I was just eight when we were living in Adelaide, South Australia. My memories of my time there are vague. I remember my mom was teaching 6th grade and my Dad was doing social work downtown, mostly working with homeless addicts and alcoholics. I went to school where my mom taught and I ate ice lollies at recess and played with my friend’s pet duck after school. On weekends, we waded in the Great Australian Bight and ate beer battered shark (before we had any idea it was endangered) on the grassy hills near Port Noarlunga. It was a pretty happy existence. Warm, sun-filled days, and long, restful nights.
There was one night, though. A night when my Dad didn’t come home. We weren’t worried really, because people’s problems don’t often fit neatly into a regular 9-5 schedule and my Dad was in the business of helping people with their problems. He would often be at work late. My Mom went about making us dinner and helping me with my homework. My brother had a bath and we cozied up in the living room in our pyjamas and watched some TV. When it came time to go to bed, my Dad still wasn’t home. I thought for sure he would be any minute now.
My Mom called him after she tucked us in, and I could hear her hang up having gotten no answer at his office. That’s when I began to feel a little uneasy. I resisted sleep. I lay in bed, forcing my eyes wide so could hear our front door open when Dad got home. Every car driving by made me listen harder for the sound of a car door closing, keys in the door and finally my Dad’s voice. I stared at the ceiling and counted the little white bumps, or connected them to make Unicorns and princesses and koala bears in my head. I pictured my Dad coming into my room and pecking me on the forehead while I pretended to be asleep. I felt anxious and I could hear every cricket, every cockroach and every frog out there in the South Australian night.
No matter how many cars drove by, none turned into our driveway. No telltale beams from headlights swept across my walls. No matter how hard I listened, I didn’t hear him. I fell asleep in what felt like the deepest hours of the night, while my Dad still wasn’t home.
Morning rolled around and my Mom came in to wake me up for school. I rubbed my eyes and threw my covers off. As I came to and my mind caught up with my body, it dawned on me that Daddy had not come home last night, and excitement welled up in me when I asked, “Hey Mom, is Dad home?”
You know that shooting feeling sudden fear gives you? Like a warm wave of panic flowing through your veins. Adrenaline perhaps. I felt a wave of adrenaline. My skin began to crawl with worry.
“Where is he, Mom?” I could feel my eyebrows practically climbing off my forehead.
“I don’t know, dolly, but I am sure he’ll call soon.”
Forcing my way through a bowl of muesli and a glass of orange cordial, my heart felt heavy. Where was my Dad?
After breakfast, I trudged back to my room to get dressed. Frustrated, I pulled shirts and shorts out of my drawers, unable to choose what to wear. I could feel a lump in my throat and I knew tears were coming. Dad was never this late. I flopped down on my bed in a huff, ready to bawl just as the phone rang.
I sprang off the bed and ran. Our house was small, but somehow I ran. Faster than my brother, faster than my Mom. I grabbed the corded phone off the mount on the wall and yelled, “HELLO?”
“Hey, pork chop, how are ya?” Sweet, beautiful relief.
“Daddy! Where are you? Why didn’t you come home?” I could see my Mom’s face brighten, hearing me say ‘Daddy’.
“Oh, you know how my work can get. It was a hard day yesterday. Is Mommy there?” I handed the phone to my Mom and bounded down the hall to my room, beaming from ear to ear.
I was too busy being relieved and glad to know my Dad was okay to hear what my Mom was saying on the phone. It didn’t matter. Daddy was okay.
Eventually, I found out that my Dad had stayed late at work to help out a homeless aboriginal man who seemed to be going through some kind of crisis, though my Dad could not get out of him what it was. He was drunk and appeared high. After several hours of talking with the man, my Dad told him they could continue their talk the following day as he had to get home to his family. The man left and my Dad began locking up. The rest of his staff had left, one by one, and now my Dad was the only one remaining in the building.
My Dad reached to turn out the light when he felt something cold on his neck.
“Don’t move or I’ll kill you.”
There was a knife to my Dad’s neck. He saw the man who had been there earlier come into his peripheral vision. What ensued was a standoff between my Dad and a man deep in the throes of an awful PCP trip. My Dad had talked many people down from bad trips before, but never at knifepoint.
He worked his way through it, using all the tactics in his arsenal and finally, a few hours into his ordeal, the man dropped the knife and agreed to go with my Dad to the police station. Dad stayed with him through his booking… and then promptly called his eight-year-old daughter.