belly full of lead. Your choice.’

They left.

I called my dad that night, giving him a chance to wake up over there, and told him everything. He got the next jet back and came straight over. I asked him how he got out of the rest of the trip, and he hugged he tight and said ‘I told them my daughter needed me. I didn’t give them a choice.’

My grandparents put us up while he had his lawyers draw up divorce papers. We never did find out who the guy was; dad never cared. When we went back home to pick up our stuff, she was in the kitchen, down half a bottle of wine. She screamed and shouted at us for driving her to it, that it was all our fault. Dad takes after his parents though, and somehow I take after him. We went around calmly boxing up books and clothes and loading them into the pickup he hired, ignoring her until she gave up following us.

When the last box was loaded, I remembered I’d left my catching mitt in my room and ran up to get it. On the way back down, I found her crying in a heap by the front door. She reeked of wine, looking like she hadn’t showered in days. ‘Why?’ She asked, hoarse from her shouting. ‘Why would you do this? Why would you tear apart our family?’

I looked down at her in her eyes, wanting to say a million and one things. I sighed. ‘Because lies make baby Jesus cry’.

I walked past her out the front door, and never looked back.

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