The Seattle sky sparkled that day in its rarest, loveliest hue, a bottomless sapphire blue, a blue that, rather than serving as an unnoticed backdrop for earthly goings-on, grabbed center stage with its intensity. Having a bad day under such a sky seemed like a violation of some immutable law of physics, but a bad day I’d had, nonetheless, one setback after another marching through my life as a single working mom.
And thus, it had come to this. The bookcase-in-a-box, which I had purchased for my ten-year-old daughter Tasha’s bedroom not an hour before, lay in a sad little pile of pressboard rubble at my feet. The murder weapon, a huge rubber mallet, dangled thuggishly from my fingers as I stood straddling my victim, concentrating on slowing my breathing and the shaking of my hands.
Still dressed in my business suit after a difficult day at the office, I’d hurriedly taken the shelf kit out into the front yard to assemble the unfinished boards into proper formation, knowing that I would still need to find time to paint the shelf after assembly. Chips began to flake and fly off corners as I hastily tried to tap piece A into section B, tab C into part D. After the fourth or fifth chip, a large crack opened in one of the boards. Frustration overheated into full-blown rage, seething like lava down through my arms and into my hands. Once commenced, I couldn’t stop the destruction till nothing but chips remained.
“It’s okay, honey,” I had tried to speak gently to Tasha in between muttered curses as I bashed away with all my strength, “I’m so mad at this piece of crap that I spent our money on, that’s all. It’s been a rough day for Mommy. Please don’t worry! I love you.” Tasha watched the process from a safe distance, wide-eyed and slack-jawed. After the deed was done, she hugged me, allowing herself to be reassured that a monster did not actually live inside her normally sweet-tempered mother. She helped me load the evidence into the large green recycle can and rumble it out to the curb. I apologized repeatedly, hugging her and assuring her we’d get a much better shelf for her growing collection of books.
We did get a much better shelf. And we didn’t speak of the incident again till much, much later. Tasha was an adult by then. I had spent the intervening years stuffing guilt about the trauma I knew my violent outburst must have caused my daughter. The fact that she had never brought it up again I took to mean it was too painful for her to talk about. For me, that day, including the liquid blaze of that sapphirine sky, was indelibly burned into my brain, only lightly scabbed over by time and rationalization.
Tasha, however, had completely forgotten the whole thing.
“Damage” is a dramatization of actual events. The names have not been changed to protect the innocent; sorry, Tasha, my beloved girl. The piece was written for a Sun Magazine “Readers Write” themed contest in my Creative Writing class. “Damage” was chosen the winner by my classmates. Contest winners and runners up win a little prize, extra credit, and are encouraged to give final polish to their pieces and actually submit them to the magazine for possible publication.
I just might do that.