Ripple Effect

a very short story

She didn’t believe in ghosts. At least not in the say ‘boo’, spirit without a body, walk through walls type way. She believed in flashbacks and nostalgia, that trauma could be passed down through generations. She saw her father’s father’s father every time her parents argued. Thuds and echoes of anger ricocheting off the walls, penetrating the door as she lay on the bathroom floor.

Of course, there were good moments too, moments full of laughter, hearts full of love. It didn’t always use to be this way. Once they were a happy family. Then Dad lost his job; grandmom got sick; and the bills started piling up, one by one by one. And with each unpaid bill, dad would drink more; and with each of grandmom’s lost memories, mom would retreat further and further inside herself.

She didn’t believe in ghosts, but she tried to hold a lifetime’s worth of memories—everyone’s memories. The more grandmom forgot the more she wanted to remember. The way things used to be, before the drinking, before the forgetting, before her mother started hearing voices. Those were happier times.

Her dad didn’t always drink, but they always walked on eggshells around him. Careful not to disturb him, terrified of his wrath, tired of being punching bags. They never talked about it—he was a good man, a good husband, a good father. Present for every birthday and dance recital. He was a good man, a great man. Every person has their faults, so they said. So, they wore long-sleeved shirts, used makeup to cover the bruises, covered up the marks left by his harsh words by singing his praises.

The day grandmom forgot that grandpop had died, they knew there was a problem. She had forgotten lots of things before, but they chalked it up to old age. Everyone forgets things as they get older, especially the bad things.

When her mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia, it came as a shock to exactly no one. Her grandfather had it, and so did his mother. It was passed down through bloodlines, from generation to generation like a family heirloom. The elephant in the room that no one talked about—the family secret that wasn’t so secret. Her mother had been diagnosed just a few months before, a week after dad lost his job, three days after the worst beating of her life, two days after her psychotic break. It’s amazing what can trigger a dormant mental illness.

Her mother started writing letters; she knew the course this illness would take—she watched it take her father and grandmother. Her mother wanted to get all her secrets out, knowing the turmoil this disease would cause.

She didn’t believe in ghosts, but she believed in the ripple effect. She believed that one event could influence another event, even if it was unintentional. She believed it even more after reading her mother’s most recent letter:

It was never supposed to happen this way, come full circle. You were supposed to be protected from all of this.

They say that women tend to marry men who remind them of their dad. When I met your father, I thought he was the sweetest guy; he was my Prince Charming. And I’m sorry that he didn’t turn out to be the superhero he should have been for you. I’m sorry for all the nights I couldn’t protect you, for the nights I wasn’t strong enough to protect either of us. I’m sorry for marrying a man like my father.

I knew there was a problem the minute grandmom forgot that grandpop died. I’m sorry for that, too. Not that she forgot, but that I never told you about my past, about what he used to do: sneak into my room at night and rape me. I’m sorry that I never protected you the way I wish my mom had protected me. I guess we become more like our parents than we like to admit. And I’m sorry for that. I should have protected you when I had the chance. I wish I had another chance.

I wasn’t raised with religion, to believe in God or a higher power. But I’ve seen the way one event impacts another event, how one raindrop can cause a ripple to water a plant, and I wonder if there isn’t a God who causes the ripples, who knows the ripples, who can help break the cycles. 

Maybe he can help you break the cycle. 

She didn’t believe in ghosts, but the echoes of the past reverberated through her bones, vibrated in her DNA. She lay on the bathroom floor wondering when the screaming would be over, unsure if the screams were her parents or the voices in her own head.

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