The Damask Rose

Damask Rose.jpg


When I close my eyes, I can picture him in his twenties, all dressed in white, busy changing one of his car’s flat tires. All immaculate, as if the dirt couldn’t reach for him. What a beautiful illusion.


It all began when my Mum fell in love with him. My parents broke up and I ended up living at their new place.  The very first incident happened shortly after I moved in and is etched in my memory. He was driving the car and my Mum was sitting next to him. I was at the back and they started to fight aggressively. He stopped the car in the middle of the road and threw her out. Then he ordered me to step out… I did not quite understand what was happening, I was only nine. I was trapped in the spiral of their destructive relationship.


In spite of everything, I never really hated him. I knew what had made him the man he was. I’m the only one who ever cared enough to find out.  He and his sister had been raised by terrible parents. They grew up without love and they were often bullied and severely punished. I don’t think he ever got a cuddle from his Mum. Later on in his life, his father refused to let him chose his career path. He had other plans for him. Still, he managed to achieve his studies up to a high level and got graduated second of his promotion. His Dad then uttered these cruel words : « why couldn’t you be first ? ». I’m not saying that a loving family would have rescued him from his demons. But it intensely took part in the shaping of his personality. Many years later, his Mum died of cancer. She called for him several times from her hospital bed. But he never paid her a visit. He said : « let the bitch die and rot in hell ».


I have to say, he never raised a hand on me. Except for the day he tried to kill me. But I’ll get back to that later. On the verge of our first Xmas as a family, we were cooking a meal together and he asked me what gift I wanted the most. I said I wanted to be surrounded by animals. Dogs, cats, snakes, spiders and lions. He smiled… And guess what I got for Xmas ? A lovely puppy ! I couldn’t believe my eyes, he had made my dream come true…


There was an angel in him but also a demon. He was obsessed with weapons and he forced me to learn how to handle his gun. I hated it but I was quite good at it. Then he took me out and ordered me to shoot at birds in the garden. I failed on purpose, and it drove him mad. That’s the kind of fun he put me through. We used to breed chicken in some part of the land and once, he forced me to take part in their execution. “we got to eat” he kept on saying. I vomited at the sight of all this blood and he sent me away. Then there was the day, the terrible day he decided to skin our rabbits… alive… I can still hear them screaming in my head.


Years went by and I just stood away from him as much as I could. He wasn’t much talking or asking for anything just as long as I was out of the way. He had set rules that couldn’t be broken : I was not allowed to wear make-up, dress like a girl and go out without permission up until I got to eighteen. Needless say, I never got any permission. Now, I’ve always turned things around in order to gain some freedom. But still, I was in prison.


The tiniest things would make him blow up with rage. That brings me to the day he caught me walking in the street when I should have been at school. He patiently waited till I got back home. He was drunk and he started to yell at me. I couldn’t stand it and for the first time I challenged his authority. I looked at him in the eye and I said « NO ! ». He jumped on me and started to strangle me. I did not back down and I stared at him with determination. « Eyes down » he was screaming. But I was still staring at him straight in the eye. Luckily someone forced his hands away from my throat just when I felt myself fainting. I hit the ground gasping for air and he started to laugh, a demonic laugh that I will never forget.


I became a young adult and things calmed down a bit. Till one night I woke up because I heard loud noises in the kitchen. I thought he was mistreating the dog again. So I silenced my fear and jumped out of bed to interfere. In fact, he was in the middle of a terrible fight with my Mum and he was screaming « I’m going to kill you ». At first, he tried to set fire to the bed where she was sitting drunk and daring him. He poured flamable liquid on it but he couldn’t find a lighter to set fire to it. He then threatened her with his gun. Finally, he put the gun down and started to hit her. I lied on her, covering her body so that he couldn’t reach any vital part. I know it sounds crazy, but I knew he wouldn’t hurt me at that specific moment. He backed off and broke everything in the room instead. He smashed the furniture into pieces then left the house. Two days later, they were in love like the first day. Go figure…


After that he did not bother me anymore. There was that one time he took me out for a chat. We went to this African bar and the lady poured us two glasses of rum. We talked and drank a lot and it was a lovely moment. He said « you won’t keep up, I’ll burry you » and I said « to hell if you do ». And we laughed. He was right though. He had to carry me back home on his shoulder like a bag of potatoes…


Around that time, he decided to go to the sailing school on the river. He was incredibly good. He became a fully graduated sailor in no time and that settled him down for a while. The amazing thing is that he started to get known and asked to convey boats around the globe. These were probably the best years of his life. But nothing is ever simple, is it ?


He was constantly cheating on my Mum who was totally unaware. One day though, he made a terrible mistake : he had an affair with the wife of the boss of the local Sicilian mafia. I was there when the guy, Tony, offered my Mum to take care of him « for good ». It was meant as a favour, Tony really liked my Mum. She hesitated but finally refused. « Fine » said Tony « I’ll just make sure he won’t do it again». That’s how he got both his legs broken…


At that point, he was on the down slope. He was drinking heavily. He left my Mum for another woman he married. She was in huge debts and he used all his money to pay it back. He ended up totally broke. Then he started to do some car-boot sales for a living. He looked like a wreck, always dirty and drunk. He was only fifty but he seemed a hundred years old.


The very last time I saw him alive, we were at the hospital waiting to see my Mum who was recovering from surgery. He looked at me and said : « I’ve never stopped loving her, you know ». I looked at him and felt terribly sad. He was just the shadow of the man he used to be.


After that, I lost touch with him. All I know I’ve been told at his very burial : he drank himself to death. He died in horrible pain after several comas. On the coffin, his wife had put a picture of him when he was a sailor. He looked happy and that brought tears in my eyes. She came to speak to me. She said « He gave me a tough time, you know. I wish I had not stolen him from your Mum. I’m not even sure I’m gonna miss him ».


I felt incredibly sad, a feeling I still can’t shake. It’s not so much the fact that he’s gone. It’s the way he fulfilled his path of self-destruction and made sure no-one would care after his death.


But I remember the angel in him. I remember the time he hosted me with a friend on his boat for the week-end. I remember the wind through the sails and the gentle rolling of the hull before we fell asleep. I remember the next day when he took us for a short trip on the open sea. I’ve never seen him so peaceful… And that’s the image I will keep forever alive.



© 2014   


 Warning : any resemblance to reality will be the result of pure chance or the product of your imagination


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