Exhausted from the emotional weight of  the story I told my therapist, Miriam, , I lapsed back into reverie . Then I heard her gentle voice,“Were there other occasions when you took responsibility for your father?” she asked.

“Oh, yes, lots of times.” I hated coming back to conscious reality. I liked  remembering a little girl tap dancing on a wooden table  in Charlie’s Oyster Bar and outsmarting her father?.

“You’ve shown yourself to be a very strong little girl. Would you like to tell me about other occasions you took responsibility for your father?”

It was a fearful matter to tell Mariam about father’s addiction. Mother always referred to it as  “Daddy’s illness,”   Most nights he’d make a shakerful of his gin Orange Blossoms stuff. When he made a virgin drink for me, that signaled I should  keep him company, not mother. One night, after his shakerful, he wandered down the steep garden path shouting ,“I’m going down in the garden and eat worms.” There were gardeneia and azaelea bushes  and a lively creek with crawdads and toads where I liked to play in the daytime. There was even a damp woodsy smelling log cabin e

protection, the creek had a cement wall on one side and a rock wall on the other. A wobbly log bridge Dad built himself crossed the brook.

Mother stared at me from her luminous eyes. “Go down in the garden and make Daddy come out.”   

Dad was singing now in a drum like bass voice, I walk along the street of sorrow, the boulevard of broken dream..”

“If you don’t get him to come up out of the garden, something terrible may happen.” She wrung her hands.

I I had to go down into the dark garden. It smelled of wet leaves and frogs and peat moss.  I walked slowly in my high top leather shoes, telling myself, “ My shoes go boom, boom, boom. I’m not afraid of spiders. I’m not afraid of rocks. I’m not afraid of Daddy. My shoes go boom, boom, boom.”

I startled when I saw a big dark figure heading for the bridge. I drew a sharp breath and started to run away when I realized the dark blob  was Daddy.  I had to save him. I ran to him and I grabbed the hand that dangled near my head. His hand felt warm. “Daddy, come back to the house with me.  Daddy, I love you. Please, Daddy, please.”

“You still love me, little daughter?”

“Yes Daddy, yes Daddy, I do.”  I was a little tug boat turning a big ship around to head into the harbor. I pulled on his arm and slowly, slowly, he turned. I saved my father that night and many other times, but not always.

Of course, I choked up telling my story.  I came back to my adult self and the little room and Mariam’s kind eyes. “Lots of times I saved him,” I repeated, thinking but I let him die.

“Yes, you did take care of him.  You were a very strong girl and very smart,” Miriam replied,  “but I wonder why your mother sent you, a small child, instead of going herself. Wasn’t he her responsibility, not yours?”

Why did I have to leave the Hunter garden with its brook and gardenia bushes? She was pulling me back again to here and now with hard questions I didn’t want to consider. However, I had my explanation. “She knew that he cared more about me, than her. He called me Little Sweetheart, and Tiddeldy Winks . We read books and poems together.  We planned to raft down the Mississippi River like Tom and Huck.  I loved him . Mother said she loved him, but maybe she didn’t.  I don’t know all that stuff. Maybe he had a mistress.”

“So how do you think taking care of your father affected you?”.

I had never thought of me being affected. I’d never thought about a serious little girl with an enormous task. I only thought I had let my father die. It was hard to speak.  Miriam instructed me, “Breathe three deep breathes.“

I did and the words in my throat became unstuck and spewed into the room. ” Il et him die. No matter how much I loved him and tried to save him, I couldn’t. I let him die.”

“How old were you when he died?” she asked.

“Fifteen, “ I said.

“Do you want to tell me what happened? I do not understand how a fifteen year old could be responsible for her father’s death.”  Miriam said.

“Actually, I still feel badly. I should have stopped him.” I buried my face in my hands. My eighty year old body shook with the anxiety the teen-ager felt as I told my story to Mariam.