Part 1: Catchphrases
It’s your job to say the right lines. Don’t forget: your loved ones want to believe you.
It’s not my fault.
I don’t remember.
This is the last time.
Be sure to learn these early and use them often. Each phrase multi-tasks for many different occasions, and as we know, our memories are not our friends. If you say these gems sincerely, head bowed, eyes glassy, after you’ve cheated on a spouse, ruined a car, or forgotten another birthday, anniversary, or child’s performance, they usually work well enough to get you in the door.
Just one more chance.
I’ll change, I swear.
“I promise” seems to be particularly effective, and even more so when you mean it, and you always mean it, don’t you? At that moment, when your blue-eyed daughter stands there in her Strawberry Shortcake pajamas, squeezing the teddy bear she named after you between her tiny arms and watching you stumble as you’re led away by two police officers, covered in your own vomit and urine, blood leaking from your head into your eyes from some cut you can’t even feel, you mean it more than you want your next drink.
When you hear the words she’s still learning to use escape her lips, “Where are you taking my Daddy?” you make promises. Oh, how you make promises. To her, to God, to yourself. I’ll change now, I swear. Your stomach burns and your heart strains against your damp chest. This is the last time. You believe it.
As you’re driven away in flashes of red and blue, siren blips and horn taps to clear the gathered crowd, you see your little girl, cheeks wet, lips in a line like a forty-year old—like your mother whom you saw led away in a similar fashion once and at least you’re not wailing or thrashing like she did—lift her tiny hand and wave goodbye.
This time, it’s different.
Don’t give up on me.
This time, it’s different, you think, and wonder if your mom had the exact same thought as her squad car faded into the distance while you stood in the driveway, alone, a smear of your mom’s blood on your fuzzy pajama sleeve and her vomit in the grass. The cement was cold on your bare feet, and a thousand rock bottoms since don’t compare.
Your little girl turns away and you’d cut off your hand to remove this moment from her brain. You have already ensured that your memory of this night will be wiped clean, but no amount of alcohol can dilute the images of your mother, bloated face and head in the toilet, bleeding from her nose onto your birthday cake, falling down at parent-teacher night, being dragged away by policemen in your front yard, her robe open, ribs exposed, and you know your girl will remember this.
You are your daughter, watching a parent leave, hands clenched into useless fists, and hoping, hoping.
Hope will eat your insides worse than booze.
Melanie Thorne is the award-winning author of the novel Hand Me Down (Penguin), critically acclaimed by People, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Associated Press, among others, as well as nominated for an ALA Alex Award, and named a Kirkus Reviews Best Fiction Book of 2012. Her short fiction and non-fiction have been widely published, including in Good Housekeeping, Crab Fat Magazine, Litro, The Florida Review, and The Nervous Breakdown. She was awarded the Maurice Prize in Fiction, an Alva Englund Fellowship, and residencies at Hedgebrook and the Atlantic Center for the Arts, and has been a Tomales Bay Workshops Fellow, a Virginia Quarterly Review Scholar, and a PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Mentor. She holds an MA in Creative Writing from UC Davis and lives in Los Angeles, where she teaches at the UCLA Extension Writer’s Program and in private workshops. Find her online at www.MelanieThorne.com.