After spending a day in the small town where Rhiannon lived for the past year, Friday morning we headed to the city for the hearing.
He walked up to me in the waiting room. “I haven’t met my son-in-law yet, nor my grandson. I want you to know that I want to.”
Okay. Hello to you too, old man.
I walked into the small courtroom ready to go, and sat in the front row. Quinn and I waited tensely while official after official made their report, all positive. Because aging narcissists are so good at self-improvement.
But when the time came to speak I found myself frozen, “Mr. Smith is focused on Rhiannon’s health and well-being” ringing in my ears. You may as well tell me he has learned to fly.
Quinn was the one who raised her hand and said, “Excuse me, we have something to add.”
I told them how he leaves inappropriate material laying out, easy for anyone to find.
“Are you speaking of your own childhood?”
The judge’s eyebrows raised.
I explained how I lived with them a few years ago and made an effort to visit regularly in the years since. “And he believes he is a wizard and will live forever.”
This got everyone’s attention. “Could you explain more about the wizard thing?”
I must have been white as a ghost, sitting behind his shoulder just out of arms reach. Quinn doesn’t like to be touched but I reached over and squeezed her knee. She squeezed my hand. “Do you want me to start at the beginning?”
“He used to joke that he would live forever – ‘See? It’s worked so far!’ – and I’m not sure when but it ceased to be a joke. He says he draws power from communicating with dragons that live in the volcanoes around the world.”
I kept my eyes focused on the judge, not daring to look for the expression on his face.
The Child Services people scrambled through their notes. They also asked for clarification but, honestly, I don’t quite remember what else I said. When we were dismissed I grabbed up my things and beat feet to the hallway.
My back was turned as he passed but I could feel the prickles of fury. Quinn and Angie’s husband Chuck swore they heard him growl in his throat as he passed. That was the last I saw of him. That may be the last I ever see of him.
I haven’t spoken to him in almost three years anyway, not since the allegations started coming out. I don’t know what to say. My relationship with my father has become like loving the monster under your bed. He has become my personal bogeyman, haunting the edges of my mind and making me rethink a lot of what I thought I knew. About him. About my childhood. About myself.
I bear some weird mental scars that really mess with me sometimes and I have no explanation for. Some deep emotional hangups that intellectually I don’t understand.
The whole thing was rather anticlimactic. They are still on track to send her home but the judge said they need to look into this new information. We caravanned to the house Rhiannon and her guardian are staying in, had some lunch and discussed what we’d just been through.
Angie said she had thought our father was going to have a stroke while I was speaking. I have always been his favorite and for years I played that up to be the (wo)man on the inside. But it’s become inescapably clear to me that he doesn’t really know me at all. I expected him to be surprised. Even the canniest of abusers has his blind spot.
I only hope I chose the right moment to play my cards.
Rhiannon – I used to call her Itty Bitty, now at 14 she’s several inches taller than me – took a long nap. I can only imagine what this has all been like for her. She says she doesn’t remember most of the things the evidence shows he did to her, with her, in spite of her. His advancing insanity (I really can’t think of a better word!) has robbed her of her home, her friends, her childhood, her innocence.
Even her health. She’s developed a form of epilepsy that the neurologist said is due to an old head injury. That’s not your average little kid bonk on the head!
That night on the phone, I told my husband how I was kinda freaked out that I had spilled the family beans in front of all those people. “But I don’t think he can do anything to us.”
“You mean, like, magically?”
As if. “No, literally. Even if he does find our address and show up at our door, what’s he gonna do? He’s almost 70!”
I said this mostly to reassure myself. Angie lives almost two hours’ drive from that courtroom and it didn’t feel far enough. Even home six hours away feels a bit too close. It’s surreal because I spent most of my youth wishing I could spend more time with him. Now I wish he would just go away.