I’m not quite sure when it became socially acceptable for a grown man to spend his entire day playing video games, but that was probably around the same time that evolution failed us; or we failed evolution, I don’t know. If you think about it, that moment – was it a moment, or did everything just somehow go wrong over time? I’m not too sure about that one either. But anyway, whatever it was, it sealed our fate as the saddest, most useless generation in history. Then came the Kardshians, the Real Housewives, and Bachelors, and Bachelorettes, and Teen Moms; the Twilights and the Christian Greys; it was the perfect plan, beautifully designed and executed without flaw: mindless entertainment to turn us all into mindless zombies. The idea of a zombie apocalypse became such a major cultural phenomenon in those years, and the greatest irony was that we were already living it.
I always noticed. Even at the tender age of sixteen, I was painfully aware that all was not right with the world, that nothing was really right with the world.
I didn’t have many friends. The kids my age were all sold on the Kardashians; they obsessed over Kylie’s new hair and what Kim wore to the VMA’s last night. They didn’t care that we were destroying the Middle East, spying on our own people, or persecuting the only man who had the courage to shed light on the fact. They had no idea what was even happening.
I saw, and they didn’t, so they were frustrating and I was weird, and we kept our mutual distance. I felt like Belle from Beauty and the Beast. I heard the whispers: “she’s such a pretty girl. It’s a shame that she’s so strange.”
I was the strange, pretty girl.
People told me I was pretty all the time. It wasn’t just Daddy either. His friends, random people on the bus, even some of the boys at school – I heard it all the time, but I didn’t pay much attention to it. It’s not that I didn’t believe them. I didn’t have self-esteem issues or anything. I didn’t mind what I saw when I looked in the mirror. It just never really mattered. Being pretty wasn’t going to cure cancer, or feed the hungry, or save the world.
You ask a little girl what she wants to be when she grows up, and the answers are generally the same: ballerina, singer, actress, model, maybe the occasional doctor or lawyer if her parents have done their jobs right. None of that was ever enough for me. I wanted to be Supergirl, Batgirl, the first woman president, a UN ambassador. I wanted to be somebody who could do something important. It all seemed so glorious to me then, so simple. As if a few words spoken by a naive little girl were going to make any sort of difference in any matter. As if it would take anything less than a bloody, violent revolution to scrape out the century of rot and decay that had shaped the fate of our nation.
But how could I possibly know, at sixteen, that my life would become what it did?
I was a child. I would have never admitted that then. I fancied myself fully-grown and wise beyond my years. In some ways I guess I was; in most, I was a sheltered, naive child.
I lost my mother to cancer right before my third birthday. According to daddy and all the photos and videos, she was beautiful, smart, and kind.
I can’t tell you I miss her. How can you miss something you’ve never had? Many, many times in my life I’ve found myself wishing I had a mother, but I’ve never missed her.
For thirteen years, it was just daddy and me in a big old house in the Hollywood Hills. I never wanted for anything. Daddy made sure I had the best of everything, from clothes, to food, to gadgets, and, of course, school. School was our priority. The only thing he ever asked of me was to excel; to be the best at everything I tried.
And I did.
Going into the eleventh grade, I was number one in my class, captain of my track and soccer teams, and first chair violin in my school’s orchestra. Daddy bought me a Mustang for my sixteenth birthday.
I never took any of this for granted. Daddy made sure of that too. We were very fortunate, he always stressed that. So lucky to have what we had.
But we had to work for it. That was the other thing he was always preaching. No one ever got anywhere without hard work. He never watched much TV, so I assumed he didn’t know about the Kardashians. But I kept my mouth shut and worked hard.
I was going to go to Harvard. Get a law degree. Become an ambassador. Change the world. How was I supposed to know, how could I have possibly guessed what fate had in store for me?
I had no idea what Daddy did for a living. We had money. We always had money. I knew he worked for the government to some extent, that’s all. He never told me the details, and I never really asked. I always just figured that if it had been important, if I’d needed to know, he would’ve told me.
The night the sky turned black and the world exploded, I wished he’d told me. That night I understood, perhaps for the first time in my life, that my father was more than just my father; that he’d had a whole other life outside of the bubble he had built for the two of us, just the two of us. There’d been this other world outside of our home where he’d been this other thing to a bunch of other people.
That realization broke my little sixteen year-old heart. I’d always told him everything; there was no detail of my life that he hadn’t known about. And all along he’d kept this huge, important secret from me, then left me alone to solve the mystery and pick up the pieces. Thanks dad.
That night, we’d been watching the Clippers game. I’d been working on my AP Chemistry homework, half-assing it considerably, because I had been giving a rather long speech about why Blake Griffin was the best player in the NBA. I’d known Daddy hadn’t really been listening. If he had, he would have definitely given me a stern lecture about not paying attention to my homework.
He’d been home when I had gotten home from school that day. I’d just figured he’d been feeling sick, or had a headache or something. I hadn’t asked him about it. Daddy hated showing any weakness, so I never let on that I noticed he wasn’t feeling well. I’d just gone about my afternoon as usual; I had finished most of my homework, gone for a run, then a swim, then we’d had dinner and sat down to watch the game.
As it had gotten darker, he’d started looking at the door. Every few minutes or so, he’d turn away from the TV to look at the front door. I’d tried to keep my attention focused on the game and my homework, but his actions had started making me rather nervous.
Something had happened in the game; the announcers had been excited. The replay had shown Blake Griffin dunking over the entire Spurs team. I’d grown excited. But Daddy had been up and pacing from the big bay window that overlooked our entire front yard to the front door, then back to the window, then the door.
Just as I’d worked up the courage to ask him what was wrong, the loudest sound I have ever heard in my life had erupted; I could not for the life of me have told you where it had come from. I’d thought, initially, that it had been from me, because my very bones had shook within my body. It had felt like every nerve inside of me was vibrating. Then I’d seen it, behind the drapes – the sky had caught fire.
Everything had happened so fast, yet I’d felt like I’d been watching a slow motion movie. I had heard people speak of out-of-body experiences; I’m pretty sure I had one that night. I’d felt like I had stepped out of myself and was watching the life I had so carefully constructed, splinter by splinter, go up in flames. Literally.
The sweet, naive sixteen year-old girl in front of me had been shaking. The noise had been so loud, she’d felt as though she would explode. She had fallen to the floor and had frantically been looking around for her father. Her arms had been wrapped around herself, as if she’d been trying to hold herself together, afraid that if she let go or loosened her grip even a little, she would fall apart.
“Hailey!” I’d heard Daddy call, “go to your room, lock the door, and get under your bed! Don’t come out until I tell you to! Go, now!”
I’d moved. Daddy had given an order. That had trumped my fear. Somehow, to this day I don’t know how, but somehow I had made it to my room. I’d locked the door and gotten under my bed. Like a good little girl, I’d done what my daddy had told me to do. And the sheer comedy of it all? He’d told me to not come out until he said so. He’d known he was never going to say so, never going to tell me anything ever again. Even then, even when shit had fully hit the fan, he couldn’t be honest with me.
I don’t know when they’d taken him. The explosions had persisted into the night and well into the next morning. It had been so loud, I hadn’t even been able to hear the sound of my own teeth chattering. To say that I’d been terrified would be a gross understatement. No words have ever been invented in any language to describe how I’d felt that night. I’d wanted my daddy. More than once, I had contemplated leaving my room to go find him. Surely we should be together. But Daddy had said to stay under my bed, so I’d stayed under my bed, arms around myself, holding myself together.
Sometime into the next morning, the noise had subsided. Still, the only thing I’d been able to hear had been the very loud ringing in my ears.
But where was Daddy? I’d contemplated, once again, leaving the solace of my room to go find him. But he’d said to stay. Stay until he told me to come out. What if I left and he got mad? But what if he was hurt and he needed me?
In the single greatest act of rebellion of my sixteen years, I’d crawled out from under my bed. I had grabbed my teddy bear, Dr. Ted, for moral support on my way under there last night, and I’d kept him close to me as I had turned the knob on my bedroom door and stepped out into the hallway.
Everything had looked the same. How was that even possible? It had felt like the world was ending last night, so how was the house still standing?
“Daddy,” I’d called out softly, tiptoeing toward the living room. “Daddy,” a little louder.
Suddenly, I’d been surrounded. Men with guns, in army uniforms. Maybe they’d come to take Daddy and me somewhere safe. Daddy did work for the government. But they’d been pointing their guns at me and that had made me very nervous.
“Are you Hailey Morgan?” one of them had asked.
I’d opened my mouth to answer him, but no sound had come out. My throat had been swollen shut – out of fear, from all the noise last night, I wasn’t sure.
One of them had grabbed my ponytail, yanked hard, and slammed me against the wall. It was definitely fear.
“Answer the fucking question,” he’d growled into my ear.
He had still been pulling my hair and it had felt like torture on my already-hurting head.
“Where’s my daddy?” I’d managed to cry out.
“Is Charles Morgan your daddy?” one of them had asked.
He’d walked up to the guy that had me pressed up against the wall.
“Scott, let her go.”
Scott had pulled my hair harder. I’d yelped.
“Jesus Christ Scott, she’s just a kid. Let her go.” There had been authority in his voice. Maybe he’s their leader, I’d thought. Scott had let go of my ponytail and stepped away from me.
The leader had knelt down next to me. He’d been quite tall. Kneeling, he had been at eye level with me. “Is Charles Morgan your daddy?” He’d asked again.
I’d nodded. He had handed Dr. Ted to me. I hadn’t realized I’d dropped him.
He’d sighed, as if about to do something he hadn’t wanted to do.
“Take her,” he’d said.
Scott had pressed a wet cloth to my mouth and nose, and I’d started to feel dizzy.
The last thing I remember is someone pulling a hood over my head. Then I’d blacked out.