Heroes and Civilians
Dad was an alcoholic. Or maybe he still is, I’m not sure. When he left on the 8th of April two years ago to buy milk and eggs my naïve mother didn’t know—how bad it was. We all knew he loved a drink. A stiff one at that. He took his vodka straight no coke, no water, no juice sometimes not even on ice. He said he liked the hot burning sensation that seared into heart. No one knew it was bad. At night, about two or three in the morning he’d fix himself a drink or maybe two –big ones—in the mega size cups he used to drink his soda out of while watching the Superbowel.
Once when I was seven I climbed down the stairs and into his office. I couldn’t sleep and I knew he’d be up. Dad use to work late into the night. “A good lawyer sleeps after the case” he always sad. Only, he wasn’t a lawyer anymore. Well, not a practicing one but a professor at the university in down town West Oaklin. I remember the tired look on his face that late night. He hair was mess, the middle standing up due his habit of brushing it forward when he was stressed. I told him, while clutching my Spiderman doll, that I had a bad dream.
“What happened,” he replied as he got up make us a drink. A shot of vodka in to a wine glass for him, cranberry juice with a drizzle of vodka for me.
“Don’t tell your mother,” he said when he handed me the glass, “I don’t want her to kill me. Not until I get this grading done, anyways.”
“Evil Batman nearly killed Spiderman, Dad!” I said.
“Yeah. He’s not the real Batman just a bad guy who’s pretending to be Batman.”
“So, where’s the real Batman,” he asked. “You have to go and find the real Batman before it’s too late for Spiderman.”
He took me into lap on the leather sofa. His breath was heavy with booze, his eyes red from a lack of sleep. He still had on his dress shirt but managed to have time to put on his pajama pants. It was normal for him to that. He smoothed my hair back as I stared into my dark red glass of spiked cranberry juice. He lazily consumed his drink before saying to me, “Even heroes need heroes, Barry. You can rescue the real Batman or help Spiderman. It’s your dream. Be the hero.”
I didn’t know it then, that those words and all the other ones like them were just to get me away. In that case, back to my room, in my bed dreaming so he could fill his wine glass to the amount he really wanted—at the rim, with precious liquor nearly spilling over the side.
When three hours went by and Dad hadn’t returned home Mom made the first phone call to her friend Andrea who daughter worked at the supermarket on Luxington Street. It was a long conversation, mostly about nothing and then before Mom finally hanged up she said, “If your Charlie sees Joe tell her to tell him ‘there’s not need to milk the cow, just grab the carton of milk of already there.’” By the time the sun settled over our neighbor’s roof Mom called Dad’s phone at least twenty times leaving every message with a different tone of voice. First she was concerned but masked it with jokes, “No, seriously Joe you don’t need to lay the eggs yourself.” They progressively became more frantic, “Joe I don’t understand how you can be gone this long,” “Why won’t you answer my damn calls.” “Pick up the phone!” It wasn’t until well into the night, 10pm, Mom was going to give him yet another fifteen minutes to walk through the door and explain himself, when the phone rang. For some reason neither one of us ran to pick it up. I think we were both afraid of the message that could be on the other end. We let it go to voicemail. It was Dad. He was fine.
“I just got your messages and I’m sorry I didn’t let you know sooner…. I’m not coming home. You see, um, I don’t want to. It’s got nothing to do with you. It’s just…well I’m not sure what it is but I know I can’t go home.”
I left for the solitude of my room. My mom, drained of all emotions, remained fixated on the dark grey phone. She sat on the living room sofa for hours, stupefied. Finally at around 6:30 am I could no longer stand walking past her statue-self.
“Mom, don’t you have tennis with Mrs. Hartkins today? You usually have practice with her on Thursdays. Today’s Thursday.”
“Your father as a horrible sense of humor,” she whispered.
“You should think about your match with Mrs. Hartkins. Didn’t you say you lost the last three matches to her?”
I knew I wasn’t getting through to her. That’s just how Mom is—a friendly naïve housewife. At school I thought of her, still waiting for Dad to come home. I guess he hid it from her well or she just played fool to it. When I came home I found her in the kitchen cooking Dad’s favorite meal. The smell made me sick but the desperate look on her face was disgusting. I never realized that she was the dependent and childlike. I ate dinner an hour late because she insisted that we wait for Dad. She didn’t eat. This same scenario, making Dad’s favorite meals and waiting for him to arrive played out for eight weeks.
When she Mom final accepted that Dad was not coming home she realized how bad his drink was. He lost his job at the college for drinking on the grounds and with a student. There was a $2,300 bar tab that needed to be paid, the deed to the house was missing, the mortgage was a month behind with five years left, the bank account, which we believed had $1.1 million in total from checking, savings, and investments was actually $780,000 there was $15,00 of credit card debt and college was three years away for me.
On a Saturday, I watched Mom pace the kitchen floor phoning the loose-Godless-hell-bound aunt that lived in the Winston neighborhood I barely knew. She came over in a polka dot dress with a crew cut hairstyle colored purple, a nose ring and her lesbian lover. They went through the house pointing at this, peeling that from the walls and at out of draws.
“Whatever you don’t need…. Sell. Whatever you don’t want…. Sell.” My aunt insisted. “How much is it to maintain this place? You might want to downgrade. How much is the mortgage? How many years do you have left? You might want to sell anyways. It’s a pretty expensive spot you’re in.
“I think the mortgage is $1800 or a little bit more than that.” Mom responded.
“You don’t know? How do you not know?”
Before my loose-Godless-hell-bound, or what my Dad called feminist, aunt could unleash her frustrations at my Mom her lover, Mini, interrupted. She said this could all be worked out. Mini was an accountant and if I dare say a God sent. She balanced the checking and created a budget, insisted that we sell what didn’t mean much to us, if not the house. “Things need to be paid” she said when Mom looked like she was about to protest. Before the two left Mom asked one last question: “Jen, Mini, do you mind showing me how to pay a bill? None of my friends know how.”
I looked at the ground, not wanting to see the shock on two women’s faces, and whispered, “How do you not know?”
To be continued. Remarks welcomed.