Papa once told me that "People will only respect you if you respect yourself. The minute you stop respecting yourself is the minute you lose all respect you have earned."
Of course, I didn't understand-or appreciate-his advice until later...much, much later.
So this is what happened...the story of how I came to understand Papa.
You see, when I was young I was my Papa's child. I loved my mother, but nowhere near as much as I loved my Papa. Oftentimes, Papa and I would do what a son and his father would do. We wrestled, and at one point, Papa taught me to box. Mama was very upset by this. She was born and raised in a 100% Irish family, where she was told that the woman of the house stayed home and took care of the home and kids and the man of the house worked. My Papa was also Irish, but he didn't believe that philosophy. So he taught me life skills, such as how to beat the crap out of people and how to use what he called "feminine charm" to finagle people into doing what I want. I was, apparently, very good at it.
Although I had learned to use my feminine charm when I was maybe three, I never used it until my first communion. A few months before I made my first communion, I had found an absolutely gorgeous golden locket in the shape of a heart with silver decorations. I had asked my Papa for it, but he had told me it was too expensive, but he'd think about it for a later present. Four months later, I had made my first communion. Later that night, my Papa took me out for a walk to the local park. He sat me down and told me "Now child, listen up. People will only respect you if you respect yourself. The minute you stop respecting yourself is the minute you lose all respect you have earned. Anytime you are having trouble in life, I want you to remember you have this...". And he gave me the locket I had asked for.
I really was in shock. Why did he spend his money-his hard-earned money-on a locket for me? He didn't make a lot-1.5 cents per word as a journalist. At the moment, I didn't care. I was elated. I flung my arms around him in a bear hug and cried, "Oh, thank you Papa!"
He hugged me back and murmured, "You're welcome, love," and took me home. I swiftly set about finding some pictures to put in my locket. As I walked away from the family room, I heard my mama talking to Papa. She said, "You can't spoil her like that...life's not going to give her what she wants just because she asked for it. Quite the opposite, actually! How will she be ready for the real world?"
Papa sat heavily on the couch, sighed, then said, "Dear, she's only eight. The real world doesn't come until a person is 18 or so...let the girl have what she wants for now; she's young and carefree, so why should she worry about life?"
Mama just sighed as I hurried to my room. I plopped down on my bed, opening the locket slowly. It could easily hold two small pictures. I thought for a minute before deciding that I'd put a picture of my mama and my papa in the locket. I reached under my bed and pulled out a binder full of pictures. I flipped through it until I found pictures small enough to fit the locket. I scanned the pages until I found the two I wanted. One of was Papa laying on the floor, partly curled into a ball, laughing so hard he was crying. I remembered that well; my older brother, 10 years my senior, had found out that Papa was ticklish and were using that to his extreme disadvantage. He got us back good, though-tickling us until we were bright red in the face, crying, and struggling to breathe. We never tried getting the better of Papa again after that.
The other picture was of Mama holding my brother when he was a baby. My mother had a huge smile on her face and a simple green dress on. My brother had the biggest baby face I had ever seen. Not to mention a full head of hair, my brother had bright baby blue eyes with extremely chubby cheeks and a grin on that made him look both evil and adorable at the same time. Satisfied with my choices, I placed them carefully in the locket, closed it, and put it on. I decided to never take it off.
Years passed. I rarely saw my brother; he had joined the Navy and was always busy. I slowly changed from a young girl to a mature lady. Papa and Mama didn't give my lavish gifts anymore. I didn't mind; I was starting to realize that things were expensive and we didn't have money to waste. Papa was working many jobs just so we could live. I offered to get a job, but he refused to let me even write up a résumé or look for a job. I guess he wanted to be the sole bread-winner of the family, even if that meant he was getting up at 4:30 in the morning and not coming home until 11 or 12 at night.
One night, though, he didn't come home by midnight as he always did. I sat anxiously in the family room, watching TV, reading books, anything to take my mind off the fact he wasn't home. I didn't even bother to try to sleep; I knew it would evade my clutches until Papa was home. We lived in a rather seedy neighborhood because we couldn't afford to move. Papa slept with a gun on his dresser, and his room was the first you passed as you were walking down the second floor hallway. He was a very light sleeper, too, just like me.
I guess I dozed off, because the phone ringing startled me to alertness. I stared blankly at it, half asleep, as it rang. Then I realized that I should probably answer it if it was 2:47 in the morning. It was probably important. I quickly snatched it up and answered it. "Hello?"
"Hello, is this the O'Donoven household?" someone on the other end asked formally.
"I'm a nurse from the hospital. Do you know a man named John O'Donoven?"
"Yes...what happened to him?"
"He was driving home and a drunk driver rammed him."
"...Is he...d-dead?" I whispered hoarsely.
"No, but severely injured. We don't know if he'll make it or not..."
"Okay. Could I come see him?"
The nurse hesitated on the other end before replying, "Well...although it is against protocol...I'm sure an exception will be made in this case. Come on over whenever."
"Alright...thanks..." I mumbled before hanging up. Lightning flashed as I hung up and thunder rumbled immediately after. A storm hung directly over our town, emphasizing the feeling of dread I had. I grabbed my rain coat and headed outside. The only good thing about living in this place, I thought grimly, are being close to a hospital and police station. Rain poured in buckets, and I wondered who in heaven was crying so heavily. Rain wasn't just falling water, I always told myself. It was caused by someone on earth upsetting their loved ones in heaven. I raced down the road, confidently avoiding the numerous potholes as I had done so many times in the day. I arrived at the hospital in record time, soaking wet and chilled to the bone. I slipped through the automatic doors carefully and walked quickly up to the desk.
"Um...hi...I'm here to see John O'Donoven?" I said not-so-surely.
"Your name, please?" the attendant asked without looking up from her work.
"Margaret O'Donoven...I'm his daughter," I replied quietly.
The attendant stopped working and stood. She hurried out from behind the desk and murmured, "Follow me, then."
She set off at a brisk pace, almost a jog, through the halls. I followed silently, every step filled with fear, worry, and dread. I watched, horror growing inside me, as we descended countless flights of stairs into the Intensive Care Unit. I knew that people in the ICU were clinging to life most of the time, and Papa was one of them. I felt an iron ball drop into the pit of my stomach and one begin to form at the back of my throat at the thought of my Papa barely living. My steps faltered. The attendant turned towards me and put a hand between my shoulder blades, gently guiding me through the halls. She came to a stop in front of one of the hundreds of rooms.
"He's in here...are you sure you want to see him like this, love?" she asked. I nodded, my voice failing me. She opened the door and waited outside for me. I stepped into the room hesitantly. At first, I didn't see Papa, just a mass of white on a bed. I turned and looked at the nurse, pointing at the mass with a confused expression on my face. She just nodded.
I stepped closer, starting to figure out what the mass was. It moved suddenly, like it was twitching in pain, and a slight groan escaping from wherever it's mouth was. I walked around the bed quickly, although I still couldn't figure out where Papa's head was. Resignedly, I sat on the floor, cross-legged. I looked around the room, but it was pretty boring. All white. Why not have a dark colored room if people are going to be bleeding in it? I thought bitterly. When I turned my head back to look at the white mass, I almost had a heart attack. Staring maybe an inch from my face were my Papa's bright green eyes.
They were Papa's eyes, but they also weren't. They were the same color and same size as they normally were. But where a gleam of mischief or laughter usually danced, there was just pain. Not just pain, but searing agony. I couldn't understand why they couldn't give him pain killers, why they made him suffer so blatantly like this. It honestly ticked me off.
"Papa...?" I wondered, "Will you be okay...?"
He thought for a minute, before saying, "Child, help me sit up...I can't stand lying down when I'm not sleeping. Then we'll talk." I stood up, hooked my arms under his, and tried to ease him into a sitting position. After a few tries, he sat leaning against his pillows. Finally, he answered my question: "I don't know, love. I hope so, but in case-God forbid-I'm not, take care of your mother, okay?"
I nodded and sat on the edge of the bed before asking, "Papa? What happened...in the crash?"
Papa sighed, closed his eyes, and stated matter-of-factly, "Let's see. I broke both legs, cracked 7 ribs, fractured my left arm, broke my collar bone, and I have at least one concussion. I can't hear out of my left ear and I'm paralyzed from my waist down." I would have been less scared if he had sounded panicked, but he seemed perfectly calm, like it was normal to have half of the bones in your body broken.
"And they can't give you pain-killers?"
"They have...any more and I'd be dead because my heart wouldn't be able to take it." He coughed violently once, leaned over his bed, and spat into a garbage can. He groaned, pressing a hand gently to his ribs. He closed his eyes and leaned his head against the wall. I held his hand in both of mine and we sat there for a while, listening to the steady beeping of his pulse monitor. His breathing grew shallow, then labored. He suddenly snapped his head to an upright position, or as upright it could be with a brace around his neck, and wheezed, "Get a nurse. I can't...can't breathe."
I bolted out of the room without question. The nurse that had taken me to the ICU sat at the end of the hall. I hurried up to her, and announced, "He can't breathe."
She immediately ran into his room, calling other nurses. I saw a ton of machinery rushed into his room. Panic filled my chest. I tried to follow them in, to see Papa again, but a nurse intercepted my path and lead me away. I screamed, tears that I had held back for seemingly forever finally finding their way down my face, and she gently held my head close to her and tried to calm me down. I pushed away from her, tears blinding me, as I stumbled in the general direction of where my Papa was. I found my way in and pushed past the numerous nurses and machines before reaching his side. I faintly heard the nurses retreat, one at a time, before a door finally clicked shut.
I sat down right next to Papa, wrapping my arms around him, my head leaning against his chest. He attempted to wrap his arms around me, but didn't have the strength. He set them on my waist, gave a slight squeeze, and murmured, "Remember what I told you at your first communion. Goodbye, dear. I'll see you in heaven. And don't forget I'll be watching you, love." His arms went limp. His skin turned a sickly shade of gray. He fell back onto the bed. A loud, continuous whine filled the air. Doctors and nurses raced back into the room at the din, pushing me out of the way as they did so, trying to revive him. A nurse took me out into the hall. Five minutes went by. I got nervous. Then ten. I got scared. Then twenty. I got frantic. The whine hadn't stopped. An hour passed of the whining. I was curled into a ball, trying to block it out. The whine stopped suddenly.
I thought that he was alive. I pulled away from the arms of the nurse holding me and ran into the room. It was silent. They had unplugged the machine. My Papa was dead, and my world fell to pieces. I collapsed onto the floor, sobbing. I heard quiet murmurs of "I'm so sorry..." and "We did all we could...", then silence. After innumerable minutes went by, I must have fainted or fallen asleep or something, because I don't remember walking to a hospital room and crashing on a bed.
I woke up, startled and terrified. I thought it was all a dream, and I sighed in relief. I looked around. The all-white room I laid in was now my prison. As it had been Papa's before he died. The shock hit me like ice-cold water. Tears raced down my face, and I curled into a ball, my head on my knees, and sobbed. I wasn't even in high school yet, but life was already unfair to me. I felt someone gently start rubbing my back, trying to calm me down, but I ignored them. Trying to "calm down" when your father just died was not an easy thing to do.
"Margaret...please...calm down. I know life is tough but you have to keep going. Come on, now, no more tears," my best friend Danny said quietly. I knew I looked like a wreck, with my unwashed hair, red and puffy eyes, and wearing pajamas, yet none of this seemed to bother Danny as he continued rubbing my back.
I wanted to punch him. But at the same time, I wanted to hug him. He was crazy, just like my Papa, and the scary thing was they actually looked alike. I knew that Danny was going to say that I had to be strong, that I could grieve later, because right now, I had to find a job and take care of my mother. I slowly calmed myself enough to speak.
"I need to find a job," I mumbled into my knees.
"You what?!" Danny gasped, thinking I had said something else. Either that or he was deliberately trying to make me laugh. Danny was hysterical, and he never thought that he was funny. But there was rarely a day that went by when I hadn't gone home with a sore gut from laughing so hard. It was never a good idea to sit next to him on bus rides because you would lose all feeling in your gut.
"I need to find a job," I repeated.
"No! She did?" Danny yelled, shocked.
"I need to find a job!" I barked, trying not to laugh.
"Oh. Why didn't you just say so?"
I tried to be mad at Danny, but I couldn't. He always looked so innocent, but the truth was, he never was innocent. He looked at me, his head cocked to one side, clearly waiting for an answer. When he didn't, he walked up to me and whispered in my ear, "Did Jane really kiss me?"
I looked at him. He had a slightly confused, horrified, and worried look on. "Well...did she?" he interrogated.
I couldn't help it. I laughed. I laughed because I knew Danny liked Jane and I always teased him for it. I, personally, thought she was a prep and I let her know it, too. Danny, crestfallen, said, "She didn't, did she?" I shook my head no between my fits of laughter. "So, logically, you lied to me, then, didn't you?" I immediately stopped laughing, watching his hands nervously.
"But Danny, I never said that!" I said hurriedly, not wanting to be considered a liar. People that lied to Danny had the truth forced out of them, usually by being tickled, or being smacked. Repeatedly. It all depended on gender, with him. Everyone assumed it was a British custom, because Danny had moved here from Britain two years ago, when we were both in 6th grade. I assumed it was because he was a bit nuts. He told me I was right, and he was proud to be nuts.
He placed his hands on my knees, looked at me calmly, and said, "Don't lie. Did she or did she not?"
"She didn't. I swear, man, all I said was I needed to get a job!"
"...Alright. I believe you. I'll help you get a job, because I'm dropping out of school and need a job, too. Need to save up for tuition for the performing arts school, if I want to be an actor."
"Okay, deal. Hey, do you know if my mama's okay?"
"No, she's not. She's in the hospital for extreme depression. The loss almost killed her."
"Damn. I didn't even know you could be hospitalized for that! Besides, I can't pay for a hospital room! Our insurance will barely cover Papa's charges, plus whatever medicine Mama needs. We need to get jobs, like now!"
"Well then, what are you waiting for? Let's go!"
For two years, things went well. I was able to pay for Mama's medicine and keep food on the table, and Danny was able to go to his school on weekends. We both worked three jobs. I worked as a waitress, a cashier, and a journalist at 1.5 cents per word (just like Papa!). Danny worked as a babysitter, cashier, and a fish vendor. They weren't great jobs, but they paid us well enough, although Danny went home smelling life fish sometimes.
After two years, the paper I wrote for found out I didn't even have a highschool diploma and fired me. Danny was found out that he didn't have a babysitting or CPR liscence and was told, by the police, to not do it again. Times got harder, and we both found ourselves sometimes struggling with our pay. I sometimes couldn't afford food with the cost of Mama's medicine, and Danny could barely afford the tuition anymore.
The next year, things again took a turn for the worst. I was fired from waitressing because I kept messing up orders because of lack of sleep from taking extra shifts. Danny was fired from fish vending because he wasn't making the fish as best it could be. We both had to work three 6-hour shifts a day as cashiers. Mama still had her medicine and we had food every other day or so. Danny dropped out of his school.
Things got even worse, if that was possible. Mama was hospitalized. I couldn't pay for her medicine anymore, or food, because I had to take care of the hospital bill. Mama refused to eat or drink though, and she died too. I barely felt any sympathy. I couldn't afford to. I had to put our house up for sale and Danny offered to let me live with him and his family, although I was just another mouth to feed.
About a week after Mama had died, I got the final hospital bill. There was no way in hell I could pay that with my pay. But I couldn't let it collect interest, either. I sat in the room I shared with Danny and buried my head in my hands.
Danny walked into the room a few minutes later, needing to change from his uniform. He had been yelled at by our boss and was dangerously close to being fired. He noticed me, sitting and crying quietly, and sat next to me gingerly.
"What's wrong?" he asked quietly.
I just showed him the bill. He let out a long whistle, and murmured, "Damn. How are you going to pay this?"
"I don't know..."
"If worst comes to worst you could always...ya know, sell your body..."
I looked at him sharply. He held my gaze evenly. After a moment he said, "Margaret, don't kill me for saying this, but you have a nice body, okay? I'm sure at least one person would pay a lot to...do it...?"
I punched him. I fingered my locket, remembering what Papa had said. But if there's no other way, Papa...? Surely an exception can be made? I looked at Danny, who was rubbing his arm, and asked him sourly, "So where can a prostitute find a paying customer?"
He shrugged. "I heard Damien's had his eyes on you for a while. He's not only rich, but also willing to pay a ton for you..."
"But how the hell would I go about that? I mean, asking him?"
"Call him and ask him? But tell him it'll cost him..." he waved the bill in the air, "...this much. $3,000."
"Okay...?" I reached for my cell phone and called Damien's number. "Damien? So, uhm, hi, I have a question for you."
"Uhm...so I've heard you uhm...like me?"
"More than that..."
"So uhm...you wanna...do it?"
"Yeah! I'll pay you for it, too, just so it's sweeter for you. How much do you want?"
I shuddered at the thought, but I said, "$3,000."
"Damn. You got yourself a deal. See you Saturday, my house." Damien hung up the phone, and so did I.
Danny cocked his head at me. "Saturday..." I whispered. Danny hugged me, and I cried in his arms for a while before eventaully falling asleep.
Saturday came. I went to Damien's house. He gave me the money first. I could have ran. He seemed to know what I was thinking and he threatend to call the cops. I felt sick to my stomach. Saturday passed slowly.
Sunday came. I ran from Damien's house with the money as fast as I could. I dropped the money off at the hospital. I raced out of town, feeling eyes glaring at me from all sides. For a good hour, I ran, until I couldn't run anymore. I sat down at a river bank I encountered. I had taken off my purity ring and told Danny to keep it. I tore off my locket and opened it. My father, laughing. My mother, smiling. My brother, giggling. I shamed them all. I shamed the family name. A rain drop fell.
A tear drop fell.
My father's tear drop.
I looked up as the sky opened up, rain falling heavily. I knew, without question, that this rain was actually Papa's tears. I felt tears burn at the back of my eyes, goaded foward by the awful feeling of guilt I had from making Papa cry. I closed the locket, kissed it, and threw it into the river, tears streaming down my face. I murmured, "I'm sorry, Papa. I'm sorry I made you cry." I ran away from the river and never looked back.
When I walked into Danny's room, he was waiting for me. He held out his arms and I gladly fell into them, tears falling down my face. He sat down, still holding me, as he tried to calm me down. When I had finally stopped crying, he asked me gently, "What are you going to do now, Margaret?"
"I'm going to save my money and leave. I can't stay here when people have no respect for me, when people know I'm nothing more than a prostitute!" I spat angrily, trying not to cry.
"Margaret, you're not a prostitute. And I'm coming with you," Danny murmured gently.
"Why, Danny? Why?"
"Because I love you, Margaret."
"I...I love you too, Danny."
The rain slowly stopped. I looked out the window and murmured, "Maybe one day Papa will cry again. But this time, tears of joy instead of sadness."
"I'd love to see Papa's tears, too."
Danny and I were able to move from that town sooner than we thought. Apparently, the hospital bill had only been $2,000 because they had sent me the wrong bill. They sent me back the extra $1,000 and we were able to move within the year, even though I had spent a fair amount of it on counseling to help me deal with what I had done with Damien. It was worth it, though: I now don't even think about it, but it took that one thing to make me understand Papa's advice. Danny and I both decided to start fresh, and we moved to a completely new place: Dublin.
We lived with each other for a year before Danny finally got up the nerve to propose. He proposed to me not with a ring, but with the locket my Papa had bought me. I don't know how he found it, but I love him all the more for it. I obviously said yes and we were married May 25th, Papa's birthday. It rained that day, and they were Papa's tears. But this time, they were tears of joy because the sun still shone.
Danny and I are having a baby. It's going to be a boy, according to the doctor's, and I am due in September, the month between my birthday and Danny's birthday. We are going to name him John and hope to see Papa's tears of joy that day, too.