Mom left the house as she always did when he was raging. She didn’t come back for what seemed like hours, maybe longer, maybe less. I hovered in my room afraid to come out when he was like this, which was more often than not. It was usually after their cocktail hour that it happened. Martinis were his specialty, strong ones mixed from the best gin on the market. Mom didn’t drink before she met him. She couldn’t afford to on a telephone operator’s salary. Those were the days before computers, when being an operator was one of the few jobs that favored women. You didn’t even need a high school diploma. Just be good and quick and never complain. So, Mom was used to not complaining. If you asked her, her answer would undoubtedly be, “Fine, just fine,” in that accent she’d acquired in Missouri, or Misery as I liked to call it.

Mom grew up in Southern California. She was a beach bunny adored, she told me, by all the surfers. She never surfed herself. At that time, surfing was for guys. Girls stayed on the shore and kept their beer cold and their blankets warm until she met my father. He was 20 years older, rich, and raucous. She loved the latter in him, so different from her timid, tame self. He was a genius on the piano. Played by ear, never had lessons, played her love songs until she said, “Yes, yes, yes.” She didn’t need much persuading. She could hardly wait to be Mrs. Housewife to a wealthy, handsome man even if he was a lot older, had seen the world but promised to take her everywhere he hadn’t been. Of course, that turned out to be nowhere, Nowhere, Missouri, the forgotten farm belt of the state.

“Cunt,” he was screaming at the top of his lungs, “Whore, bitch,” when I heard the door slam, and I knew she’d left me alone with him. He staggered into my room, eyes glistening with alcohol, lips smeared with spittle. I lay there in my bed shivering, eyes closed, covers pulled to my chin when I felt his cold hands on my neck. “You’re just like your mother,” he grunted as his hands tightened about my throat, “You’re just like that bitch.”

I knew better than to answer. Say a word and I’d provoke him further. Just be silent my brain advised, pretend to sleep. If you die, you die, nothing you can do about it. Dying is everyone’s destiny. I willed my body to stop twitching, my skin to stop sweating, my brain to stop thinking, to “zombie out.”

The next morning, Mom was making his special breakfast; scrambled eggs with sausage patties straight from the hog farm down the road. I thought they were disgusting but kept it to myself, smiling at my father as if he hadn’t tried to kill me last night, the bruises still on my neck, red and purple. I could feel them swelling beneath my turtleneck sweater, but I kept smiling anyway the way Mom did remarking on what a nice, sunny day it was, Christmas vacation from school so we all could be together, decorate the tree, open gifts, sing carols, go to church maybe. “Maybe?” Father said, “Absolutely. What would Christmas be without midnight mass?”

So we went, straight and proper in our Christmas outfits, our Santa hats and reindeer sweaters, red mittens, and bulky boots. “Smell the pine,” Mom said as we entered Saint Jerome’s, but I could smell nothing; my senses froze whenever I was with him, my father, my monster.

The nuns were there in the front rows, their black habits cleaned for Christmas. The rest of the year they had a musty odor as if they’d spent too much time in a closet or maybe it was the nuns themselves that spent too much time in the closet, the confessional, confessing their venial sins to a priest who had no understanding of their sins, their little miserly sins that were nothing compared to his own. “Say five ‘Our Fathers’ and ten ‘Hail Marys’ he said to get them out fast so he could go to the rectory for his big Christmas dinner which those same nuns served him. But still, I thought, I’d like to be one, a nun, safe and protected behind the convent walls.

The years passed and Father developed dementia, later diagnosed as Alzheimer’s. He no longer recognized Mom even though she bathed him every morning, served his breakfast of scrambled eggs and sausage, and put him to bed every night lying beside him fully awake in case he needed something. She’d forgotten she needed anything, her own emotional dementia. And when he died, she mourned her loss, mourned the man who insulted her, beat her, knocked her against the wall until her brains were so battered, she never thought straight again, never knew enough to be grateful she now had her freedom and all the money the bastard never spent which she hoarded as if spending it would dispel his memory which she cherished, blaming herself for his cruelty. Thinking she deserved it, deserved to be beaten, insulted, knocked unconscious. “Oh yes, sometimes he carried it a little too far,” she said, adjusting the bandages on her arms.

More time passed and Mom died of the cold, wandering around the farm in her nightgown when night temperatures fell below freezing. A neighbor found her lying in a pond, face down. “Maybe she tripped,” he said when he called me.

“But what was she doing wandering at night in the bitter cold, half dressed, no flashlight?”

“It happens,” he said. “Maybe you should have visited more often. Folks get lonely, do strange things that make no sense to the rest of us.”

Of course, he was right. I should have visited more often, and I did in my mind, giving myself excuses for not going but I couldn’t go. The ghost of him still was there, at the farm, waiting for me. And maybe that was why she was wandering at night, trying to find him, wanting to be beaten some more, until she was dead like him, and she could join him in Misery.