Black Limousine

Creative Nonfiction by Becs Tetley

As I walked from my last class to the gym, I spotted the metal nose of the limousine peeking out from behind the high school entrance—the only space that fit its long, black frame.

I picked up my pace, hoping you wouldn’t see me and no one would see you, as your driver stood outside getting some air. I imagined you sitting in the back behind a shield of tinted glass, the leather creasing under your weight as you guzzled down anything on the rocks while holding a lit cigar and selling stocks on your cell phone. Waiting.

It had been a week since my last volleyball game when I scanned the bleachers and found you slouched at the end of the fourth row. Between sets, my friend came over and whispered he could smell the alcohol on you. When the game ended, I grabbed my bag and left the gym before you could get to me. And when I turned to the women in my life for help, they listened but still insisted, You have to have a relationship with him.

When I was five you promised to buy any pet I wanted if I told the divorce court I’d live with you in Malibu. Your mother can’t afford the life I can. When I said no, I became a girl split in two. Every Saturday night with you.

At six you paraded me around church, smiling at others who only knew you as the man who showed up to pray. But I couldn’t stop thinking about earlier that day when you’d wrestled me to the bedroom floor and forced me into that green dress I hated because you spent a lot of money on it.

When I was twelve you took me to Paris, but Introductory French failed to prepare me for the topless women at the cabaret (you called it cultural) or the bottles of champagne you knocked back (you told me to relax) or the waiters who warned they would ask us to leave if you didn’t quiet down (you mocked their accents instead).

You have to have a relationship with him.

At thirteen, I’d had enough of you passing out in bathrooms and your collection of expired sobriety chips. I said I wouldn’t go to your house for Christmas that year even though it was your turn to have me.

But on December 24th your driver had the week off so you got behind the wheel of your white Mercedes and drove to Mom’s place, where you pounded on the front door, dragged me down the driveway, locked me in the passenger seat, then went back to scream at her, your voice echoing across the cul-de-sac as I watched neighbors peer out from behind curtains. I prayed you were sober as we careened around the canyon curves to your house on a cliffside, where I cried into the night. In the morning my eyes were tired and red and sore and void of second chances. I packed a duffel bag with everything I couldn’t live without and swore it was the last time I would let you hurt me.

I’d make that promise to myself at thirteen, and seventeen, and twenty-four, and thirty-six. Yet every time I walked away, you launched a new campaign of Sorry and I’m getting better and You can’t divorce your parent. And if that didn’t work, you called me ungrateful and recounted everything you’d paid for over the course of my life—seven years of orthodontics, uniforms for private school, summer camp, swimming lessons at the club pool, keys to a car, sequined prom dresses, a ski weekend in Park City, cross-country college classes—and I came to believe it was my fault: I was the bad daughter; I wasn’t enough to make you good. Each time you reeled me back into your world of money worship and drunken ambition, it felt like love.

Now I’m forty-one, living twenty time zones ahead in New Zealand, and it’s been a handful of merciful years since my lawyers convinced you to leave me alone. I’m waiting to cross at a busy intersection when I hear deep bass beats and shrill laughter slip from the window of a party limousine that whizzes by. I fall between the cracks of present and past, and I’m seventeen standing on the edge of that high school parking lot because I will always have a relationship with my father.

Becs Tetley

Becs Tetley is a nonfiction writer and editor in Wellington, New Zealand. Her personal essays have appeared in Vagabond City LitTurbine | KapohauHeadland, Folly Journal, and others. She is a member of the New Zealand Society of Authors and holds an MA in Creative Writing from Auckland University of Technology. She can be found on X: @BecsTetley.

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