9. Father Figures

35K 630 16

9. Father Figures
Freshman Year

I arrived home from school, thankful to be off the bus at last. I stalled outside with my fingers on the aluminum doorknob of our trailer. Two voices spoke within. One was Dad’s, and the other familiar but—the heated metal began to singe my skin, so I pulled away. A moment later, I wrenched open the door in one quick motion.

The second voice? David’s. He sat across from Dad. Tall, lean and tan; a natural charm radiated from my friend, something growing more intense the closer one got. A kind of handsomeness that was hard to hate, because it seemed unintentional.

“What’s going on?” I asked the pair, trying to hide the disbelief that rose up within me. I hadn’t expected to see these two together.

“We were just chatting, is all,” Dad said, somewhat defensively.

“Okay…” I murmured, setting my backpack down. Whatever.

“How was your day, Jacob?” David asked.

“Boring. Do you want to go and talk somewhere?”

“Oh, do you want to?” he asked, appearing surprised—as though it was totally normal to be in my home, talking to my dad.

“Well, I didn’t mean to interrupt anything.” I shoved the front door open and backed out. David stood, shrugged at my father as if to say ‘what’s his problem?’ and followed.

“Oh, I see, Jacob,” David ran a hand through the hair that always seemed to be sculpted perfectly. “It’s not like that. But sure, let’s talk.”

“You have a good time with my dad?” I asked once we were outside.

“Yeah, he’s a nice guy. You should talk to him more often.”

“I talk to him plenty,” I answered. “He’s my dad.”

“He’s got an interesting outlook on life, you know?” David said with hands behind his back, serene smile stamped on face.

“Oh yeah? What’s that?”

“Has he showed you the money jar?” David asked, oblivious to how frustrating it was having my friend tell me who my dad was.

“Yeah, I’ve seen the jar.”

“You know what he’s saving for?A trip to Vegas. Isn’t that an interesting way to spend your savings?”

I didn’t answer. David continued:

“I mean, your dad is a proud man. Did you know he grew up in a trailer park? He doesn’t…mind. He accepts this.” David walked across the thick gravel paths of Broadway; I followed.

“Okay, fine, my dad’s a loser. What are you trying to say?”

“I disagree,” David said. This was perhaps even crueler than agreeing with me. Now he was defending Dad from me. “I think he has a kind of bravery. A bold grasp on reality. I don’t know anyone else who is so aware of his place in things.”

“You mean he’s settled for this.” The stones made a chewing noise as we walked across them, like teeth grinding down bone.

“Your words. Your father is comfortable with it, though, so who are we to judge him?”

His son, I thought but didn’t say.

“People get comfortable with who they are,” David said, “and they let that definition control them. Your dad would never think to change his situation, because to him, this is life. There’s nothing else.”

“If I play Eureka, I won’t end up that way,” I said. We crossed the park and now faced David’s trailer. Black bags of garbage surrounded it. Ms. Bloom sat on a plastic chair, smoking a cigarette. David’s mom looked mechanical in an electronic world. Like something from the past century, run by ropes and pulleys, rusted and decrepit. Her arm shook with the effort of cranking the smoldering bit of cancer up to her thin, dry lips.

“I want to show you something,” David said. Words that had changed my life a few times already; how could I refuse?

We approached his mother. Ms. Bloom stared up at us with wide, startled eyes; the same deep brown as David’s. “Hey Mom,” he said.

Ms. Bloom narrowed her enormous eyes suspiciously, then swiveled her head left and right, seemingly relieved to find she was in front of her trailer. Her mouth opened rustily, dark tar of the cigarettes greasing her teeth. “Did the landlord send you?” she asked.

I held my breath and searched David’s face for answers. “He wanted to tell you that you’re beautiful. So beautiful that you never have to pay rent again,” David answered her.

My eyes grew misty; I wiped my face against my sleeve to hide this fact from David.

Ms. Bloom smiled, chipped gears in her brain finding leverage and twisting the contraption around for another revolution, storing this bit of knowledge in a cracked, broken bin from which it would immediately come tumbling out, only to be replaced again, a perpetual motion which wore down the machine.

She stared blankly ahead at her son, unrecognizing, waiting for him to say something else or leave. So we left, with David tugging on my arm to draw me away.

“Alzheimer’s,” he explained as we walked into the forest behind the trailer. “Sometimes she remembers me. Usually not.”

“That’s awful. What do you do about it?” I asked, searching for words to comfort him.

“There’s nothing to be done. If you think about it, it’s kinda like Eureka. I mean, worse, obviously, but—she’s able to put everything in her past behind her and just live instinctually. And that past changes constantly, maybe ten times in a day. So who is she? If she shot someone, could you accuse her of it the next day? She wouldn’t even remember being the person who pulled the trigger. I dunno. Makes me think, Jacob.”

[sic]Read this story for FREE!