So, I had a bad day. Wish I could pin point it, but I can’t. My job gets to me sometimes... I love the people I work with and the company I work for, but my job still annoys the hell outta me sometimes. I get so stressed, so invested. I got bad news today that I wouldn’t be able to go to a concert with one of my friends in NYC because of halloween at work. So of course that pissed me off. The clients were particularly finicky this afternoon and my usually supportive best friend ignored me all day, which you KNOW is gonna piss me off too. WAHHHH....
Anyway... I came home and wined to my roomies who listened, because they are friggin angels.... no, actually, I take that back. I think I bring excitement to their lives. Who needs Grey’s Anatomy when you can relive all of my dramatic moments? Oh boy. Oh well. They love it, I’m pretty sure.
When I’m stressed, I either workout, cook, write, or eat. I already had pumpkin ice cream with Becca and the gym closes at 8, so that really leaves one other option: write. So, I decided to finish a story I started a while back. All writers write from what they know... well, much of what I know is pain and confusion... and trust me, this story did not deviate from those feelings. WHY AM I SO DEPRESSING YOU ASK!? Well, if you’ve met me in person, I’m actually a happy-go-lucky, pretty fun girl! But I’m not retarded. I’ve lived a rather interesting life full of complete and total crazy drama... it’s like a lifetime movie, no joke. ANYWAY... every experience, whether good or bad, has taught me to be more thankful for each moment, because life is short, time is precious, and memories are beautiful reminders of a life LIVED.
anyway... the following short story (wicked short, might I add) is based on an inner battle fought by children of prisoners. It’s a careful articulation of the feelings of shame, guilt, and remorse felt and experienced from the “other side”.
I didn’t stay in contact with him as much as I should have. I’d make excuses about how my life was so busy and I couldn’t possibly find the time to write or visit. But that wasn’t the truth. How long does it take to write a letter? Five or ten minutes? Not even a quarter of an hour to let the man know I was doing okay. I knew how much prisoners coveted letters. Then why? Why did I not take time to reassure him of my happiness?
Was it shame... or fear? Perhaps both.
He wasn’t the only one that suffered at the hand of the .22 that night. Because of his choices, we all suffered. I was the one there holding the family together, when all he did was tear it apart. I held my mother’s hand at my grandmother’s funeral. I walked my sister down the aisle. I taught my little brother how to throw a baseball. It could have been him. It should have been him. At ten-years-old, I became a man. I took his role, not because I wanted to, but because I had to.
How could I forget the torture my siblings and I endured at school? Kids can be so cruel. I’d hear them whisper ‘that’s the crazy man’s son’ as I’d walk by. One little asshole even got the courage to challenge me. “What are you gonna do, kill me like your daddy did?” I laid that fucker out. He never bothered me again. None of em did.
I glance up at him. He’s dressed in the suit he wore to his sentencing twenty years before. It’s gray. Not the dark and sophisticated gray business men appreciate, but a dull pewter hue you’d see peddlers on the street wearing. Regardless of his
archaic attire, he looks good. The puffiness and redness from years of alcohol abuse have long since descended from his cheeks. Forty pounds down with chiseled arms and a salt and pepper beard, he looks like a completely different man. So much so, that if I saw him on the street, I may not recognize him. But today, I know who he is. I know what he is. And regardless of the years I’ve had to work it through my mind, I still don’t know what to make of him.
It’s frustrating. It’s embarrassing. Why am I even here? When I was 8, I got suspended from school for kicking another kid between the legs. He started it. He told me my ninja turtle t-shirt was stupid. Poor kid didn’t stand a chance. One kick and down he went. Of course, the teachers didn’t appreciate my t-shirt either, because I got suspended. And where was my father when I was crying in the principal’s office? I have no idea, because he never came to pick me up. He left me to wallow in misery alone. Other fathers would have turned this situation into a learning opportunity, but not mine. Instead, he just acted like it never happened. I could have followed suit when it came to him, but I didn’t... and in this moment I’m not sure why.
For years, I acted like nothing even happened. I was fatherless, but it was okay. I didn’t talk about him. Much to my mother’s dismay, I didn’t go to therapy to discuss my feelings. It wasn’t real to me. None of it was.
The only photo I had was of him holding me as a baby. I kept it in a shoebox under my bed. When I was 10, it was hidden under soldier figurines and comic books. Years later, it was wedged between Playboy magazines and college acceptance letters. It made it with me to my fraternity house and somehow made it out as well. It was there with me as I worked my way through medical school. As the phases of my life changed, the photo stayed the same. I never replaced it with updated photos he’d send me from cultural days held at the prison or other photos my aunt would forward along. Keeping the other photos would be admitting the truth. The man in that photo was a father. The man he was after that was not.
The judge orders him to stand. It’s finally time... the verdict. After twenty years and two failed parole attempts, the time has come. Parole granted. Five years of his sentence diminished. He’s free. I can feel the color drain from my face. This has to be a joke. I watch as he stands, his lawyer shakes his hand, then he turns toward my direction. I look away. What do I do? I can feel him looking at me as he makes his way across the courtroom. When I finally get the courage to look up, he’s in front of me. Our eyes meet and he smiles softly. The wrinkles around his eyes are deep and defined. Although he lookers harder than ever before, there’s an air of gentleness about him.
“Son,” he says. I hesitate with a response.
“Dad,” I reply in acknowledgement. I examine him carefully. After several long moments of pause, he clears his throat. He’s nervous. He reaches out his hand as if he’s greeting a complete stranger, which doesn’t deviate far from the reality of our current situation.
“Thank you,” he says as he takes my hand. His words cut through me, stinging the taste buds of guilt and shame on my tongue. I am without words. I nod at him and release his hand, then turn to walk away. With each step I take, I can feel the sense of relief ascend from underneath years of built up pain and resentment. As much as I want him to stop me, he lets me go. For the last time, he lets me go and for that I’m grateful.