Monday, June 18, 2007

a watch, a dream, and a man

1. It was 112 degrees today. It was too hot to wear a watch.

2. Another dream. Though my conscious self reflects on S evermore infrequently, apparently my subconscious yet wrestles with the task of stuffing her into my mind's "For Reference Only" file. Here we are:

I found myself seated in the back of a nondescript minivan. I glanced to my right and noted my daughter relaxing in her booster-seat. In front of us, an enormous man sat in the driver's seat. He was equal parts obese and brute-huge. His hair was shaved to the scalp, and his neck made an ungainly, fleshy transition from head to shoulders. Seated adjacent to him was an unattractive woman, chubby in her own right. Unkempt, dirty blonde hair framed eyes recessed after long years of smoking.

They were... hardscrabble. I knew them. I knew them as the only people in the world I could count on. With my daughter in the back seat, we four together were my family. It resonated through me, this realization, though it was oddly tainted. I felt unsafe.

The van came to a stop in the gravel parking lot of a convenience store. The man pushed his door open with a grunt and half pulled, half launched himself free of the driver's seat. At the departure of his significant weight, the minivan undulated and quickly resettled. The woman stared straight ahead, her face empty of expression.

I turned to see my daughter similarly apathetic. I noticed a breath mint on the edge of her seat. I casually took it and opened it's individual wrapping. I popped the mint into my mouth and bit into it, breaking it into half to expose the sweet center.

At the very instant I'd chewed it, the giant, flabby man reappeared. He sat down, angrily, and said, "Who did it?" The woman to his right -- I then realized she was his wife -- was completely unaffected by her husband's question and continued staring ahead.

My heart skipped a beat, and I turned to look at Madison. She, too, was oblivious.

Both of them had heard him, I was sure, but neither cared.

After a moment of silence had passed, the man turned his glare towards the back seat. Only he couldn't -- the girth of his neck wouldn't permit it. Turning as far as he could, his vision only reached the woman in the passenger seat. But I knew he was directing his interrogation to me and my daughter.

He repeated himself. Only, this time, his deep voice became threatening. "Alright, who the fuck did it?"

Again, neither the woman nor my daughter reacted. Another moment passed, and at its empty conclusion he flung his door open and propelled himself outside.

I turned my attention again, this time towards the woman in front. Fear instantly blossomed inside me; a blind panic erupted. Just as I was about to ask the woman what in the fuck was going on, my door flung open and a meaty fist grabbed my left shoulder, bunching my shirt. I was violently yanked from my seat.

I tried to gather my footing, but just as I put my right foot down, I was swung around and slammed into the side of the van. His other hand was now occupied with my right shoulder, and he pinned me against the thin sheet metal.

In a flash, he loosed the grip of his right hand, brought it back, and unleashed it, slamming against my face. I felt my nose break and my blood paint his knuckles. I knew that no skill or confidence or speed would help me; he outweighed my by two hundred pounds. I was going to be killed.

The man again grabbed at my shirt and spun me around, intending to slam my face into the still-open door. I managed to push out with my arms and brace myself in the frame. The woman inside, amazingly, still sat emotionless, staring emptily ahead. I screamed, "How can you let my baby see her Daddy....."

Something inside me took root. The unfinished sentence didn't hang in my mouth or my mind; it was discarded. It's beginning was never uttered. Erased. It never happened. A force I never knew existed suddenly blossomed inside me, spreading through my chest and limbs, setting me afire. I pushed against the frame, sending the man back a step, his concrete footing momentarily lost.

I spun around, freeing my shirt of his grip. An opening. I swung, hard, and met his face. His fleshy pink cheek compressed and spread and didn't resist, and my fist pounded against his cheekbone. He staggered.

I took him by the shoulders and threw him into the side of the van -- the same spot against which he'd spun me just seconds before. He didn't get his hands up in time, and his forehead took the brunt of the impact. I did not waste the opportunity -- I reset my grip and pushed him, pulled him, pushed him, pulled him, his forehead slamming over and over again on the same spot. I turned him around; he was in danger of passing out. I reversed the action and flung him in the same fashion a dozen times, never taking my eyes off the small bloody hole that had sprouted on his forehead. A mirror image quickly appeared on the back of his head. Two perfect holes on opposite sides, as though an arrow had pierced him.

He buckled at the knees and his weight brought him crashing to the ground, breaking free of my grip. He landed on his face in the gravel, unconscious.

I raced back to the minivan's door. Looking inside, I found a length of cheap yellow nylon rope, its ends frayed. As soon as I'd grabbed it, the woman in front opened her door and ran away. Silently. Not a word.

I returned to the man to find him regaining consciousness. He moaned and his arms stirred, though meekly. I planted my knee on the small of his back, and like a policeman would, I wrenched his wrists together and began tying them. As I was making the action, I glanced over to the open door again, and I spotted my daughter. She was still staring forward, but this time, she was crying. Silently crying.


... I think the man is S. Out of nowhere, she hurt me, deeply. And she hurt my daughter, too. But I have no clear idea on who the woman is. Of course, I haven't fought back, really... I didn't end the misery, it ended on me. Is my mind trying to tell me that I need to do something before I'll be at peace? That I need to fight? *shrug*

3. Fathers' Day has passed. It was my first Fathers' Day without a father. Though I still have him, he is gone.

My father died August 21st last year. On my mom's birthday. He was 61 years old. The day before, he was fine. Fit as a fiddle, as he might have said. The next -- he was gone.

He died ignominously. Which is the greatest crime. Because, if anyone on this planet has ever had dignity, it was my father. He was stoic. He was strong. He was a hero.

At his passing, he and my mother had been married for 35 years. In that span of nearly four decades, they had never spent a single day apart. Not one.

He worked all his life. He worked hard all his life. The day after he died, union reps came over and revealed that, at his passing, he had an entire year of unused sick time. This after having worked only every-other-day for the previous six months; he was tired of the grind, finally, and his retirement day was just over a month away.

My father was a Correctional Officer. He worked "the toughest beat in the state." For twenty seven years. In the worst two prisons California has to offer. To get there, the bad guys have to be even badder at other prisons. And every morning before you and I and most everyone else has even woken, he pulled on his uniform, strapped on his boots, filled his Thermos full of coffee, stowed a pack of Camel non-filters in his pocket, fired-up his old Chevy pickup and drove to Hell On Earth In A Metal Box In Which The Most Horrible People Ever Unleashed On This Earth Live And Fight And Kill.

Before he became a CO, he was a deputy sheriff for half a dozen years. Before that, he was a member of the world's finest Navy.

I remember as a child sitting at the dinner table and wondering what had happened to earn my dad those scabs on his hands and arms and face. He never said anything bad about "work." Never once a horror story. Always had an innocent diversion to explain the injuries.

Sometimes, Dad would get dark and angry and distant. When it happened, he'd just retreat to the garage, where he had his Smoking Chair. He'd grab his rancher's coat and his smokes and a novel and he'd sit out there in the freezing goddamned cold and deal with the demons all by himself. And then he'd come back -- on his own time -- and everything would be right again.

My father was a hero. The unheralded kind that weepy pop songs and melodramatic Lifetime movies are made of.

He taught me discipline. Self-respect. Courtesy. Dignity. Honor. Courage. Fortitude. Stamina. How to change the water pump on an old Blazer. How to raise a barn. How to lay carpet and strip paint. How to rewire a lamp. How to glue together the impossibly small pieces of model airplanes. How to curse like a sailor. How to pay attention to the small things, especially when it came to women. How to fuck up and take responsibility for it. How to fish. How to laugh, and how to get really pissed off. How to think very, very critically. Especially about religion. And politics. How to pull-off the King's Minion in chess.

He was a man. When I'd try to describe him to friends before he passed, I always imagined some sort of cross between Sam Elliot and Clint Eastwood. I picture him now: he was tall. He had a five o'clock shadow. His hands were huge, and wise. He was squinting.

I recall that maybe a month after he'd died, I was driving my old Suburban in Maryland, and I was killing myself trying to solve the puzzle of that damned truck's habit of throwing serpentine belts. I mindlessly grabbed my cell phone as the thought entered my head, "I know, I'll call Dad. If anyone'll know, it'll be him." I returned the cell phone to its cupholder-home slowly, deliberately. "He's gone."

As I was struggling through the throes of adolescent idiocy, namely, shortly before and after I joined the Navy, I thought that the last person I wanted to be like was my Dad. Kinda works that way, I think, for a lot of us. Turns out, though, he's exactly the kind of guy I want to be. It just took time...

I remember how much I hated -- hated -- hearing his tired Okie aphorisms when I was younger. "Don't make a mountain out of a mole hill." "You'll catch more flies with sugar than with vinegar." "It's the small things that'll kill 'ya." Countless, countless others. And I find myself saying them now. And it makes me smile.

My mom recently sent me an email thanking me for "taking care of business" so others don't have to. She said that Dad would be proud.

I know that he is -- I know it. I wish she hadn't said it, though. I have a long way to go before I can fill Dad's shoes. He took care of business 'til his last breath. I'm proud of him, and even prouder to be his son.

Rest in peace, old man.


inowpronounceyou said...

Dude, you need to try Ambien. It will knock you out all night and there will be NO fucked up dreams.

I kid, yo. Cuz that's what I do.

startingtoday said...

"Is my mind trying to tell me that I need to do something before I'll be at peace? That I need to fight? *shrug*"

Maybe. But it sounds like you're still in the ring. Step out of the boxing ring. See what it looks like from the outside? Maybe there's nothing left to fight.

Carrie M said...

i'm just discovering your blog...what a beautiful post about your father. i'm so sorry for the loss, but like you said, he's WITH you. it's not the same, but...

my point in commenting though is that this is really an amazing post. cheers.

jess said...

I just read this, because I've been remiss about blog reading because of work. I loved learning about your dad. I am sorry about the dreams, but I have faith it will all make sense in the end because of your courage in struggling with all of it.