As I jiggle my key in the sticky lock, the doorknob rattles.
Heavy footfalls sound from behind the door. I want to breeze through the house on the way to my room, but it sounds like the Colonel has other plans.
The tumbler turns, and then the knob. My key slides out. The door swings in. As I pocket my keys, he meets my eyes. His graven face is bent in a scowl.
“Son, we need to talk.”
In all of the English language, those five syllables are my least favorite. They’re five syllables of pure hell and he delivers them in the least promising way. Any hope I had of spending a quiet evening alone just vanished.
The Colonel holds a folded piece of notebook paper in one hand. Red ink bled through enough when the ‘A’ was written to give me a clue to what it is. He has one of my homework assignments.
Okay, I’m confused. How can this possibly be about school? I’m in the top three percent of my class.
Duty, honor, discipline, and sacrifice are the platform on which he’s built his life…and shaped the lives of everyone else around him. It’s my duty to perform well academically. Doing so honors my family. I learned that lesson a very early age.
He turns away. I follow him into the front room where my mother waits. Before he takes his seat, he hands the paper off.
I unfold it and read:
Martyred by good intentions,
She cannot understand.
Her eyes are filled with sympathy.
She turns her back and walks away.
Shadow washes over me.
I wither to obscurity,
A single word, my sentence.
Death in all its bitterness,
Must surely be at hand.
Forsaken, I shall ever be,
By the title friend.
The fact that he read that makes me feel violated. It was none of his damned business.
Chances are he didn’t even understand it. Explaining it to him wouldn’t help at all, not that I would. He wouldn’t care that I was dumped by a girl, and then drew on the experience to write a poem for a homework assignment. The Colonel has no use for poetry or art. He finds them frivolous.
It stands to reason that they’d be everything I love. I’ve kept that facet of myself locked away. My prisoner comes out to play when he isn’t around.
Funny, I had a feeling that Buffy would appreciate the duality of that. It seemed like she—
“Your mother and I are worried about you,” the Colonel says. “We had a meeting with Dr. Shaw this afternoon. She agrees that you have an unhealthy fascination with the macabre.”
They went to see my therapist?
Here I thought my mom was trying to help. She knows how difficult living with the Colonel can be.
Yeah, but that doesn’t mean she wasn’t. She may very well have had good intentions. That wouldn’t stop him from taking the opportunity to twist them.
I used to think my father was a hero, but time hasn’t been kind to my image of the Colonel…probably because there’s a fine line between just ruler and ruthless dictator. He tiptoes around that line a lot.
My mother and I are his troops. His word is law. So, I translate when he goes on to say, “We’ve agreed that Hargrave would be a better environment for you.” By ‘we’ he means him.
The soldier in me knows that I should stand at attention when the Colonel is addressing me. I can’t. He’s talking about shipping me off to his alma mater in Virginia. Under the weight of all that implies, my legs won’t support me. As I slump onto the bench of my mother’s piano, my attention comes to rest on a small leather bound book on the table between my parent’s armchairs. He has my journal.
He has no right! I meet his eyes and communicate that opinion with a glare.
He pays me no mind. “I’ve spoken with Brigadier General Bloome and he’s willing to take you on as a late admission.”
Inside me, my prisoner rattles the bars of his cage. He wants to rage at the injustice of it all. He wants to march up to the Colonel and punch his lights out.
“You should be proud, son,” the Colonel says. “Your academic record had as much to do with that as my influence.”
Somehow I manage to keep my temper, though it threatens to burn through my skull. I just know how my father’s mind works. Nothing I could possibly do or say now would change a thing. Conflict would only cement this course of action in his mind. He would view my outburst as irrefutable proof that he’s doing the right thing…and I want to deny him that pleasure.
“We’ve thought long and hard about this and I truly believe that it’s for the best.”
I’m sure you have. The prisoner inside me wants to salute.