Green Eyes


Christiane McKenna

Things will never be normal. We have “Yesterdays” to be remembered. “Todays” as gifts to be savored. “Tomorrows” no longer taken for granted. Day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute…no guarantees, every second precious. Exhale pain, inhale love.


I had two fathers. The Good Daddy’s eyes were blue; the Bad Daddy had green eyes. Actually, I only had one father, but as he was schizophrenic, I never knew which one would show up. And until my mother left us when I was 12, he would beat me almost every night.

It always was the same. I would be sitting at the kitchen table, in the dark, with my uneaten dinner before me. I couldn’t leave the table until I cleaned my plate, which I never did. It would still be there in the morning, cold. As bedtime neared, I would be sent to my room. I would dutifully go to my room to await punishment. I am a Pisces and born under the sign of the Welcome Mat. I sit on the edge of my bed and wait.
I wait for what seems hours, when my father’s footsteps begin slowly echoing down the long hall. The footsteps stop, yet he doesn’t come in. He waits outside the door frame, just out of sight. He flicks on the hall lights so that all you see is his shadow looming on the wall before you. Perfectly still. Heavy measured breathing. He waits forever before swinging into the door, filling it completely with his massive frame. He was 6’5” and 275 lbs. He stands there in silence with his arms crossed over his chest in what my brothers and I called his Mr. Clean pose.

Slowly, his eyes change from a gentle soft blue to an angry green. I wet myself.
He enters the room and beats the hell out of me. Then he shudders, his eyes turning from green back to blue, looks down at me bleeding on the floor and says, “Oh, my God, what have I done to you?” I reply, “It’s okay, daddy. I know you don’t mean it.” He cradles me in his arms and rocks me until we both stop crying. He carries me to bed, places me gently under the covers and sits on the edge.
Then the Blue-Eyed Daddy tells me the most magical stories. The plot is always the same. I’m always in dire peril, crawling along desert sands, parched with thirst and stung by scorpions, or clinging to the flotsam of a shipwreck, tempest-tossed in angry seas encircled by suspicious fins; stranded atop the Himalayas, frostbitten and abandoned by Sherpas or cornered in an Amazon rain forest surrounded by anacondas. At this point in the story, I’m beaded in sweat as I cry out, “And then, and then daddy. . .?

He takes a forever breath and begins, “Then out of nowhere, astride his trusty white steed, atop a snowy tor, with his blond curls glistening in the sun, his pale blue eyes flashing is (faint call of a bugle) McKenna of the Mounties!” He swoops down and pulls me up into his arms in a daring rescue. Every time. I never question the snowy tor in the middle of the ocean… or the horse. It’s enough that he never fails to save me.

He leaves, with a kiss on the forehead as he does. I climb out of bed, crawl into my closet and curl into a tight ball before falling asleep. That’s how I sleep for 24 years…in closets. With roommates, it’s awkward. I wait until everyone in the house is sleeping, then sneak into my closet. I wake at dawn before anyone is up and go back to bed. No one ever knows.

Right out of high school, I head out to Banff School of Fine Arts in Alberta, Canada. While there, my dad sends me a postcard every day with Royal Canadian Mounties on the front and on the back one of his magical stories printed in impossibly tiny letters.

I’m 20 and away at college when I get a call that he’s died. He’s 50 and dies of a massive heart attack on a classroom floor at the University of California, Sacramento. 

I fly home. In the viewing room, I tiptoe up to the casket and look in. His eyes are closed so I don’t know if it’s the Good Daddy or the Bad Daddy. He’s so still. I slap him over and over wailing, “How could you leave me? Who will rescue me now?” The faint call of the bugle is mute. 

A few years later I head to New York. At 24 I’m in rehearsals at an avant garde theatre called La Mama ETC in the East Village on E. 4th St. It’s a big deal in the early 70s. We rehearse in an abandoned brick warehouse next to the firehouse a few blocks away. There’s no heat and it’s December. You walk up these steep clanging steel steps, 6 flights, in the dark. There, on the top floor, is a huge empty room, save a large table, chair and a single bare lightbulb hanging overhead.
I come into rehearsals one night beaded in sweat. The director, Ozzie Rodriquez, says, “Baby, you’re burning up! Go lie down and we’ll work around you.” On the bare table I shiver and can see my breath because all the panes in that room are broken.

A man walks over to me. He has green eyes.

He says nothing as he removes his navy-blue cashmere sweater, knots it into the shape of a teddy bear and tucks it into my arms. He drapes his brown trench coat over me and walks away.

Under his coat, I fall asleep and dream. In the dream, I’m sleeping in a closet. There are flames everywhere and I can’t breathe. Just when I can’t stand it anymore, I cry out, “And then, and then, daddy?”
Then? Then there’s the faint call of the bugle—the first time since my dad died—and the snowy tor. The man with green eyes rides up on a horse wearing a brown trench coat…not the horse, the man.
He pulls me out of the fire and onto the horse, smothering the flames with his coat as we ride off. He rescues me. He rescues me for the next 44 years. Every day. Twenty years ago, he makes me get rid of the coat.
But that frigid December night, on a table under his coat, is the last time I sleep in a closet.

Now, as night falls blanketing me in darkness, I’m embraced by sleep…and the man with green eyes.

(C) Christiane McKenna