01 Feb The Third Parent
My name is Matt and my childhood wasn’t normal. Not by any stretch of the word. Something happened to my family that is almost impossible to understand. But I’m going to try my best to explain those five years. Five years of my life I spent in terror. Five years we all lived in fear. Five years we’ll never get back.
My father, Spence, wasn’t a very strong man, both physically and mentally. He was the type of dad who often let our mother speak for the both of them. Now, he wasn’t a complete pushover, but he often was content to just go with the flow rather than alter it. He worked hard and dedicated his free time to us, his family. He made sure our needs were taken care of, his soft assurances the unseen foundation of our family.
My mother, Megan, was the head of our house. She was outspoken, independent, and extremely loyal to all of us. She loved my father’s quiet ways, and even from a young age I could see the chemistry flowing strong between them.
My little sister, Stephanie, was a year younger than I. She looked up to me and my father always told me it was my responsibility to look after her. We got along as best as we could, and even though I gave her all kinds of brotherly hardship, I did love her.
We lived in a suburban middle class community, a complete stock photo of the American Dream. My father worked a respectable nine to five job while my mother taught yoga classes out of the house. It was a neat life, organized and structured. Everything was discussed, considered, and acted upon as a family. It was a good home to grow up in.
But that was before he showed up.
That was before The Third Parent.
I was sitting at the dinner table, waiting for my father to finish cooking. It was his turn tonight and my stomach roared for his rosemary chicken. My sister, Stephanie, lay on her stomach in the living room coloring. Her golden blond hair fell across her shoulders in waves and she looked up at me, smiling. She extended what she had been working on and I nodded, completely unimpressed.
She sniffed at me and continued her sketch. My mother walked into the kitchen, pulling her hair back from her freshly showered face.
“Everyone gone?” My father asked from the stove.
My mother nodded, “Yes Spence, the house is ours again. It’s so much better teaching yoga in the basement, so much cooler. I’m glad we finished the basement over the winter. My clients are relieved as well. It’s a scorcher out there today.”
“Mom can you sit down so we can eat?” I begged from my spot at the table. My mother turned to me and laughed.
“Matt, the hungriest six year old this side of the Mississippi. Why don’t you ask your dad to hurry up, he’s the one cooking!”
I placed my forehead on the table’s lip, “Daaaaaaaaaaad, I’m going to die.”
Stephanie looked up from her coloring book, “Matt, don’t be crazy.”
“You’re crazy,” I muttered, not looking up.
“Nu-UHHH!” She said, sticking her tongue out at me.
“All right, all right,” My father said, turning from the stove. In his hands he held a steaming platter of chicken.
“Come sit down Steph, the food is ready!” I ordered my sister, the sight of the seasoned meat causing me to salivate.
As she pulled herself up from the floor, my mother taking a place beside me, we all froze as someone knocked on the front door. My mother and father exchanged puzzled looks. My dad placed the food down on the table and told us all to hold on a minute.
Groaning, I watched him walk to the front door. He peeked through the key hole and I saw him visibly tense, his whole body cementing like a statue.
“Spence, who is it?” My mother asked.
My father slowly turned back around to us, all blood draining from his face. His eyes were wide and I saw fear dilate his pupils. He licked his lips and shot Stephanie and I a look.
“Spence!” My mom pressed, her face contorting with concern.
“No…this can’t happen…not again,” I heard my father whisper, staring off into the middle distance.
The door shook as another series of knocks echoed throughout the house.
My mom stood, her voice cracking with contagious fear, “Spence who is it?! What’s going on?”
“I’m so sorry,” My father mumbled, clutching his stomach, his face a pale sheet, “I have to let him in.”
Before any of us could say anything else, my dad turned and opened the door. Dying sunlight blinded me and I squinted to see who our unannounced visitor was.
“Hi! I’m Tommy Taffy! It’s good to see you again Spence!”
I watched as my father slowly backed away from the open door. A man entered our house and shut the door behind him.
My young mind tried to make sense of what I was seeing, but even at that young age, I knew something wasn’t right with this unexpected guest.
He was about six foot and had a shock of golden hair cut tight along his scalp. He wore khaki shorts and a white T-shirt that said “HI!” in red cartoon font.
But that wasn’t what caught my eye. It was his skin…it was completely devoid of pores, a perfectly smooth, creamy texture that looked almost like soft plastic. His face was a pool of gentle pink, his mouth a cheerful cut along his cheeks revealing a white strip of teeth…but they weren’t teeth. It was just a smooth, edgeless row, like he had a mouth guard on. His nose was just a slight rise out of his face, like a doll, void of nostrils.
And his eyes…
His eyes were twin puddles of sparkling blue, shining out at us from his flawless, eerie face. They were wide, like he was in a constant state of surprise, and they shifted around the room to look at us in quick, jarring motion.
His smile widened, and he raised a flawless hand to us at the table, “Hi! I’m Tommy Taffy! It’s good to meet you!”
I noticed he didn’t have any fingernails or skin defects. No wrinkles or bruises, nothing. It was like he was a living, talking, human sized doll.
“Spence,” My mother croaked, recognition blooming in her eyes.
“It’s going to be ok, Megan,” My father said, voice shaking, “Let’s just be polite to our new guest, ok?”
The man, Tommy, cocked his head towards my father, “Hehehehehe.”
My dad took a step back, raising his hands, “I-I mean our new friend!”
The frozen smile never left Tommy’s molded face, “Hehehehehe.” There was no humor in his strange laugh. It sounded like he was clearing his throat or imitating a really bad chuckle. It was too pronounced, each syllable sounding too deliberate.
My father forced a smile onto his face, “I-I meant…” He looked desperately at my mother who offered him no help, her body frozen in absolute fear.
“I meant: Meet your new parent, kids!”
Stephanie, who was standing by our mother, frowned, “He’s not our dad, you are. And why does he look so funny!?”
“Stephanie!” My mother hissed, gripping my sister’s shoulder.
Tommy laughed and walked forward to crouch in front of Stephanie, “It’s not nice to make fun of people who look different is it?”
My sister looked at her feet, blushing.
Tommy tasseled her hair, “It’s ok! Buck up, kiddo! We’re going to get along just fine! I’m going to help your parents raise you! It’s a big job being a mommy and a daddy! Sometimes, mommy and daddy’s need help!”
Tommy turned to my parents, that ever present plastic smile stretching his face, “I helped their mommy and daddy’s raise them! Isn’t that right Spence? Megan?”
Megan pulled Stephanie away as my father nodded nervously.
“T-that’s right kids, he did!”
Tommy smiled and turned to me. I was still sitting at the table, taking the odd scene in. I didn’t understand what was happening, didn’t know who this weird looking man was or what he wanted. What he was saying didn’t make sense, but my parent’s seemed to know him, so I kept my speculations to myself.
“And you must be Matt,” Tommy said, walking over to me.
I didn’t look at him, training my eyes to stare at my empty plate. I suddenly wasn’t hungry anymore. I could feel the strange man beside me, his presence filling my head. I licked my lips and felt my heart begin to race. I didn’t like this intruder. Something about him felt dangerous.
Tommy walked behind me, chuckling, his hands sliding over my slender shoulders, “Oh it looks like we have a shy one. That’s ok. I’ll help him with that,” he said to my parents. His fingers dug into my skin and I winced, but kept my mouth shut.
“Don’t touch him,” My mother hissed, eyes going wide.
Tommy looked up at her, mouth stretched, “Hehehehehe.”
My dad outstretched his hand, alarmed, “Uh, don’t be so rude Megan!”
Tommy continued to stare at my mother who nervously lowered her eyes.
“Are you staying for dinner?” Stephanie suddenly asked, breaking the tense silence.
The eerie doll man let go of my shoulders, one of his hands sliding across my cheek and into my hair, “Oh yes. I’ll be here for quite a while.”
And that was how Tommy Taffy entered our lives. At six years old I didn’t know any better than to seriously question what was happening. Even though my parents acted unsettled at his arrival, their constant assurances that he was a friend pushed away any lingering doubt I had. As the days turned into weeks, I began to grow accustomed to Tommy’s presence in our house. My initial fear slowly receded to wary caution.
I soon learned that Tommy didn’t like company. Whenever my mother had her yoga classes, Tommy would pull her off into a corner and whisper something to her. I would watch all this with silent eyes. I would see my mother’s face grow pale and she would nod, whispering back unknown assurances. Then Tommy would turn, that ever present smile plastered on his face, and walk upstairs until the class was over.
My parents told Stephanie and I that we weren’t to talk about Tommy to our friends. Outside of the house, Tommy wasn’t a part of our lives. I don’t know why, but both my sister and I obeyed.
Another thing I noticed was that Tommy never ate. He would sit at the table with us, but never partook in the meal. Stephanie asked him once if he was ever hungry and Tommy just smiled at her silently and stroked her head.
During the evenings he would gather our family into the living room and give us a short lesson on how to be a good person. My parents never spoke during these talks, just sat next to us, nodding. Tommy told us not to make fun of others, to love our friends and enemies, and always help those in need. He told us that’s why he was here with us. To help my parents raise us. That we could come talk to him if we had a problem at school or didn’t know how to handle certain situations.
It went on like this for a month.
And that’s when my mother lost it.
My father had just arrived home from work and I was sitting at the kitchen table doing my homework. My mother was cooking dinner and Stephanie was practicing her dance for an upcoming school play. She was going to be a ballerina and had three weeks to learn a few simple spins and twirls. She had been diligently practicing over the past few days, but just couldn’t get it right. She was young and her temper was getting the better of her.
That’s when Tommy decided to help her.
He had been sitting on the couch watching her when suddenly he rose and stood behind my sister, placing his hands gently over her shoulders.
“Let me help, sweetie,” He cooed, his voice carrying a cheerful note. My mother spun around from the stove and I saw her visibly tense. She didn’t like Tommy touching us. She gripped the wooden spoon in her hand until her knuckles went white, watching as Tommy crouched and cupped Stephanie’s body with his. He took her hands in his from behind and guided her arms and waist, his cheek pressing gently against my sisters.
“Tommy, let her learn on her own,” My mother said, her voice shaking.
Tommy didn’t even look at her, just kept guiding my sister. I could hear my father coming down the stairs, freshly changed from a day at the office.
Tommy spun my sister and for the first time, she nailed the twirl, her little feet twisting her body in a complete circle. Tommy clapped his hands once and then leaned down and kissed Stephanie on the cheek.
“Don’t DO THAT!” My mother shrieked, dropping the spoon, her face draining of blood. I jumped in my seat at the the table and swallowed hard. I didn’t know why my mom was getting so upset. He was just helping her.
I also knew, deep down, that it was a bad idea to yell at the new member of our family. It was the gut instinct of a child, a gentle warning that rumbled in my head.
Tommy stood, “Hehehehehehe.”
My father was standing at the foot of the stairs now, frozen, unsure what to make of the confrontation.
“Megan, what’s wrong?” He asked.
My mother’s eyes never left Tommy, “Spence, I can’t do this anymore. I can’t keep pretending everything is all right. We know what this monster is. We know what he did to our town all those years ago. I want him out of our house.”
My father’s eyes went wide, panic blooming in his face, “Megan!” he licked his lips, eyes darting back and forth at all of us. “Don’t be rude! Tommy has been a big help!”
My mom grit her teeth, “Stop that. Stop pretending we want him here. I can’t watch this happen. I want him OUT!”
Very slowly, Tommy walked into the kitchen and stood in front of my mother. He looked down at her, his perfect blue eyes shining like crystal moons.
His voice was like frozen silk, “Megan, would you come down into the basement with me? I need to have a few words with you.”
My mother took a step back, “Get away from me. Get away from my family! You’re not welcome here anymore!” She turned desperate eyes to my father, “Spence DO SOMETHING!”
My dad raised his hands in a gesture of helplessness. I could see he was terrified. Stephanie was watching from the living room, her lip quivering, eyes watering. I suddenly wanted to go comfort her but I felt glued to my chair.
“Come on now Megan, just a quick word.”
“Fuck you,” My mother spat. I gasped, heart dropping into my stomach. I had never heard my mother swear before and it scared me stiff.
Suddenly, Tommy grabbed my mother by the back of the neck, the smile never leaving his face, and yanked her to the basement door.
“Spence STOP HIM! HELP ME!” My mother screamed, helplessly trying to remove Tommy’s iron grip from her.
Tommy shot my dad a look that froze him where he stood.
“I-I’m sorry Megan…w-we need to do what he says!” He cried. Stephanie was now openly crying, hands at her sides, tears running down her face. I felt sick as I watched Tommy open the basement door and drag my mother down into the darkness.
The door slammed closed behind them.
It was silent for a few minutes…and then the screams began.
I had never heard my mother scream before…and the sound of it shattered me. My father ran into the kitchen and scooped me up into his arms then snatched up Stephanie in his other one. He marched us upstairs into his bedroom and dumped us on the bed. We sat huddled like that for hours, none of us speaking a word.
My mother continued to scream.
Finally, long after the sun set, we heard the basement door open.
“Mom’s sleeping in the basement tonight!” Tommy called out.
Two years passed. After that night, my mother never resisted or talked back to Tommy again. When she came out of the basement the following morning, I expected to see her covered in bruises and blood. But I could see no visible signs of violence.
I was too young to understand what had happened, why my mother now walked with a limp and would for the rest of her life. She didn’t speak to my father for a month and even then it was just enough to get by. I noticed my father crying a lot during those two years. I didn’t know what was happening to my family, but I kept my mouth shut and obeyed the rules.
Listen to Tommy. Don’t talk about Tommy to others.
Things went calm during those two years. Tommy continued to give us life lessons and be a part of our home. No one but my family knew he was living with us. He was our secret, the dark star that hung above our heads. I learned to smile around Tommy, as did my sister. If he thought we were happy, he seemed more relaxed.
But that night my mother challenged him…that changed something. Every couple months, Tommy would assert his authority over my parents. He would test them, stretch the limits of their patience and nerves.
Most of the time, my father and mother would humbly submit to whatever mind game he played with them. Most of the time he would do or say something to Stephanie or myself. It always made me uncomfortable. Sometimes he would have us sit on his lap while he stroked our hair. Sometimes he’d sing strange songs to my sister about love. Sometimes he would make us take a bath together while he watched.
I always put on a brave face during these times. Stephanie was young still so she wasn’t as bothered as I was. It was uncomfortable and I would look to my parents for guidance. With pale faces they’d nod silently and I continued in whatever activity we were forced into doing.
It was in the early part of 1991 when the next awful thing happened to my family.
Tommy pushed the limits once again.
I rubbed sleep from my eyes and looked at my race car clock on the wall. The glow in the dark hands read two am. I could hear something in the hallway outside my room. It sounded like someone crying.
Where was Tommy?
I checked the dark corners of my room to make sure he wasn’t there, watching me sleep. When I was assured he wasn’t, I pulled the covers away and slipped to the floor. I crept to my door and looked out into the darkness.
I could see a figure sitting on the floor by my sister’s closed door. A person. I squinted in the black and realized it was my father with his hands over his face. He was sobbing, his back against the wall.
“Dad?” I whispered.
My father looked up and immediately shooed me back into my room. I just stood there as my eyes adjusted to the night. My father’s face was a mess of blood and bruises.
“Go back to bed, Matt, please,” he cried.
I took a hesitant step out into the hallway, “Dad what happened to your face? What’s going on? Did Tommy do that?”
My father’s eyes went wide and he shushed me, “No no of course not! Don’t say such things. Tommy is a…he’s here to help us be a better family.”
I walked closer to my dad and froze as I passed my sister’s door. I could hear muffled cries from inside. I could hear fear.
“Dad…” I whispered, pointing to the door, “What’s wrong with Steph?”
My father wiped a trail of blood from his lips, eyes watering, anguish stretching his features, “Come here, Matt.”
I crawled into his outstretched arms as something loud banged against the wall from my sister’s room. I jumped and my father curled me up into his chest. I could feel tears drip onto my head as he fought back misery.
“Tommy’s in there isn’t he?” I said quietly.
My dad sniffled, “Yes son.”
I looked up into his bloody face, “What did you do dad?”
My dad tried to smile, but his face wouldn’t cooperate, “He…he wanted to do something with your sister I didn’t like. I told him no.”
As he spoke I realized I could hear my mother crying from the bedroom.
My dad cupped his hand under my chin, “We can’t say no to Tommy, ok? Remember that.”
My sister screamed from her bedroom, a shrill piercing cry that shook me to my soul. I gripped my father’s arm.
“Why is he here?” I whispered, “Why can’t he just go away?”
My father was silent a moment and then he lowered his mouth to my ear, “Listen to me Matt. This is very important. When you grow up, do not have children. He follows those with children.”
I shifted in my father’s arms as something was dragged across the hardwood floor from the other side of the wall.
My father grit his teeth, more tears spilling, “We don’t know who he is or what he is. He came to our town when we were little boys and girls, just like you and Stephanie. Your mother and I lived two houses down from one another. Tommy infested our street. I don’t know how. He was…everywhere…always. He’d be at my house, but also across the street, and also at your mother’s…all at the same time. I don’t know what he wants, what his purpose is. He just showed up one day. He just showed up and wouldn’t go away. God knows my father tried.”
“Is that how grampa died?” I asked. I had never met my grampa, I just knew he had died years before I was born.
My father nodded, “Yes Matt. Tommy…Tommy had to teach him a lesson. He had to teach the entire street a lesson. After that…after that…”
“Why can’t you just…just kill him,” I whispered, ever so softly.
My dad brought his mouth closer to my ear, his voice barely audible, “We tried. We tried everything. We burned him, shot him, cut him into pieces…but it never worked. He always came back, knocking at our door. And someone had to pay. Someone always had to pay. If we didn’t follow his rules…someone…had…to pay. Tommy was our secret. He was our invisible monster, hidden from the outside world. Deaths were covered up…abuse was brushed under the rug…because we knew…we knew if anyone said a word, Tommy would make it BAD for whoever had to face his punishment.”
I digested all this with the understanding of an eight year old and the only thing I could think to say was, “When is he going away?”
My father kissed the top of my head, “Three more years…”
The bedroom door suddenly opened and my father jumped, tumbling me out of his arms. Tommy stood in the darkness, his face perfectly composed except he was breathing hard. His plastic looking face scared me, his two blue eyes glowing out of the black.
Tommy jabbed a thumb over his shoulder at the now silent bedroom, “She’s going to sleep like a log tonight.”
We had one year left. One more year. I could almost see the desperation in my parents eyes grow every day, begging the calendar to advance. We were almost through the nightmare.
I thought a lot about what my father had told me that horrible night in the hallway. I thought about what he must have gone through as a child. What he must have experienced. I wondered how bad things must have gotten for Tommy to murder my grandfather. I realized now that despite all the awful things Tommy was doing, my father’s submission was keeping us alive. His agonized silence kept Tommy’s wrath at bay.
Looking back…I can’t imagine to mental torture he endured during those five years.
Stephanie didn’t talk much after that night in March. I noticed her charismatic personality decline drastically and suddenly she was an unsmiling, silent child. I don’t think she understood what happened to her and as she grew up, I think her mind slowly began to build a wall, blocking that night out from her mind’s eye.
My mother and father seemed to be extra compliant that last year. They engaged in Tommy’s nighttime lessons with added enthusiasm and my mother desperately made sure Stephanie and I reacted in ways that made Tommy happy.
But I didn’t make it out unscathed.
Tommy was sure to make his mark on our entire family.
I was sitting in my room with the door closed. It was almost dinner time and everyone was downstairs getting ready. I could hear Tommy laughing from the living room.
I looked down at the magazine one of my friends at school had given me. It was a Playboy. We had poured over the pages at school, giggling and ogling over the naked women scattered throughout the magazine. I had never seen anything like it. It was my first exposure to that world. It made my heart race in ways I enjoyed and I felt something weird, but pleasurable stirring inside of me. I had asked my friend if I could borrow the magazine and he had let me.
I adjusted myself on my bed and poured over the nude photos. I couldn’t believe women actually let people take pictures of them like this. I felt something stir in my crotch as I turned another page. My heart was racing and I felt hot, my cheeks flush.
I was on the last page when I heard something from the doorway.
“Whatcha got there, Matt?”
I whipped my head up, jumping, the magazine falling to the floor. Tommy was watching me from the door. I hadn’t even heard him open it.
“N-nothing,” I mumbled, snatching the Playboy up and shoving it under my pillow.
Tommy walked over to me, “Hehehehehehe.”
“I-I didn’t hear you come in,” I mumbled, blushing.
Tommy reached under my pillow and pulled out the magazine, “It’s not nice to lie. I’ve told you that. Why were you lying to me, Matt?”
I swallowed hard, heart thundering against my ribcage, “I-I’m sorry. I was…I’m…” I trailed off miserably as Tommy thumbed through the pages.
He glanced down at me, “Do you like this?”
I knew I couldn’t lie to him again. I nodded, my skin flush, eyes on the floor.
Tommy smiled and sat down next to me on the bed, one hand resting on my thigh, “Do these pictures make you feel…good?”
I didn’t look at him as I nodded again.
Suddenly Tommy slid his hand over my crotch and gave it a gentle squeeze, “Does it make your penis feel good, Matt?”
I jumped, his touch scaring me. He removed his hand and chuckled, his strip of seamless teeth sparkling.
Tommy put the magazine down and cupped his hand under my chin, “Do you know how to masturbate, Matt? Has your father told you how to do that?”
My breath came in short gasps, his hand cool and smooth against my face. I didn’t know what he was talking about, didn’t know what he wanted me to say. I just stared at him with helpless eyes.
Tommy sighed, “It’s probably best he hasn’t. It’s a sensitive discussion I feel like I should have with you, not him. You’re what…ten now?”
I nodded, paralyzed.
Tommy slowly reached down and grasped my crotch again, “Do you want me to show you how to do it?”
I squirmed under his grip, “N-no thank you, Tommy.”
Tommy smiled gently, “It’s ok to be scared. Growing up is scary. You’re going to be such a handsome young man.” He stroked my cheek with his other hand, one now on my cheek, the other still grasping my crotch. “Have you had your first kiss yet?”
“T-Tommy, please…” I cried, feeling tears begin to form in my eyes.
Tommy pushed me back on the bed and I was now staring up at him as he cupped my head in his hand, “You don’t have to be afraid of growing up Tommy. There’s a lot of good things to look forward to. And just think…when you have children, I’ll come help you raise them. It’s going to be…fun.”
“L-let me go,” I whispered, openly crying now, his breath hot on my face.
Tommy suddenly leaned down and kissed me, his lips engulfing mine. I let out a squeal of panic as I felt his tongue slip into my mouth, his grip tightening around my crotch. His mouth tasted of rotting fruit and decaying meat, a rush of filth that invaded my taste buds.
He rolled his lips around mine and then pulled away and whispered, “Not going to get hard for me?”
I just cried, staring up at him with shocked, panicked eyes.
Tommy smiled and whispered in my ear, “That’s ok.”
He suddenly sat up, releasing me, “Come on. Dinner’s ready.”
Shaking, I wiped my face and let him help me off the bed. I wasn’t hungry.
As the days marched closer and closer towards July, my family developed a silent optimistic, a desperate plea to make this all stop. To make it all go away. My mother and father made sure there was no reason for another hard lesson. They bent over backwards for Tommy, begging through clamped teeth that we’d all make it to July without another incident.
Only July 3rd, we woke up to find Tommy Taffy was gone. Five years to the day. We couldn’t believe it. He had simply vanished overnight. We checked the entire house, my mother weeping tears of relieved joy that the nightmare was finally over. Over checking every inch of the house three times over, we met in the living room, embracing one another as a family.
Tommy had moved on.
The sentence was over.
My father called out of work and we went away for two weeks to the beach. During those two weeks, I kept expecting to wake up with Tommy standing over me, that horrific smile on his face. But he didn’t.
It was over.
My parents did their best to rebuild our family, fill in the cracks that had been made during those long years. And I love them dearly for it. But some monsters just can’t be forgotten.
I don’t know what Tommy Taffy was or where he came from. I don’t think I’ll ever know. What was his purpose? Why did he do those awful things to us? I pour over the possible answers until my head splits and I find myself crying, the memories too much to dig up. Some things are just left dead in the past.
But I haven’t forgotten what my father told me in the hallway that awful night outside my sister’s room.
I’m thirty-three now and have remained unmarried and without children. I can’t risk it. I can’t risk that monster coming back into my life. I’ve never understood why my parents chose to have kids. They both had been exposed to Tommy during their childhood…so why have Stephanie and I? Maybe they didn’t believe he’d come back.
But I believe it. And I’m terrified.
Because you see…yesterday my sister gave birth to twins.