No one cares what you write about. You're a loser. Face it, you've failed. Throw in the towel and give it a rest already. The world doesn't need another pansy-assed flaming liberal with a bleeding heart. You will NEVER succeed. You are damaged. Damaged beyond repair and that is why you will always truly be alone. Do you know why I know this? It's because I am you. And I know.
I heard a knock on the door to our bedroom and my heart beat faster. I rolled over and without my glasses I couldn't make out the time on my alarm clock. It was late. No, it was early. Really early.
The knock came again on the door and this time I saw the door opening inward. Light from the Christmas tree nightlight streamed into our bedroom and in the in-between my dream and reality I heard a voice.
"Mom." Tentative at first and after a few seconds, I heard my daughter again. "Dad?" This time she asked a question, hoping that one of us would be awake.
"I'm here." I thrust my glasses on and rolled out of bed, catching the 4:04 a.m. on the clock. I was right. It was way early. "What's wrong?"
She turned around to look behind her for the boggy monster that chased her. "There's a ladybug in my room."
My heart stopped pounding so fast and knew that I could vanquish this creature. "That's okay. I'll take care of it."
I took her hand in mine and we walked back to her bedroom. Her older brother slept soundly in the room we passed along with our dog. Everyone was asleep but us and the ladybug.
When I went into her room, I listened and looked around but could not find a trace of the flying insect. My daughter stayed close behind me and asked, "Did you find it?"
I found a dead one on the floor, scooped it up in my hand and showed it to her. "I got it! Now come on and get back in bed."
She climbed onto her bed and scooted under the covers. I tucked her in, kissed her and she turned her head to the right, listening. "I hear screams."
"Screams?" I quieted her and listened but heard nothing.
"Do you hear it?" She grabbed my hand and shuddered.
We listened together for another few heartbeats. "That's just mom snoring. That's not screams."
She put her head back on the pillow. "Oh."
"Get some rest. I'll be downstairs if you need me." I kissed her. "Good night."
"Good night, Dad." She kissed me on my forehead to not get scratched by my beard. "I love you."
"I love you, too." I left my daughter's room and went downstairs to continue writing my next book. I had about an hour and a half before my son got up and I'd help him off to school and then need to get ready for work myself. I was 67,000 words in and falling behind on my goal. I didn't have enough time, but it would have to do.
You're never going to come back from a torn Achilles tendon. It's just not going to happen. And, if you do, you're an old man. You're past your prime and you're not going to win any races anyway. You're slow, old and wounded. What's it been? Near six months now? You will never be good enough. Do you hear me? So just sit back down, watch some American Idol like everyone else and cool down. No one is going to care if you race again. No one. Do you think you're special or something? Do you? You know what you are? You'll never be good enough. Never. I've known this for a long, long time, and so have you.
"I hate you!" My son threw his Kindle across the room. It hit the rug and then slid under his bureau out of sight. "Just leave me alone."
I had just come off the treadmill. Beads of sweat covered my forehead. I bit my tongue hard and counted to ten. "When I tell you that it's time to stop playing a game, then I need you to listen to me and do it."
My pre-teen son kicked his chair and lashed out at me. "But I was in the middle of a level! I was about to finish..."
I cut him off. "I gave you a 10 minute warning and then a 5 minute warning."
He flicked his foot at me and, intentionally or not, his shoe flew past my head, hitting the far wall.
Are you going to let him treat you like that? Like how everyone else treats you? They walk all over you and make fun of you when you're not around because they know that you're a pushover. They all know it. They do. Shut him up and show him who's boss.
"Get into your bed now!" I grabbed my son roughly and pushed him toward his bunk bed. "Now!" I used the voice he knew never to mess with ever.
My son started crying and climbed up into bed. I could not look at him. I had no patience left. I turned the lights off and went to go tuck my daughter into bed. It was late and my belly grumbled. I needed to eat.
"Dad, can I have a glass of water?" My daughter asked.
"Yes, but after that, it's time for bed. No nonsense tonight." I went into the bathroom got her a glass of water and could hear my son crying. I gave the glass to my daughter, and after she finished, I put it on her shelf and turned her lights out. "Good night. I love you."
My daughter waved to me. "I love you, too."
I walked down the stairs and heard my son call me. "Dad?"
I came back up the stairs, feeling the tightness in my left ankle that was still sore from my Achilles injury and went into his room. He hid under his covers. I put my hands on his head and said, "It's okay. Next time, take a break and tell me that you need to count to ten. I'll understand." I kissed him. "I love you."
"I love you."
I left the room and could hear my son still crying in his room. I winced walking down the stairs, being careful with my ankle.
Your deepest fear is abandonment. You're ashamed of that. I know that. But I can help you, if you'd only let me. You fear that you're just like your father. That you'll beat your wife, too. And then your kids will be fucked because she'll give you a divorce. No one ever told you that life would be so hard. Did they? It wasn't ever like this in those TV shows that you watched growing up or in the movies. You think that if you just get gutsy and wish it all away that you'll have no problems? Welcome to the real world, my friend. Welcome.
My daughter talked over her older brother. And they started fighting. I didn't even know what over this time.
"Go take 5 minutes on the couch. Now!" My wife pointed at my daughter and she slunk off to the living room. I heard her plop herself on the sofa and the fake tears.
This is going to be a good one.
My wife passed the raviolis to my son. He accepted the bowl and said, "She started it."
"It doesn't matter who started it. Just be quiet and eat your dinner." She tried to take a bite of her own dinner.
"But mom!" My son pounded his fist on the table and his plate rattled.
I stared down at my plate and just ate in silence. It would be better if I kept quiet.
"Do you want to go up to your room?" My wife asked.
My son paused a moment and his fate would become clear with his next words. "No."
"Then eat dinner." My wife cut a meatball with her fork, split it two pieces and then turned to me. "I have to post a promotion on Facebook tonight at midnight."
I nodded. "Don't stay up too late."
We ate in silence for a few minutes and then my wife glanced over into the living room and called to our daughter. "You can come back and eat now if you've calmed down."
I could still hear my daughter sniffling, but she went to her seat with her long face and disheveled hair with eyes red from crying. At seven, she rivaled the best actresses for an Academy Award. She ate in silence and for a few moments no one talked.
And we had peace. I enjoyed the silence.
But then a tiny smirk on my son's face gave him away.
"Stop laughing at me!" My daughter turned away from her older brother and his smile broke out full on his face.
"I didn't do anything!" He could hardly contain himself from full out laughing.
Now it's my turn. Thank you. I'll whip these two into shape.
"Will you just shut up? Both of you!" I dropped my fork. "I've been listening to the two of you since I got home and it's been constant bickering. Just shut up!"
My wife turned to me, calm collected. "Ron."
How could she be calm right now? How? With all the shit that I'd been through, up early writing, working all day, came home late, needing still to check work email after I got the kids to bed—I just wanted some peace. I told you that you shouldn't write. See, you could be getting extra sleep. You suck anyway as a writer. You're wasting your time and now you're acting like your father.
"Please, don't talk to me that way." I grabbed my plate, stood up and faced my wife. "I hate it when you talk to me like a child! I'm sick of both of them fighting constantly. I want it to stop! I want to be able to come home and have some peace and eat without them yelling all the time. I'm done. Just done!"
"And yelling at them like that isn't going to make it better." My wife remained calm.
"I'm tired of this bullshit." I took a ravioli from my plate and zinged it across the kitchen, missing the sink. "I've had it."
I brought my dish to the sink, rinsed it and threw it, with too much force, into the dishwasher and then went upstairs. I went into my room and slammed the door and my heart beat fast.
Great temper tantrum. What are you, 43? That was really smart. You made me look like a sweet and innocent thing. What's next? Throwing things. Oh wait, you just threw a ravioli across the room. You're a great role model for your kids. Parent of the year award in the making.
I remembered the night my father exploded in anger at the kitchen table. A few months before my mom kicked him out and they divorced. I was younger than my daughter back then and I didn't fully understand all that was going on. His yelling, throwing the chair, and storming out. I stood there so small. I ate alone in silence while my mom cleaned up and then I went outside to drive my big wheel. The fall leaves crunched under the wheels while I drove down the block and I could see other children playing across the street. I was alone.
The door to our bedroom opened and my wife came in. I could hear my kids taking their showers in the other bathroom.
"Are you okay?" She tried to put her hand on me but I pulled away.
"I'm just done for tonight. I cannot take anymore. They run our lives with their constant bickering and I just don't want to deal with anymore tonight. I'm tired." The words came out fast and in anger.
She nodded and kept quiet, a strength of hers that I lacked, and left the room. We were coming up on two decades together and I never could have imagined that we would wind up here. How little I knew.
My job here is done. You made it easy for me tonight. See, I told you that you're a fuck up. Doesn't matter how many therapy sessions you've had over the years, you're screwed. Have a good night!
The next night my wife had to stay late at work. I gave our kids dinner and afterward we went upstairs for bed, bath and beyond.
My 11 year old son stood before me with his hand on his right hip. Both of them were in various stages of getting undressed. My daughter played with her long necklace that she hadn't taken off yet.
"I wanted to apologize to you both for yelling at you last night. I was wrong to do that and I'm sorry."
They kept quiet and listened.
"When I get angry like that, I need to count to ten and take a break and leave the room. My yelling didn't help anything." I reached for my son and daughter and held their hands. "And I need the two of you to work better together and stop fighting so much. Okay?"
"Yes, Dad." They said in unison. My daughter hugged me first and then so did my son.
He held me close and said, "Can I show you this YouTube video after my shower?"
He ran off and I sat down on the bench full of emotion.
In one ear and out the other. They'll listen for maybe five minutes.
I went into my bathroom and stared into the mirror. I saw the wear and tear on my face.
You didn't raise as much money as you had wanted for Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation this year. You still haven't started running again. You next novel is a mess and you even lost money on writing this year. You're a failure. Just like...
I smiled and watched the wrinkles appear around my eyes and the dimples appear in my cheeks. Tomorrow I would get up and write. The day after I would run. I would not give up. I was on a journey.
You're a delusional fool.
I heard the kids laughing in the other room, but I stared at my own reflection, hugged myself and said, "I love you."
My smile grew more natural and I relaxed. And, at long last, the voice stayed silent and content.
Getting gutsy is all about stepping outside your comfort zone to reach your goals and live a life that makes you truly happy. This post is my entry for Jessica Lawlor’s Get Gutsy Essay Contest. To get involved and share your own gutsy story, check out Jessica's website for contest details and download a free copy of the inspiring Get Gutsy ebook.
Ron Vitale is the author of the Cinderella's Secret Diaries series who hopes that his own children will overcome any obstacles in their way and find their own happily ever after.