I started the weekend by calling my father to ask for money. A long time ago he had promised to buy my books for school. He came through for a couple of semesters, but really didn’t take a lot of interest in the process. I did everything that I could to hide the inexplicable rage that I felt upon seeing him. One time he confessed that he had been depressed and had considered driving off of the bridge to Hudson so his family (probably not including me) could collect the insurance money. He thought that he would have to make it look like an accident. I had gritted my teeth rather than mention that if his life insurance was at least two years old that he would have made it past the suicide clause, and he could just go ahead. I gritted my teeth and imagined my schoolbooks in my hot hands.
I moved in with my dad at the age of fourteen or so. I had no idea that he was the sort of man who could douse himself in Listerine and put his fist into the bathroom mirror — or that living with him would make me so angry that I would one day close my eyes with my thumbs on his windpipe. That wasn’t the time that he called the cops, or either of the times that he threw me out of the house. He should have learned the first time that I have no qualms calling his bluff. I marched out of our rat hole apartment with a duffel in hand. The time he called the cops I’m sure that they smelled the pot that his wife smoked and blamed it on the surly kid stomping out of the basement.
I was murderous rage as a teen, but I didn’t understand it then. It wasn’t until this last year or two that it all fell into place. Scales. Eyes. Falling. I had my moment of clarity over and over again.
“Dad, I moved into a new apartment, and at the same time I started a new job, but I’m a little behind right now, so I was hoping that you could give me a cash injection.”
“How much are we talking about? Five dollars? A hundred bucks?” he asked. He seemed coy. His words were wry, as though he were playing along with some game.
“Well, you’re about eight hundred to a thousand behind on the books that you said you would buy for me,” I stated. It was really hard to tell my father that he had let me down. For years I had worshiped him from afar: he was that ultra cool dad who played in bands and was always backstage at concerts. From the decomposing streets of Fort Dodge, Iowa he seemed like a minor celebrity, perhaps a minor deity, who twice a year deigned to draw me into his presence to bask in his glory.
I named a number significantly higher than what he “owed” me. It was a worm turning inside of me, burning and boring. I wanted to say nothing, and yet I wanted to calculate fourteen years of child support plus interest. ($16k without interest and $460k with 3% interest compounded monthly through the first 13 years of my life, and $389M if that money would have sat there for 31 years.)
“If you give me that, you will buy my acceptance for the rest of the year,” I spat. Suddenly it was all I could do not to scream into the phone. The world popped out of focus. I saw a blur of my apartment — just single points in focus: the toaster, the sink, the rug on the floor.
“Why can’t you just be straight with me?” he spat. My phone was tiny in my hand.
“I am being straight with you,” crawled out of my mouth. My heart crackled and radiated heat. His red flag flapped lazily in a dry wind. “I am asking you for money because you had promised it to me. If you give me this money then you will buy my affection — or at least tolerance — for the rest of two thousand seven.”
I had thought about the phone call for hours of days, but the words weren’t the ones that had rattled in my skull over and over. We proceeded to argue. My father is practiced. He knows every logical fallacy and argues them with abandon.
“I don’t know if I should give you anything now,” he said.
“What, because I’m giving you attitude?” I countered, pressing the attack. He has consistently let me down. I thrust my point over and over, but he ignored the wounds I left.
“No, it’s that I gave you money twice before and you spent it on other things, and you never apologized,” he stated. O! He thought he had me, and he very nearly did. In the past he had gotten money from my grandparents to pay off money that I owed the University. It was $500 that I was unable to get refunded the first two times I had dropped out of college. He was wrong, of course, for that money had indeed gone to the University. I didn’t argue the point, though, because the only way to best him was to devalue his argument.
“That doesn’t matter. That’s what kids do,” I stated. I hadn’t apologized because I had done nothing wrong. Saying that “kids do that” sort of thing was almost an admission of some sort of guilt, but where my father is concerned I have no guilt. I paid off the university with one hunk of cash, I used another for a down payment on a car, and the last as part of a purchase of a film scanner. Each was exactly as I stated. I even paid back the down payment save the two hundred that he forgave me as a birthday or Christmas present. That “forgiveness” was actually the beginning of the end for him. He had no idea how much he insulted me by doing that, and that was just the problem. I didn’t mind having the money instead of giving it to him, but to not know that I always paid back my debts?
“You’re thirty two and you can’t even take care of yourself,” he said, winding me. I stood gasping. School — school — school was my priority, not the freelance gigs and job offers. I was trying to operate within my limits, with margins: with room to have panic attacks and black fugues. I had a beer open on my desk and another capped on the counter and they both begged me to drink them until I could outrun the freight train packed with horror bearing down on me.
“I am in school full time,” I stated flatly.
“I know people in school who can do it,” he said. There is no arguing with this point. Some people make it through school on their own. I had already tucked my tail between my legs and prostrated myself before him.
I dunno what happened after that. I railed on him and he asked why I was bringing up things from my childhood — so long ago.
When I was a child I didn’t know that I should be angry about my dad being an alcoholic. I didn’t know that he wasn’t paying child support. I didn’t know that he was choosing to drink and party rather than be with his son. I didn’t know that he couldn’t hold down a steady job and that moving in with him would crush every notion I had of his ability to be a father, or that I would occasionally find myself in tears for reasons that were muddy at best.
“Are you even working now?” I asked. I couldn’t see if my blows had been connecting. The funny thing about fighting is that it is easy if you don’t care. If it weren’t my dad I’d jab and feint effortlessly. Jesse Bombaye! Jesse Bombaye! I’d dance in like I was about to kiss him before catching him with a haymaker.
“You know what I’m doing now,” he said. I remembered him saying that his shrew-of-a-wife had taken some sort of job at a warehouse packing shipments of something or other, but as far as I knew he was on long term disability for a genetic joint problem. Thanks for the legacy.
“I don’t know, in fact. It’s been like a year and a half since I’ve had to talk to you,” I said. The words snaked from my shoulder through my fist and passed through the space where he’d just been.
“Fine then, let’s go back to that,” he said. I had dropped my shoulder and he was in place to exploit the hole. The phone clicked as the blow connected. I kissed the canvas.
Pull the plug, Mr. Eastwood.
Wait a minute. I’m not 32 yet. Did my dad call me 32? I’m 31. I’m 31! At my age, my dad was just checking into rehab. I was nine! I’m totally responsible: I don’t have a nine year old! FUCK YOU FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK.