It was her dad who finally came into her room to see if she was all right. She had fallen asleep right in the corner of her room where she always curled up when she was afraid. From the corner, she had told her dad, the room and door were in sight and no one could sneak up on her. She was a bright little girl.
Her dad picked her up and carried her to her bed. When he put her down on the bed, she woke. The first thing she saw was her dad´s arm. She knew it was her dad´s arm, because she could smell him, that distinctive smell she was always able to detect, the familiar mixture of a woody and nature-like scent he got from working in the woods and his faint smell of stale coffee and tabacco. She loved it.
She looked up and saw at once that her mother had hit him again. It was not something she could understand, but she had seen her mother get first agitated, then mad with something her father had done or said. And then she would simply hit him or throw items in his direction. He refused to hit her back and she loved her father for that, but sometimes she wished he would just hold her down until she was calm. He never did.
“Go back to sleep, cookie” he said and covered her with the blanket.
“I heard you fight again” she whispered.
She heard him sigh. Then he crawled into bed with her and held her. She closed her eyes. He rarely ever did that these days, she was too big to share the bed with her dad, and she savoured every minute of it when he eventually did. She had never felt as safe and secure as she felt when he was holding her. She would spend most of her life trying to relive that feeling in someone else´s arms, but it would never be the same as it was with her dad. She loved her father dearly and could not imagine having to live without him. Yet she feared that her parents would split if they continued fighting like this. And she was terrified that she would have to live with her mother instead of her father.
“Do you have to leave us now?” she whispered so quietly, it was almost inaudible.
“Cookie” her father replied, “you shouldn´t worry about such things. Your mamma and I love you very much and we will always be there for you.”
It was the reassuring tone in his voice that usually made her believe every word he said. But that night there was a painful strain in his voice she couldn´t quite understand. She knew it must not be easy to live with her mother, but she wanted her father to try or to keep on trying and never to let this family fall apart.
“You know” he said and she listened attentively, because he usually just told her to go back to sleep and would stay with her until then, “I love your mother. I do. I am trying very hard to make this work, cookie, and I tell her all the time I´m not going to leave, because I would never abandon her or you. But your mother has already decided that this will not work out and that I will leave her and there is nothing I can do or say to make her believe otherwise.”
She was quiet. She knew that this was what her mother feared most – that he would leave her – but she couldn´t quite understand why she didn´t believe him when he said he wouldn´t. It was hard for her to understand her parents and the decisions they made and she feared that grown-up life was all about making decisions no one else could understand, but that would make every one else miserable. In her mind, it was all very easy. Her father would not leave and her mother – and she knew this was a big step for her mother and would probably take her a while – would realize that her family was indeed intact and that there was nothing to fear.
When she finally fell asleep, she dreamed that life was easier and that her mother and her father loved each other as much as the people on TV did. She dreamed they lived in a nice house and she had a lot of stuffed animals to play with. Her mother would not yell at her father and wouldn´t hit him anymore and her father would go to work and come home every day and he would make her mother happy. They would be a happy little family and she wouldn´t have to curl up in the corner of her room anymore. She would always go to bed knowing that her parents were in the living room together and that they wouldn´t fight anymore. Somehow, she knew it was only a dream and that the reality looked much different, but she thought that if she could imagine it in her head, would paint it in the brightest colors, it might actually come true.