III by Ronald Clark

Oh, he’s just not going to talk to me, huh? Oh, he thinks it’s okay to just ignore me, huh? Oh, he thinks… he thinks… he thinks…


Finally out of the confines of that car. Able to breathe in all of my insanity within these walls, my favorite walls, the walls of my bedroom. I rest all of my secrets in these walls. My blood stains its cracks, ripples like the Red Sea throughout its crevices, only to bubble over when its route seemingly ends. It gurgles at the edge of the carpet, screams at the sight of cleaning supplies only I provide. It wants to sit there, as a reminder to the pain that I go through whenever my father is the focal point of my innermost thoughts.

I try to remove him. Really I do. I try to focus on the wonderful woman who gave birth to me. The goddess who walks the hallways of this home with a grace and dignity only the queens she ascended from can attest to. I love my mother with everything I am.

I loathe my father with everything I am.

There he is again. Invading my glimpses of happiness with his unrelenting vile.


(I drive my hand into the wall)


(I do it again)


(I do it again)


(I do it again)


I love my father with everything I am.

There is a dent in the wall where my hand likes to punch. If he paid attention at all, he would question why such a thing is in my room. But how can you question what you do not know? He would view it as some sort of teenage angst. I respond this way because I have raging hormones and out-of-control emotions. Funny thing is that I am in complete and utter control. I know why I do these things. I know why I must bleed from my knuckles. I know why I must feel pain. I know why the outer edges of my hands must be rough and rugged, despite my pension for painting.

I am provided with an adrenaline rush that is lacking due to his absence in my heart.

I love my father with everything I am.

My door opens as I pace back and forth. I pause to look who it is. And it is a goddess, checking in on me.

“Oh, Vinnie… not again…”

She wraps me in her arms, nestles me against her bosom and I am a child once again.

“You can’t keep doing this to yourself.”

Her tone says otherwise. Her tone tells me to scream at the top of my lungs until my deaf father hears my cries tearing through my adolescence with the fury of a 1000 men at war with themselves.

“I worry about you, son. Why must you punish yourself for something that he does?”

“I just want him to see me.”

“He sees you, just maybe not in the way that you would like.”

“Are you defending him?”

“I just want you to focus on the things he does do for you.”

Roof over my head. Cash in my pocket. Money for food. Gas. Electric… I don’t see love anywhere on this list.

“What he does isn’t enough. What I need you cannot purchase.”

“And what is that?”

I lift my head from her bosom.

“You already know. You give it to me every day.”

My mother smiles. It is warm and understanding. Our connection is one that my father and I will never reach. Yet, I continue to leave my arms outstretched. Hoping. Praying. Well, maybe not praying since that prayer is routinely sent back with a notice that reads, ‘Your father doesn’t seem to be responding.’ Neither is my Father. 

My mother, on the other hand, is the only reason I am still here. She fills my lungs with the oxygen necessary to continue with the melancholy existence of a 14-year-old boy who is too smart, too advanced for those that surround the academic arena. All I need are my books, my paintbrush, some paint and my mother. This is what sustains me, enables me to continue to blossom into a successful human being – with daddy issues.

I love my father with everything I am.

My mother looks my hand over. My right hand is noticeably more damaged than my left. I paint with my left so I am less likely to punch the wall with that hand. I am angry and disappointed, not stupid.

She smiles her heavenly smile. There is not a lot of strength behind her smile. Her beauty is evident. It is oddly painful to watch her smile. Yet, I cannot refrain from wanting to see her smile. There is just something about her smile…

She guides me towards my easel. There is a blank page sitting there, waiting. She puts the paintbrush in my hand, dabs the tip in paint. It is her favorite color – viridian green. I always keep a full cup of it for occasions like this. Moments when she reminds me of why I picked up a paintbrush in the first place. Our strokes are seamless, the imagery abstract. I save my abstract art for her. I have to be clearer with the average audience. But between us? Abstract is as concrete a language as any other. It is us in plain English. We know what it says. We know what it wants to say.

I love my mother with everything I am.

I loathe my father with everything I am.

She massages my hand. Her hands are soft, an extension of her calming demeanor. I love this woman. I do not know what I would do without her…

But I have to learn.

…to love my father with everything I am. 

II by Ronald Clark

“You’re late.”

A layered regurgitation of past events continually infiltrating the present. James Baldwin’s sentence structure still resonates in my mind at this time, so do not mind that last sentence. I felt an urge to scream within an intellectual cage. Baldwin always seems to fit in those times.

I did not actually say ‘You’re late’. My mother may have. Either way it would have been a waste of breath.

“I’m here, aren’t I?”

The lack of understanding behind this statement still baffles me. Ever known someone whose presence never necessarily meant they were there? My father has perfected this craft. He has molded his fatherhood into trying to convince my mother and I that what he is able to do is enough.

“Just show me what you need to show me.”

The painting does not even look the same at this point. All its vibrancy evaporated upon realization that the most important eyes to be laid upon it were not going to be laid upon it at all. It gave up on attempting to be at its best. It gave up on attempting to be loved and adored, showcased for the rest of the world to see. It has given up. It has looked up to me, taken its cue from me, so none of this comes as a shock, now does it?

“Oh, that’s nice. You like this painting stuff, huh?”

The belittling of all that I am. If there was ever anything this man was successful at, it was this.

My mother is the one who put the paintbrush in my hand. A black woman whose essence is everything our ancestors would have wanted her to be. Something like a goddess on earth, mocking us with her constant ability to be more than human within the restraints of that humanity. I, her son, simply want to provide her with the warmth and love necessary for a being such as her to continue to function.

So I paint. She smiles. I paint some more. Her joy is evident. She takes my hand in hers, guides my paintbrush in regal strokes, the paint listening to her every direction at a level I have not reached yet. This is our time together. The time in which my life is the most colorful, most full of life.

Yet, the darkness his shadow is able to provide can swallow even her sunshine, even within a flashback to a beautifully designed memory such as this one. But we must leave this place now, and return to my father’s shadow. It is not done covering the present with its unwavering swirl of parental ineptitude.

“So, when is this thing over?”

My mother looks in my direction. She wonders the same thing I wonder. Will I respond?


“It was over before you arrived. It’s been over for some time now. But I guess a thank you is required in this situation since you wasted gas to get here.”

“I did. And you’re welcome.”

I imagined another conversation taking place in this moment. I really did. But my imagination is responsible for the vast majority of fond memories that include my father. I have to create a position for him within my memories in order for him to have any substantial impact. His gravestone will read ‘In Loving Memory?’

I am sure he held me in his arms at times when I was a baby. I am sure he tossed a ball around with me when I could barely run. I am sure he did – something. But the more I independently operated, the more he felt the need to not be a parent anymore. I will never understand the trigger in fathers to back off.

Do not ever stop loving me!

Excuse me. My throat hurts. That scream clawed at my vocal chords. Whenever I see him, I scream this. I scream this over and over again. He does not hear me. He does not listen to words. But I have not found the proper actions necessary to get him to recognize his glaring flaws. He cannot see my necessities. He cannot see my needs. But what is most painful is differentiating between cannot and will not. Maybe cannot can be forgiven. Maybe. But will not? Will not? Naw, I ain’t having that.

Do not ever stop loving me!

I can get so consumed by this, all of it. To the point that I no longer notice the words being stated around me.

By classmates.

“I have only ever seen his dad on, like, maybe, three occasions. He don’t be around like I would want my daddy to be.”

By Ms. Washington.

“There is so much potential here for something beautiful. Vinnie is calling for him, but Thomas refuses to listen to his cries.”

So many things you could have told me/to save me the trouble of letting my mistakes show me/I feel like you barely know me…

I should not have similarities to the character in the first verse of J Cole’s Breakdown.

I cried when I first heard it. I cried like a baby. I broke down. I had no choice in the matter. My father is right here, in the flesh, and I have an emotional reaction to a young man’s story about not knowing his father at all. I know his name. I know his occupation. I know his bank account number. I know what he feels is necessary. But I know nothing of his wiring. I know nothing of why he is the way he is. I know nothing of why he cannot love me the way I want to love him. For love is a two-way street, and despite how much love I have to give, I cannot give it all unless he returns the favor. And it should not be a favor at all due to the father-and-son correlation.

I just want to go home and dream. Dream of that day when I leave this earth, knuckles stained in red from battling a violent swarm of insecurities. He will be there then. He is always there when I die. He is always there to see me through my final breath. I want him to savor the opportunity to share oxygen with me. Only to never grasp it in time.

I truly hope that comes to fruition. My scars would be so worthwhile then.

I by Ronald Clark

Where is he?

Clusters of adults sprinkle irrelevant conversations into one another’s ears. I hear the lackadaisical tone in their high-pitched voices, all surrounding the elegant grace of my mother, Annette, her glazed brown skin shines even within the cloud of breath that engulfs her. The sheer volume of words trickling into her ears, I know it is nothing she wants to hear.

Where is he?

He was supposed to be here by now. My principal, Ms. Georgia Washington, taps her foot against the hardwood floor, snacks on bite-size edibles as the time she wastes becomes more and more of a concern. My art teacher, Ms. Brenda Scott, scurries back and forth from outside to in, caters to the many parents and students who patiently wait on the person I seem to wait for every day. They do not know patience quite like I do.

Everyone waits for him. Ms. Washington. Ms. Scott. My classmates wait for him like they did when I was in kindergarten. Or was that third grade? Or fifth grade? Or seventh grade? Or all grades? They all run together like dysfunctional sentences, I cannot even differentiate anymore. My mother waits for him.

I wait for him.

I am always waiting for him.

My mother runs interference. Puts words in the ears of those who matter as to why I cannot seem to move at this moment. My lip quivers but it is simply involuntary. My hands shake but that is natural, is it not? Natural despite the abilities I possess with the same hands I cannot seem to control at this moment, in these moments.

My mother really tries. Not tries as in effort. But tries to calculate how many times we have been in this position. How many times she has nursed multiple conversations with people as they continue to wait for something she nor I seem to ever be able to produce.

My father, Thomas Smith.

I, his 14-year-old son, Vinnie, kiss my scarred knuckles. Reflex screams to punch a wall but I refuse to let anything more than a little sweat, a quiver and a shake be seen by judgmental eyes. I cannot be the only one in this room who has dealt with the inability of a parent to show up.

I hear words spoken – from the mouth of Principal Washington.

“He is simply brilliant.”

My art teacher, Ms. Scott.

“I have never seen a skillset like his at that age. I am astonished every time he presents something new. I almost want to have a class with just me and him. I might learn something myself.”

A classmate whose name I do not remember despite us knowing each other since kindergarten.


All of their eyes seem to be open. They see it. But why can’t he? Why can’t he ever just, see it? It, literally being my newest painting. It, figuratively being the emptiness of what outsiders would see as a father and a son. I only see a man and a boy.

And so I stand here, in a familiar position. Alone, with only you to blame for my melancholy exterior and my mother here to wash away the residual effects of your absence.

I hear my mother’s voice.

“It isn’t always like this. He just works a lot. He’s an ambitious man, what can I say?”

I can say a few things, but words are why we are here in the first place. Need more actions. More detailed responses. My vocabulary – influenced and affected by two hours of reading every day – is still not sufficient enough to properly describe my feelings towards my father. Words just do not do it enough justice. It must be shown. It must be witnessed. It must be everything my father is not – present.

I take a deep breath, turn and lock eyes with my mother. She nods a nod I have seen an innumerable amount of times. She knows I must continue without him. I know I do, too. Does not take away from this aching urge to add more red to the color scheme of my knuckles.

In the front of the class with a half-smile on my face, I present my painting.

“It isn’t much really. A collection of colors and thoughts intertwined with this growing perception that today’s child is not raised with the same values as past generations. And I believe that to be true, mainly because two parents who actually know they are parents is always better than one real and one fake parent, not coming to an agreement on how they should raise the only thing they have created together that is any good – their child.”

Principal Washington dares to respond.

“I don’t know whether to clap or give you a hug.”

“Neither would suffice. But I can’t prevent you from having a human reaction to such an unhealthy situation.”

The room is still. I can hear my mother’s heartbeat. Ours are synchronized. I spend so much time with my head to her bosom that I memorized her palpitations then trained my own to follow. This could be fact or conjecture but either way it speaks to you, does it not? To synchronize two heartbeats is to recognize your inability to function without knowing that their blood continues to run through them.

But back to this room. This room that vacillates between silence and intrigue. My classmates shake their heads – not of disbelief for that would insinuate that they have beliefs – but in a sheer act of not knowing what to do with me and my non-traditional self. They cannot turn away from me but they cannot understand me either. I would not want them to.

I just want him to.

Clap. Clap. Bravo. A congratulations of sort for those that are here and that can see.

I just want him to.

My mother’s voice.

“I guess that’s it, huh?”

“Yeah, I guess.”

Another voice. This one deeper, with a familiar twinge of remorse.

My father’s voice.

“Did I miss anything?”

His son’s response.

“Wash, rinse and repeat… the answer to that question from the last time you asked.”

You see, Pops is always on time.