After their breakfast, Jack and Aster agreed to walk off some calories. They drove to Scott Carpenter Park. From the parking lot, They crossed a small grassy hill, and headed towards the bike trail along the creek. The smell of a wet lawn reminded Aster of being a kid. Out of nowhere, a dreadful memory sent her heart pounding as the younger version of herself ran out of the house to escape her father and the terror he wrought.
"Hey Jack. Walking on this grass gave me a childhood flashback."
"You mean your tomboy era?" he asked.
"Yeah. Flashed on my dysfunctional family," Aster said blandly.
"Sounds like ya got a story. You rarely speak of your parents. I've told you about my helicopter mom and dad. It's your turn to spill the beans. How abnormal can it be?" Jack pleaded.
They reached the bike path and walked along the creek. The water current sounded hypnotic and seemed to flow with her thoughts. "I'll let you in on a family secret. My dad, Henry the Horrible, was a raging alcoholic. Mean hearted too. Ya'd walk around on egg-shells not wanting to piss him off. His anger made me guilty for being alive."
"Wow, what a rough childhood. And you seemed to have survived quite well." Jack said in his a soothing voice.
"I've mellowed from years of therapy," She had a glazed look on her face, thinking back to he youth.
Jack had witnessed this expression before. When she came back to the present, she had a clever way of changing the subject.
He stopped walking. He lifted her chin making sure their eyes met. He asked, "Will you share your memory with me? I feel left out."
Touched by his caring nature, she said, "Okay. Here goes. I was nine-years- old. Dad and I had finished watching a program on TV. I got up to leave and tripped on an empty beer can left on the floor. As I was catching my balance, he hauled off and slugged me in the arm. He yelled like an ornery boot camp sergeant, "Get the hell out of here, you clumsy shit." His flat top haircut and massive forearms gave the impression gave the impression he never left the army. Not wanting more, I high tailed it out of there and escaped to my room. I was so broken hearted at his meanness, the swelling and bruise on my arm did not hurt. Nothing new...I grew up as dad's punching bag. I hated him. My biggest wish was for a change, perhaps a loving embrace, so at least I'd have one single moment to cherish forever."
Jack commented, "What a piece of work. Where was your mom?"
"Regina was in the basement doing laundry. I went down there to show her my injury," Aster explained.
"Bet that rattled her feathers. My mom would have been in a tizzy, Jack said.
"Hardly. She was lost in her world, singing "Moon River." Mom was a carbon copy of Katharine Hepburn. She identified so strongly with the actress, she never left the house without hair, nails, and lips all lacquered perfectly."
Jack interjected, "My parents loved Hepburn. You'll have to show me a picture of her. What did your mom do?"
Aster continued, "Regina's hair was rolled up in curlers and she was ironing one of dad's shirts. The laundry room was her private space that I hated to invade. Nevertheless, I asked her to check out my arm. Reluctantly, without looking, Regina huffed, "Can ya move it? Ain't broken if ya can.'"
Jack interrupted, "I broke my thumb playing baseball. I whined how it hurt, and my coach told me to suck it up. Ate me up as if my pain didn't matter."
Aster replied, "Oh, I know what you mean. I had to beg mom to look at my arm. Mom stayed planted next to the wooden ironing board. Mechanically, she adjusted the sleeves of a plaid shirt to lay flat, grabbed the iron and smoothed out the wrinkles as if crisp linen made life a better place. Finally, Mom glanced at the bruise with an insipid face and said, "Ice it up and take asprin.'"
"You're kidding. She didn't offer to help you? My mom would have acted like a caffeinated nurse emptying out the medicine cabinet," Jack offered.
"Like an ostrich with its head in the sand, Mom advised me to ignore Dad and everything would get better. 'Don't push his buttons,' she'd say."
"Great problem solver," Jack said sarcastically.
Aster replied, "Mom's version of not rocking the boat sucked. On my own once again, I went upstairs and sat at the kitchen table icing my arm. Dad came in to get a beer. His eyes got puffy underneath when he was drunk. Right then I knew I should have gone in my bedroom instead of hanging out in the kitchen. It was too late. Dad offered to put a cold beer can on my arm. I cringed and drew away."
"What a drunken asshole, scaring you that way!" Jack shook his head in disbelief.
Aster nodded. She continued, "In a fit of anger, Henry roared, 'Won't let me help ya, huh.' He smashed the beer can on the table. His aim was true for it caught my pinkie, breaking it. The pain was so intense I yelped. Desperate to flee, I stood up. This set off Dad. He bellowed, 'I'll give you something to cry about.' He punched my gut. Got the wind knocked out of me. I curled forward in a panic."
Jack gasped, "What type of a man would do that to a nine-year-old kid?"