Once upon a time, a princess was born to a toad and his wife.
The baby was pure love, made with a heart to love even the most disgusting creatures.
Josephine grew comfortable with her dad’s freakish differences, but she never stopped being disappointed in and afraid of his violent outbursts, his intense anger, his verbal attacks, or any of his other violence.
She had to adapt at a very young age in order to survive. She had to become extraordinarily sensitive to the toad’s moods, needs, and signs of an upcoming violent outburst to feel safe as an infant.
Her heart, which was as big and deep as the ocean, could emit powerful healing waves that knocked the scary anger down onto its knees – but only if the anger was caught before it had become too consuming.
Before she could walk, Jo was sending powerful healing waves to her toad dad, so that his anger wouldn’t have a chance to take over.
The toad had no idea what was happening at first. Mostly because he was either drunk or high whenever he was home. But also because he had himself been forced to adapt to unfavourable conditions in his youth, and he didn’t have an ocean heart.
One day, when Jo was about six, her toad dad came home after being away all night and his wife made him promise he would quit drinking. She said that was the last DUI or she would take the kids and leave.
Jo was listening at the door. She could tell that her toad dad didn’t care right then if his nagging wife left with the children. He just wanted to drink himself to death.
The princess was upset. Part of her was mad at her mom for not knowing the toad man well enough to help him want to quit drinking. Another part of her was mad at her mom for being too focused on herself to even see toad man. There was a part of her that was mad at her dad, but she had hidden that part away years before when she discovered that being angry at him came with the consequence of having him turn his anger directly on her, turned up to full blast.
Jo thought it was hypocritical that toad man kept drinking even though he had no respect for his own dad for being a drunk and losing their family home when his mom was in the hospital for a year with tuberculosis.
Then something weird happened. Jo’s mom blurted out that toad man was a hypocrite for drinking while hating his dad for being a drunk.
Jo was very scared when she heard that. She couldn’t stop shaking. She was afraid for her mom, not knowing how toad man would react to being hit with such a powerful insult. It was something that penetrated his stony heart. Or so Jo believed when she was six.
There was a lot of yelling, but Jo couldn’t hear any bodies being thrown into the metal filing cabinet or any wet raspy gasps for air.
And then there was silence.
Jo held her breath, waiting, listening.
It felt like the silence was never going to end.
In that absence of noise, guilt grew up from her belly in seaweed strips and reached to entangle her heart.
Jo suddenly understood that somehow she had opened up her dad’s vault in a way that her mom wasn’t able, and that somehow that knowledge had been transmitted to her mom, who then used it to hurt her dad.
In that moment of realization, the door to her parents’ bedroom opened and her dad walked out with a duffel bag over his shoulder. He walked down the stairs and out the door.
Toad man had left the bedroom door open. Jo looked inside. Her mom was in bed with the blankets tucked around her.
Jo saw by the bright red numbers on her dad’s alarm clock that it was almost lunch time. She went downstairs to the kitchen to make a sandwich for herself and her sister, who was in the living room watching Sesame Street.
As she took the bologna from the fridge, she replayed the events of the morning in her mind.
Her gaze turned to the courtyard between their house and the apartment building, which she could see through the kitchen window. Jo had seen her mom stare out that window so many times. She found no comfort in it. It just made her want to run outside and stay there until the streetlights came on.
But as she was looking out the window, she realized that she had not sent any healing waves from her heart.
She felt the guilt seaweed grow up into her lungs. Jo was ashamed for withholding her love – a love that she believed from past experiences would have been able to keep her dad’s anger in check.