Father Figure

by Emma Bankert

The fourth stair on my steps is worn down
It’s where I sit to listen
Like the center of an auditorium
I hear everything
Crystal clear

I listen to your words
And feel the walls recoil
The loud cacophony of harpoons
Aimed at our throats
Sharp, and ready to snatch a kill

I envy the joy of children outside
Their laughter twisting with leaves in the wind
It had once swelled in my body
But you made me feel
Like it didn’t belong

Happiness is now a foreigner to my lips
My tongue is bilingual in hatred
Poison dart words sit
Poised at the edge of my teeth
Waiting for their moment to strike

If you don’t have anything nice to say
Don’t say anything at all
But keeping it in doesn’t make it nicer
My stomach is so used to digesting my own venom
I feel I am rotting from the inside out

I question my every move
Every word
Gasping for the surface
Desperately grasping at straws
Anxiety to speak sits like a stone in my stomach

Years spent studying you
Trying to find patterns in the pitfalls but
The inconsistency in your behavior
Makes me feel like I’ve lost the rule book
To a game I’ve never known how to play

You said I needed a father figure
But you weren’t volunteering
And I went along voluntarily
Only to find out
You’re worse than my father

Mom says
Be the bigger person
But being the bigger person
Makes me feel so small

This is survival of the fittest and
My legs have carried me across continents
But they quake in fear when you raise your hand
I have never had a father daughter dance
But I have waltzed on eggshells

Around your temper
Your aggression
Your indifference
I am different now
But my stairs look the same

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