Tag Archives: Father

There Are Too Many

Part I

Reynold stayed the night at his parents’ house because his father has gotten too old, too bent and crooked to cut firewood himself. He does not live with them, not since – and he would say this proudly – he was seventeen. He moved out with a trash bag full of clothes into his very first apartment, Mrs. Stone’s basement six houses down. Now he’s got his own house two towns over that he built himself, too big now without Jenny there anymore.

It’s barely six am when the crows outside his window start their calls. It starts in the background of the dream he’s having – something about a bump under Jenny’s dresses and a look in her eyes he remembers her having – and then his eyes are open and he’s wishing they weren’t. He shuts them again, squeezing tight and pulling back the dream images that have already begun to dull and look away and shut their eyes right back at him. Those damn crows keep calling.

The next sounds he hears, of his father getting ready in the next room, are familiar in sequence but not in pace. The shuffling of feet and the buzz of the electric razor Reynold got him for his birthday years before seem to move forward without decision. Reynold wonders if his father’s replaced the blade since he got it.

The crows call louder, trying to get his attention again, to remind him why he’s got his eyes open instead of closed, enjoying the way Jenny’s belly looked once upon a time all rounded like that, all promising. He moves the curtain to see where they’ve gathered, and the elm tree that was bare just last night is solid black with birds, standing there like replacement soldiers for the leaves.

The sight is scary, but Reynold is not scared. He waits for his father’s descent on the stairs, the click of the deadbolt they added last year when the Bergmans’ came home to a kid with a knife in their bedroom, and the start of his pickup to clear them out. He stares at the birds, waiting for the satisfactory dispersal.

“Hey!” His father stands at the base of the tree, waving his arms above his head, looking smaller than all those birds together above him. Some of them stare down at him as though trying to interpret his dance, but most of them ignore him, their calls drowning out his curses. After a moment, Reynold hears the pickup truck start, watches it drive down the street away from him.

What is Expected

There are certain things to be expected after your father kills himself. It’s normal to cry all through the afternoon and evening of the day your mother calls you with the news. It’s socially acceptable to sit up most nights of the month following trying to articulate to your very understanding boyfriend, who has to work in the morning, how you can hear in your mom’s voice that she’d seen her husband hanging from a rope in their garage. After that first month, it’s part of the passage of time for that same understanding and patient boyfriend to be a little less understanding and patient, and in order to save the relationship and his sanity, you, like most people put in a similar situation, reach out to other friends. (He does not use the phrase “driving me crazy,” but you do, to your friends on the phone in the downstairs bathroom.) You reach out to friends from college and upon rehashing the time between the present and the last you heard from them, you realize just how long it’s been since graduation.

At this point, about two and a half months after your father stepped off the roof of his car and allowed his feet to dangle in the confines of the open sunroof, it’s normal to reassess where your life is currently and where it’s headed. Given your sudden and recent realization of how long it’s been since graduation (it hasn’t been that long, by average standards, but your father’s recent passing has altered your understanding and respect for time) and the shamble-like state of your relationship with your boyfriend and your recently acquired habit of drinking whiskey late at night to fall asleep, no one would blame you for wanting to pack up the essentials, clean out your bank account and drive until you feel like you can begin again.

Your boyfriend, at first devastated, angry and confused (as would be expected after three years of living together), would initially adopt your tradition of late-night whiskey as though he were trying to preserve your ghost. Eventually though, he’d allow the subconscious relief to rise to the surface. It would be admissible, even respectable, that he would begin to date again until there was a woman sleeping on your side of the bed, through the night and whiskey-free.

By this time, one year and three months will have passed since the afternoon of your father’s funeral, after which your mother – with you and the aforementioned boyfriend in tow – pulled her SUV into the garage. Upon realizing that she’d parked her car in the same garage she’d considered setting on fire hours before, she slammed her finger on the door’s remote in a frantic repetition, forgetting that each application of pressure caused the door to begin its painstaking journey opposite the direction it was already going. The door, accompanied by its lethargic motorized sound, rose and fell by inches, back and forth until the boyfriend – usually not prone to sudden movements or heroic antics – snatched the clicker from your mother’s hands and commanded the door to finally open and release you.

At this juncture, no one would think you abnormal, even without your father’s suicide as a factor, to feel that you made an impulsive and ill-advised move from home and familiarity, opting instead for something even more jarring and disorienting. It is the thing of parables for you to reconsider, to repack your things, return home.

Leaving Elias’ House (2)

This is an extension of last week’s 500-ish words: Leaving Elias’ House.

“Mom, you ready to go?” She had moved on to thinking about how it had felt to kiss Elias when Daniel interrupted her. “Everything’s all packed.”

Maynard’s grandmother opened her eyes to two men who were unmistakably related to one another and to her late husband. She thought about those science book illustrations from grade school that showed the evolution of man, starting from a tadpole up through a monkey until the guy at the end is wearing a suit, as though the evolution of man ended on Wall Street.

“We were thinking of grabbing some food on our way there. You hungry?” Maynard asked.

She smiled at her grandson, “You’re a sweet boy,” she said.

“Thanks, grandma,” Maynard said. He looked worried the way all the men in her family eventually did.

“You hungry or not, Ma?” Daniel said.

“You’re not as sweet as Maynard,” she said and stood up. “And yes, I’m starved.”

Maynard climbed into the middle of the truck.

“No fast food,” his grandma said as she climbed in after him, sounding as though she were in the middle of a disagreement. “We’re going to sit down to a meal like a goddamned family.”

“We’re going to Goldens,” Daniel said.

The ride was silent.

Maynard thought about riding home with his father after dropping his grandma off at the home. He felt nervous the way he did before a date that he didn’t expect to go well, a mix of dread and inferiority.

Maynard’s father thought about the shelf in the truckbed. He wondered if he should have tied it down himself instead of getting Maynard to do it. He thought about having to go back to the empty house and clean. He stopped thinking about it when it felt like it might make him cry.
Maynard’s grandma thought about the night Daniel had found her flipping through old photos in the basement and crying.

“You can’t dig up old times,” he’d said. “It’ll only make you sad.”

He hadn’t meant it to be mean or tough, he had meant it out of genuine concern for an old woman whom he didn’t expect to live much longer. An old woman he thought should have happy days to tie up her life.

“You never look at them,” she’d said to him. “Your whole life you gather up pictures, but you don’t really look at them again. Not while you can still enjoy them anyway.”

She’d stopped talking, knowing she couldn’t tell him anything, he didn’t hear anything he hadn’t already said. She’d wanted him to leave, to go back upstairs and worry about her where she could cry in peace. Where she could talk to Elias out loud without feeling like a crazy person.

Daniel parked the truck near a window so he could watch the stuff while they ate. There wasn’t much of anything anybody’d want, but it made him
feel better to have something to do during dinner. Something to look at other than his mother off in the space she’d been occupying more than the present tense lately and his son’s face that was always asking him to knock sense into it.

They emptied out of the truck. Daniel noticed how Maynard didn’t lock the door behind him, confirming again something he already knew about his son. Daniel lagged behind, making a show of reopening the passenger side door, locking it, slamming it shut, then pulling on the handle to demonstrate the purpose of locking it. Maynard held the door open for his grandmother and her son.

“Thank you,” she said as though to a stranger.

The smell of the place reminded her of Elias: the butter from the corn, the salt from the fried chicken, the mayo from the coleslaw, all mixed in with the coffee and the ice cream machine that made you feel like you were inside a refrigerator. It actually smelled cold.

Leaving Elias’ House

His dad stood on the back of the pickup. His sleeves rolled up, his hair matted with sweat, Maynard thought, “This is how I’ll always remember him.” Of course that wasn’t true, the way many things we think aren’t true for long, if they ever were. Maynard will remember his father the way he will look at 63, lying in a hospital bed looking thinner than he had since he’d graduated college. Maynard will see that man in that hospital bed in his own face when the skin begins to sag and gather around the edges of things like a bed slept in. But the day they moved grandma out of her and Pawpaw’s house, he saw his dad standing on the back of PawPaw’s red Ford and thought he looked completed, as though every moment in his dad’s life had been forming the man he was right then and the years to come would only erode and chip at his surface.

Grandma sat on her porch while they moved her things out of the house. She seemed to be remembering each brick that outlined the edge of the porch as though she’d lain them herself. She was moving to the Ever Glades Maturity Center, an awful, ridiculous name, but the nicest they could afford. The Center’s porch–she’d noted–looked like it’d been constructed out of thick plastic meant for the siding of a house or a playground for accident prone kids. She’d have to share the space with God knows how many others. It’d be a main attraction, a thing to do rather than the rest stop between her garden and her home. Maynard banged out of the side door with her bedside table, using the feet of the thing to force the screen door open. She moved from the bench to the concrete floor of the porch. The burn of the hot concrete through her cotton dress–she’d begun wearing big, shapeless cotton dresses after Elias died–reminded her of sitting by the pool as a kid, her mother’s voice from inside the house asking what flavor of popsicle everyone wanted. She reached her hand over the edge of the porch as if to touch the water, closed her eyes and felt the sun on her skin, focusing on the bead of sweat making its way down her back.

“What’s grandma doing?” Maynard asked his father. They leaned against the truck like some black and white photo.

Maynard’s father used his sleeve to catch the sweat before it reached his eyes. “What do you mean? She’s just sitting there.”

“Yeah, but I mean, what’s she doing with her hand?” Maynard knew he should let it drop, but he felt like he and his dad were on even planes right then, doing the same amount of work, both watching the end of something they had thought would always exist.

“Well, she sure ain’t bringing that old dining table out to the side of the street, so maybe we should get on it.”

Maynard nodded, kept himself from saying, “Yes, sir.”

They didn’t say much the rest of the afternoon, even when Maynard broke a vase and cut his finger. He stuck the finger in his mouth and tore a piece of his shirt off to tie around it when the bleeding didn’t stop. All the bathroom stuff had already been packed and moved out. The house had been rented out, and they had asked if some of the old furniture could be left in the house for their use. They were recent college grads who couldn’t afford things like the island in the kitchen or queen-sized bed in the master bedroom. Maynard’s father was hesitant to rent the house that he grew up in to kids not much younger than his son, who he didn’t seem to trust, but Maynard had convinced him it’d be cheaper to store the old furniture in the house rather than in a storage unit. Throwing it away hadn’t been an option.

They sidestepped the old woman, still pretending to run her hands through the cold blue water. Her upper lip was beaded with sweat and her hairline clung to her skin, but she didn’t seem to notice. Maynard set his glass of water next to her, just in case. After he walked away, she stuck her fingers in it and ran them over her face.

I’m working on a lot of things right now, specifically a collection of stories, so if something feels unfinished, it probably is. Don’t judge me. See you next week!

Picked Him Up at Three

She stood next to her father, thinking about the more than just two foot height gap between them. She fingered her pulse. My blood, she thought, is the same as his. When she was younger she thought of any relation she had to her father as an infection, an unavoidable and fatal flaw she’d tried to hide. Now he was out of prison, standing next to her with the same curly, straw-colored hair and lip-biting habit.

“How you feeling?” she asked him, trying to ignore the stink on his clothes from the government-issued soap. He smelled like a hospital, sanitized but still not clean.

“So far so good,” he said. The alarm on her watch beeped, telling her she was late to pick her dad up. She’d been so afraid she’d forget that she set three alarms at home. She forgot she’d set the watch alarm. She banged her stumpy fingers that looked like his against the buttons she wasn’t sure how to work, afraid the high pitched sound would never stop. The bus pulled up as she silenced the incessant beep. She led her father onto the bus, putting three dollar bills into the slot for each of their fares. He seemed embarrassed that she had to pay for him, whispered something she assumed was a thank you.

They sat toward the back, next to a young kid. She looked around for his mother, but he appeared to be alone. His headphones were cheap, and she could make out some of the lyrics of the rap song he was listening to.

“Thanks for coming today, Scout,” her father said. She stopped staring at the kid to look at her father. He hadn’t called her that in years and the sound of it felt out of place and forced.

He smiled in his way that looked like he was grimacing. She stared at the bus map overhead, counting the stops to her apartment.

[So this is something I wrote—and tweaked a little—at Creative Copy Challenge, a cool website with writing exercises to get the juices going. I hate that phrase. Too late now.]

Before The Flood – Bob Dylan and The Band

I sang Stage Fright in the living room
Skipped over four to avoid the gloom
Of a beautiful song dressed in death while we were both alive
Casually and comically cast aside.

I Shall Be Released, from the car it dully roared
Engine under stress from the hill endured
Conversation about the life he had led
As we ignored what Dylan said.

The only track we skipped in the car that night
Was a song surreal with forward sight
The morning came much too soon
A dying man in a living room.

Thanks I’ll Eat It Here – Lowell George

Lately I have found myself fixated on death. Not the actual cause or philosophy of grief, but the thoughts before death, the victim’s own self awareness of a death that could otherwise be categorized as sudden and unexpected. Patsy Cline claimed for years she had feelings that she was not going to live past age 30. Cline went as far as to hand write a will on a commercial airline just a short time before her death which coincidentally came in the form of a plane crash in rural Tennessee. Brian Jones went as far as to write his own epitaph before his death at the age of 27 which read “Please Don’t Judge Me Too Harshly”

The reason for these thoughts is the fact that my father, in his last year, had grown more wistful, emotional and responsible. He retired, cleaned out his workspace and displayed his collection of locker 37 memorabilia which he had accumulated over the last 30 years. This collection contained cut outs from the newspaper, pictures of my brother and I throughout various years of awkward adolescence, notes from a younger version of my mother she had ages ago packed lovingly into his lunch. We spent time discussing his music collection and the fact that after he had died I would be left with nothing but good music to remember him by, not the Big Band cassettes my grandfather had left him.

A week before his death my father led my Mother, Brother and myself to a house on a quiet street in Newport. This house was where my father spent a lot of his time until his grandmother passed away around the time he was 6. We stood there quiet in the slim beams of sun while the cold February morning warmed to a barely tolerable temperature. He spoke of the vineyard they kept in the backyard they used to make their own wine and how his Grandmother used to call him “Peaches and Cream Cheeks” due to his rosy young complexion. We waited patiently while he finished a conversation with a mailman we had run into and then made our way back to the car.

At the time I didn’t think much of this journey. My father was just telling a story we had never heard before. After a few months I began thinking more about how he had acted that day. Many animals have an instinct which enables them to be self aware of the harsh fact of death. When Wolves die they leave the pack to die alone. Elephants wander off to graveyards which are designated for the death of their species. It’s tough to know if the actions of my father were due to confusion on how to react to a sudden change in his life and inability to fill time during a retirement, or if somehow he was subconsciously aware of his limited time. A week later, down the street from his grandmother’s house, 3 blocks away from his childhood home, my father passed away. Another seemingly poetic foreshadowing on the end of an otherwise private average life.

Lowell George Died of a heart attack at the age of 34. Hours before, he performed his last song ever, 20 Million Things (to do)

If it’s fix a fence, fender dents
I’ve got lots of experience
Rent gets spent
And all the letters never written don’t get sent
It comes from confusion, all things I left undone
It comes from moment to moment, day to day
Time seems to slip away

But I’ve got twenty million things to do, twenty million things
And all I can do, is think about you
With twenty million things to do

I’ve got mysterious wisteria hanging in the air
The rocking chair I was supposed to fix
Well it came undid
And all the things that I let slip, I found out quick
It comes from moment to moment, day to day
Time seems to slip away

But I’ve got twenty million things to do, twenty million things
And all I can do, is think about you
With twenty million things to do

And all I can do, is think about you
With twenty million things to do