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Drama Suspense Sad

Nothing looked the same, yet everything was just as he remembered.  

Content warning: sexual abuse, parental abuse

 

Rob had not been down this path since he was thirteen. If it had not been for the letter, he might never have walked it again. To his left and right were the same trees that had guarded the trail some twenty years earlier. The trees, like him, were a little older, a little bigger, a little worse for the wear—but their branches, like arms, still covered him, making him feel slightly claustrophobic.  

There was nothing he could do about the narrowness of the path, but he could loosen his tie. With a tug or two, he felt cooler air make its way down his shirt, but it didn’t make his breathing any easier. Some memories have a way of constricting the heart far more than any necktie, and loosening their grip is far more complicated.

 

This night was supposed to be a good night for him, yet the irony of his situation made Rob laugh to himself as he continued on his journey. As usual, good days were the ones that he had ended up ruining. He should have left Rob alone all those days long ago, but he never did. Birthdays, holidays, and family gatherings were both to be looked forward to and dreaded—all because of him. 

Accepting an award for community service, Rob had spent a pleasant evening with his wife and son, Robbie, at the community center. Rob could always be counted on to help those in need, no matter the time or personal cost. He supported his son’s PTA, served meals at the local soup kitchen, and even coached Robbie’s Little League team. Rob was the envy of all who knew him—only no one really knew him. That’s one of the reasons why he had agreed to meet him.

 

The letter Rob received was handwritten, mailed in the archaic fashion of using a stamp and the post office. The upper left corner of the envelope showed the name Robert Watkins, the same as his, but with the return address of the state penitentiary. Rob didn’t need that information to know who the letter was from; he’d recognize his handwriting anywhere. The scrawl was a little less frantic then he remembered, but that’s because inmates can’t get “falling down” drunk in prison. He had always kept Rob out of school on the days after those nights, sending a handwritten note to school explaining his son’s absence. 

The letter from prison was unexpected and unwanted. Rob threw the letter away several times, each time retrieving it from the waste basket. He only decided to open the envelope after the third time.  

As he unfolded the letter, the hair on the back of his neck started to stand on end. A long-forgotten yet familiar queasiness welled up in his stomach. Against his better judgement, with a necessary glass of Jack Daniels in hand, Rob read the letter silently. It contained words like unimaginable and unspeakable and unforgivable

There were no excuses or explanations or mentions of the particulars. Rob had been both relieved and upset about that last part. He didn’t want to relive the horror of a grown man doing unnatural things to a little boy, to his only son, but he wanted an acknowledgement. The letter only informed of his pending release and offered a meeting with no such acknowledgement. 

Vague apologies don’t sooth the wounds of specific sins. Most offensive to Rob was the request for the meeting was at their Special Place. It was true that at one point it had been a special place—a fishing hole no one knew about but Rob and him. It had been home to the few genuinely good memories Rob had with his dad, Robert, Sr., but even those memories had been tarnished by the abuse that cankered the years before his thirteenth birthday.  

Walking the footpath, each step closer to his destination, Rob felt himself transported back in time. He had thought surely his dad wouldn’t ruin this place, too. Surely he wouldn’t force himself on Rob. Not here. He should have left Rob alone that night but he didn’t, and it had been the last time.

Everyone told Rob he should be proud of himself. Proud he had called 911. Proud he had sat confidently in the witness stand to fully recount the years of abuse. Proud that he could find the strength to look his father in the eye as the verdict was read. 

Truth be told, Rob wasn’t proud. 

He was ashamed. Ashamed he had been a victim, ashamed he had let it happen, ashamed of sending his father to prison. This thought, once again, produced an uncomfortable chuckle. He had stolen Rob’s innocence, yet Rob had spent the last two decades dealing with the weight of unwarranted guilt. 

It had affected every relationship in his life. It left him confused about his sexuality and his culpability. Rob became so guarded that no one truly knew him, not his coworkers, not his friends, not even his wife. 

He had one last chance to put the past behind him, and that chance lay at the end of the path at a fishing hole known only to Rob and him.

All journeys have destinations. For Rob, this particular journey’s destinations were both a place and closure. As Rob took the first few steps out of the tree lined path into the opening that overlooked the pond, moonlight and memories washed over him in equal portions. For a moment, Rob actually felt at peace—but for just a moment. To his left, on a fallen tree, sat the author of the letter: his dad. Him.

“I wasn’t sure you would come,” his father said softly, breaking the silence. “Part of me hoped you wouldn’t.”

There was so much Rob wanted to say. He wanted to scream at the top of his lungs: I hate you! You’re a monster! He wanted to grab this man—who had ruined his entire life, who had defiled his childhood, who had taken any hope of normalcy—and shake him until he understood.

 “You wanted to talk, so talk,” however, was all Rob managed to say. 

In that moment Rob tried valiantly to sound controlled, strong, even disinterested. In his mind, however, he was instantly a little boy again, trying to make sense of the senseless. The reality of having a father taking advantage of him—his body, his mind, his soul—was still so entirely devastating.

“I’m not here to ask for forgiveness,” his dad began. “I don’t deserve it.”

“You’re damn fucking right you don’t, you coward,” Rob interrupted, finding the voice he had been searching for. “You killed me! Don’t be fooled by the fact I’m standing here in front of you. I’m a corpse, and it’s your fucking fault.” 

In the matter of a single moment, a time frame so short it almost didn’t exist, Rob felt who he really was for the first time in over twenty years. With the shackles of self-imposed expectations loosed, his words continued unfettered. “I loved you, you goddamn bastard. You were my first best friend.”

“I know, son . . .”

“Shut the fuck up. I’m not finished,” Rob said, pointing a finger right at him. “All those years I kept quiet. All those years I defended you to the only person who knew your secret—me.” Rob paused to swallow hard, blinking back hot tears. “I convinced myself it was my fault. How do you like that? You made me feel guilty. To this day, I am the one who feels shame.” 

Without warning, Rob began to sob as he finally articulated the worst part. “When all my friends at college were bragging about their first time, I knew my first time was with you. What could you possibly say to that, you monster?”

Rob’s father paused for what seemed like an eternity in an interminable silence. 

“Son, I just wanted to say I’m sorry. I know the words can’t fix anything, but they are genuine. I am a monster. You have every right to hate me, but the one thing I wanted to do was to look you in the eye and to let you know that I know what I did. It was wrong. You didn’t deserve it. I am so very sorry.”

The words were jarring for both their sincerity and contrition. It was undeniably true his father’s words couldn’t erase the emotional scars. They didn’t come close to wiping the slate clean, but Rob felt slightly disarmed. That fact left him disoriented. 

For a moment both men stared silently at each other in somber reflection. 

Finally, Rob regained his voice. “So you said your piece. What now?”

“Now I disappear. The one last gift I can give you is the certainty you’ll never hear from me again. I’m leaving for good. No one knows where I’m going, and, God willing, when I get there, no one will know who I am.”

“So that’s it? You leave and never come back?

“That’s it.”

“And no one knows where you're going?”

“I don’t even know.” 

“And who knows you came here to meet me tonight?”

“No one. Like I said, I’m leaving everything and everyone behind.”

Rob responded by reaching into his jacket pocket. “Dad, it's not good enough that you're leaving here forever. It’s not good enough you’re leaving my life forever. I’ve thought long and hard over the years about what I would do if I ever came face to face with you again.” Rob had a grim smile on his face as he pulled the Glock 21 from his pocket, pointing it directly at his father.

“Son—”

 “You took my life one awful night at a time. I’m going to take yours tonight.”  

The report of the gunshot was louder than Rob had expected, but there was no one within miles to hear it. Rob didn’t even wipe his fingerprints off the gun before he threw it in the pond. No one alive other than Rob knew where the pond was. 

It turned out Rob had a really great night after all—his best night ever, he thought to himself as he headed back down the path and into the woods.

That night, that great night of all nights, Rob knew he should leave his son, Robbie, alone in his bed. 

He knew he should, but he also knew he wouldn’t.

 

February 04, 2021 22:15

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55 comments

Zilla Babbitt
16:45 Feb 06, 2021

"To his left and right were the same trees that had guarded the trail some twenty years earlier." Here you could describe the path a little more. "The same old larches and oaks that hard guarded the trail some twenty years surrounded him" or something like that. "Some memories have a way of constricting the heart far more than any necktie, and loosening their grip is far more complicated." Love this line. I had to look up the word "culpability," haha! The dialogue is a jarring deviation from the softer, more poetic prose that makes up the...

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Thom Brodkin
17:08 Feb 06, 2021

I always love your feedback. If I ever become a famous writer part of the reason will be because of you. This was so different from what I usually write. It was a struggle and right up to the time I submitted it I wasn’t sure if it really worked. I’m going to try to find some time to work on my descriptions. You are, of course, exactly right about painting a more vivid picture of the scene. I’m hoping it doesn’t get approved before Monday because my time is so limited over this weekend. Thanks again. BTW I’ve been checking for stories for ...

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Zilla Babbitt
17:34 Feb 06, 2021

Oh great! I can always text R, though L's left the internet, I think. This week should suit?

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A.G. Scott
23:37 Feb 04, 2021

Stunning. The offhand nature of the last line is brilliant. The whole story is steeped in tragic inevitability. Wish I could be more helpful in terms of critique. I thought some of the dialogue seemed slightly expository and overly measured, but considering he's probably been practicing for years for this moment, it's not too out of step.

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Thom Brodkin
23:49 Feb 04, 2021

I think your analysis is spot on. I wrote the dialogue thinking about a thirteen year old talking with the mouth of a 33 year old. He’s been practicing that long. Thanks for the feedback.

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Deidra Lovegren
22:28 Feb 04, 2021

Absolutely devastating. I was in tears half way through; I was utterly levelled at the end. This was riveting from the eerie first line: "Nothing looked the same, yet everything was just as he remembered" to the horrifying last gut punch: "He knew he should, but he also knew he wouldn’t." The sheer shame, guilt, and pain of all three Roberts is an endless self-perpetuating tragedy. The abused becomes the abuser. Heartbreakingly well done, Thom.

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Thom Brodkin
22:34 Feb 04, 2021

You know the impact your words have on me. Thank you for taking the time to read it and let me know what you think. I appreciate more than you can know. I know Reedsy is a community of writers so in a way this is our story. You have always helped me to become better and this story is no exception. Thanks again.

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Zilla Babbitt
01:32 Feb 05, 2021

Thom! Just saw this and also all the comments are so complimentary. I'll have to get to this Saturday but I'm SURE it's absolutely fantastic. I've missed you!

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Thom Brodkin
02:01 Feb 05, 2021

Hey there!! I can’t wait. 😀

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Jonathan Blaauw
08:46 Feb 06, 2021

Wow, Thom, this is incredible! There's so much here and you've made it all leap off the page a whack the reader right in the face! This is what good writing is all about! Excellent, excellent work. It got me thinking a lot about resentment and forgiveness. The feeling was almost similar to The Shack in initial direction if not climatic conclusion. Also a lot of poignant insight into the mentality of victims of childhood abuse, you did that really well. Some interesting things I picked up on. The names of father, grown son, and his son are ...

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Thom Brodkin
17:14 Feb 06, 2021

Jonathan, once again I look to you for heartfelt feedback and you never disappoint. From my first story you read until this one you have always taken the time to really delve into the emotions of my stories and the emotions they drive. It’s different feedback from a lot of the technical stuff I get from others but it’s heart means more than I can say. I did want you to know that in this story the unfortunate cycle continues as Rob has become an abuser of Robbie. I specifically gave them the same name to enhance the repetitive pattern. I also...

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Zae Johnson
02:50 Apr 09, 2021

Jonathan, I don't think anyone could've written this any better than you did. You took all my thoughts and put what I couldn't into words. Everything you said was so true. Your comment snatched my attention, just like this amazing story.

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Claire Lewis
21:41 Mar 17, 2021

Thom, here you are saying you aren’t a poet but you go and write something like this?! I’ve been bamboozled. It’s lyrical, tragic, and shocking all in one. You said you’re a big softie and you tear up easily, which I think comes through in all of your stories. I’m not that way at all. It takes a LOT to move me. Seriously, the only thing that will consistently get me teary-eyed is the scene where Mufasa dies in the Lion King. (It’s the music. I can’t handle it) This story, though. This one moved me. I had to take a moment before commenting...

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Thom Brodkin
22:45 Mar 17, 2021

This one was hard to write. It’s what made it one of my favorites. Your kind words only reinforce my conviction. Thank you. I am heading over to see yours now.

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Karen Kinley
03:04 Mar 04, 2021

Thom, okay I've read my second story by you and I'm even MORE impressed! This is just the kind of story I love! I was invested right from the start. You fill in details and unfold backstories like you're dropping breadcrumbs. Your narrative is so "full" -- for lack of a better term! I loved that you used "he" and "him" in italics. It had a powerful impact, showing how raw Rob's feelings were. Amazing line: "Some memories have a way of constricting the heart far more than any necktie, and loosening their grip is far more complicated." I re...

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Thom Brodkin
03:41 Mar 04, 2021

This means the world to me. Your comment about calling him dad is such a good catch. The speech was supposed to sound rehearsed because I wanted it to sound as if he had said it over and over and over again to himself from the time He was 13. Thank you so much. I intentionally try to find writers I admire to form Reedsy friendships. It helps me to become a better writer and I get to read some fabulous stories. I’ll be back at your page soon. I’ll also probably buy the first copy of your novel when it goes on sale.

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Jane Andrews
12:01 Feb 28, 2021

Hi Thom. Big apologies it's taken me so long to get onto Reedsy and discover you've posted two more stories in my absence. I thought this one was uncomfortable reading - but that's where the power lies. You drop your hints like breadcrumbs for the reader to follow, and even though we can see where it's going, it doesn't lessen the heart-wrenching impact of discovering what Robert's father did to him. You pull your usual 'Thom trick' of telling the story in third person, through a limited viewpoint of the main character, and then dropping i...

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Thom Brodkin
14:07 Mar 01, 2021

Jane!!!!! I miss you when you're gone. I miss your stories, I miss your feedback, I miss our Reedsy friendship. That's a thing, right? :-) Once again your words inspire me. I haven't written as consistently recently but hearing your view of my writing makes me want to write more. Please be here more. I know it's selfish but I can't help it. I enjoy Reedsy more when you are around.

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Jane Andrews
14:49 Mar 01, 2021

Oh, Thom - I wish I could be on Reedsy more. I sometimes want to cry because I have so much teaching to do and so little time to write my own stories or read yours and everyone else’s. It’s always such a treat, though, when I manage to log in and see you have a new story for me to read.

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Jane Andrews
18:17 Mar 01, 2021

PS I also got around to posting a story of my own this week, Thom, if you want to take a look.

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🄼🄹 🅂
09:20 Feb 15, 2021

First of all, hi! Long time no see. You commented on my first story, "Secrets Inside The Box" back in August of 2020 and some of my older stories from last year. You probably don't remember, but I definitely do and I've grown so much since that feedback, which I've held super close. Second of all, this story was phenomenal. Did I cry? You'll never know. The content warning at the beginning was very much appreciated. This story moved me so so much and I can not wait to see what else you come up with. You are so creative and spectacular. I'm s...

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Thom Brodkin
15:43 Feb 16, 2021

This could quite possibly be the nicest feedback I've ever received. Truth be told I didn't remember you at first but I just took a quick look back at your stories I had read before and now I remember you well. Your stories are gems and I was impressed back then and still am today. I will, of course, take a look at your new story. I'm pretty sure I'm going to love it. I will do my best to look at it this afternoon. Thanks again. Your comment makes me want to write even more. :-)

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🄼🄹 🅂
00:42 Feb 17, 2021

Thank you so much! Can't wait for more of your stories :)

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Thom Brodkin
00:44 Feb 17, 2021

I posted one today. If you have a moment let me know what you think.

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🄼🄹 🅂
00:46 Feb 17, 2021

Oooh, I'll check it out right now!

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07:27 Feb 10, 2021

Quite enjoyed this. I've mentioned to another author, that it is not often I read; it's rather difficult to read work that does not grab me within the first sentence, however, your story was easy to read. It flowed. It kept me wanting to understand more. Thank you

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Thom Brodkin
19:04 Feb 10, 2021

The fact that you took the time to read and comment considering you don't normally makes me that much more grateful. Thanks for the time and feedback. You are the best!!!

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Anna Mosqueda
19:42 Feb 09, 2021

I'm honestly lost for words at this point. You blew me away at the end of the story and if I wasn't sitting in class right now, I would probably have a few tears running down my cheeks. Amazing job. The way you described Rob, in the beginning, was so well done that the ending of the story was the last thing that I expected. You took that element of surprise and handled it SOOOO WELL! Thank you, I'm so thankful for writers like you. KEEP WRITING

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Thom Brodkin
19:57 Feb 09, 2021

By far the best part about Reedsy is being able to connect with people, writers, who you can read and have them read you. It's a circle of friends who help each other get better, become better writers. You are part of that circle. I'm glad I get to read your writings and that you get to read mine. Thank you so much for your kind feedback.

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Anna Mosqueda
23:01 Feb 09, 2021

Yes! That's why I'm so glad that I found it:) You're welcome and thank you too for your kind feedback.

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The Manticore
15:31 Feb 09, 2021

The doc is updated, sir Thom!

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Willow Byrd
16:39 Feb 08, 2021

Oh gosh, this story was just so... powerful. Your words caught me right from the start and pulled me along. It was so well done from start to finish. When Rob kept throwing the letter away but couldn't quite bring himself to let it go, it really felt that. You did such a remarkable job of building Rob's broken character, and of weaving in the past without stating exactly what happened to him. And oh, that ending tugged at my heartstrings. Like Zilla said, try to weave in a bit more description in the beginning, it would really add to this st...

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Thom Brodkin
16:51 Feb 08, 2021

That's about the nicest thing anyone could say. I am starting to really enjoy the circle of Reedsy friends I am forming. I am a better writer because I read better writers like you and hopefully listen to and incorporate your feedback. I definitely need to improve my descriptions. I rely on the reader too much. I have to remember that I am the one who knows the story and I need to give the reader a chance to get lost in it. I will sneak back over to your page from time to time. I love reading your stories.

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Willow Byrd
17:09 Feb 08, 2021

Yes, one of the best things about Reedsy is the feedback you get from other writers. Thanks for sharing such a wonderful story! Rich descriptions are something I'm working on as well. I'll let you know when I publish a new story! Hopefully, that will be sometime soon!

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Julie Ward
15:21 Feb 08, 2021

Heartbreaking. Devastating. Haunting. Wow, Thom. Wow. Wow. Wow. I took the weekend away from my screen and I'm so glad I came back to read in a spot of early morning quiet. I don't think I could have sorted out my thoughts about this story within the madness of a regular day. It's foggy outside this morning, and every word brought that damp lingering cold right into my bones. Funny enough, I was just thinking about the whole idea of "the sins of the father" and how that materializes in a family, what it does to a family and how a family c...

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Thom Brodkin
15:46 Feb 08, 2021

I'm not sure how to articulate this the way I mean it in my head. I of course write mainly for myself. I have stories I want to tell and writing is an effective way to do it but I also write to be read and more specifically to be read by people who's opinion I value and who I admire. You have become one of those people. Thank you for reading and commenting and caring. It means more than you know.

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Julie Ward
21:03 Feb 08, 2021

The feeling is absolutely mutual. You couldn't have put it better!

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Katina Foster
20:42 Feb 07, 2021

Thom, this is superb! The story is well paced and not too spelled out, allowing the reader to put the pieces together. The language though--is truly excellent! There are too many wonderful lines to list them, but I feel like you really upped your game this time--tying the trees & clothing to Rob's physical and emotional responses. And the themes you dive into are both compelling and well executed. You took the most difficult (and unexpected) approach to the ending. The whole thing is heartbreaking and thought provoking--which are the signs ...

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Thom Brodkin
01:18 Feb 08, 2021

Katina!!! I’m so glad you took the time to read this. I wasn’t going to ask because I know you were concentrating on your novel. I can’t say how much your feedback means. This was a tough story to write and even a little scary because it’s so far outside my comfort zone. Feedback like yours makes it worth it. Just by your encouragement you spur me on to be a better more diverse writer. Thank you.

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Kristin Neubauer
21:27 Feb 05, 2021

I finished this story five minutes ago and have just been staring at the screen, trying to absorb it. Chills. Serious chills that are still with me as the minutes tick on. As I read the story, I kept thinking how much I admired you for tackling such a difficult subject, and writing about it so expertly that the horrible events are all implied. And then the first unexpected moment with the gun - that got me. And then, the last line - my God, how awful and impactful. Such an important story that should be read far and wide - like the sto...

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Thom Brodkin
23:41 Feb 05, 2021

I don’t really have words to thank you enough for your feedback. You always say exactly the right thing. The thing that lets me know I was right to write. An update on my friend Jason. He actually went to jail two days ago for 45 days. After that he is heading to a 90 in patient rehab. I should be sad he’s going to jail but I’m actually thrilled it’s 45 days extra sober. His story is finished yet and I have no idea what the ending is. I also enjoyed your memory of the barn. It, like so many places from our youths, never stay the same and...

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Kristin Neubauer
23:59 Feb 05, 2021

I hope Jason finds some relief - and, dare I hope, something or someone who can redirect his path. That trauma devastate so many lives. I have to do my clinical internship for 8 months in 2022 and I’m currently researching option for doing that internship with veterans. You’re a wonderful Reedsy friend - I learn so much from you - about writing and life.

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19:04 Feb 05, 2021

This was a tough one to read, Thom, but you've done a brilliant job with it. My favorite line was "There was nothing he could do about the narrowness of the path, but he could loosen his tie." I know it's not particularly relevant to the story, but I just really like that turn of phrase. I was a little confused by the letter arriving from the penitentiary - was Robert Sr. released? If so, you could do with a line about that, something about how Robert Jr. can't believe they let him out. Anyway, great job with a haunting story.

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Thom Brodkin
03:22 Feb 06, 2021

Thanks for your kind words. I added a few words to make it more clear he was being released. I sometimes have blind spots in my own writing because I know the story. This was a hard one to write. Kind of far afield from my usual stories. I’m glad it seems to be impacting people.

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Kaylee Tinsley
14:42 May 26, 2021

Hello! I realize that I am late in reading this story, but I just wanted to say... wow! This story was heartbreaking and tragic. Many writers tend to stray away from topics like parental/sexual abuse, depression, etc., because we like "happy" stories with "happily ever after" endings- but that's not what you did at all! You tackled a huge topic and covered it so beautifully. Poignant. Yes, poignant is the right word for this story, particularly that last line. I loved it, you should be very proud.

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Zae Johnson
02:46 Apr 09, 2021

AAaAaaHHhhh, this is amazing. I may not have loved the last two lines but this was wonderful!! Great job Thom, I look forward to reading the rest of your stories.

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This is the best story I've ever read

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