Chapter 6 – A New Hip for My Man
I got back from my trip to Afghanistan in mid-August of 2019 and made my dad aware of my return.
“How was your trip?” he asked.
“Good,” I said.
I’m not sure he even knew where I went. Or if he did, whatever curiosity he had regarding the matter was satiated by my one-word answer.
“Wanna work tomorrow?”
“You know it,” I said.
“Okay, I got some jobs we can do. I’ll set somethin up.”
“Sounds good, my man.”
And just like that we were back to business.
During this period, my dad’s limp was worse than ever. One of his hips was fucked up and it caused him to drag one leg. I can’t even remember which one it was now. Shows what type of son I am. Anyway, it was so fucked up that he could no longer reach down to put on or take off his shoes without swearing in pain. When going up and down the stairs, he’d put one leg on the next step and then bring the back leg to that same step and repeat the process, saying “Ouch!” every movement he’d make. My mom and sister had suggested getting a hip replacement a while back but he never took to the idea. He was very turned off by the thought of having to go through a recovery period. He didn’t like the idea of not being able to work and not being able to get his miles in the woods every day, so he continued ignoring the problem for as long as possible. Then one day outta the blue the guy says to me…
“I wanna get my hip replaced.”
“Oh yeah?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he said. “I talked to this guy in the woods who had a surgery done on his hip or knee – I can’t remember which – but the guy said to me, ‘Dan, it’s a no brainer. You gotta do it.’ He says it feels like brand new.”
At this point, I don’t think Dad’s attitude towards the recovery period had changed. I just think his ability to mentally process the recovery period as a definite consequence of the surgery had diminished and he was blinded by the prospect of how many more miles he could be out there getting without the pain and without the limp holding him back, suddenly making the idea seem like a godsend.
“Ah, okay. That sounds really nice,” I said. “But you do know that the results wouldn’t be instant, right? You’d hafta do physical therapy and shit like that after the surgery before you can get back out there and get your miles again.”
He said he knew and didn’t mind. I said “okay” and took this information to my mom and sister to run it by them and see what they thought. They reminded me how they’d already suggested the idea in the past and agreed that his condition had now gotten so bad that something definitely needed to be done about it. My mom then expressed the fear she had that if he kept walking five miles every day on this fucked up hip, one day his leg would just detach from his body while he’s getting his miles in the woods and he’d just be laying there by himself for hours, and then all Dad’s siblings and his mom would blame her for being a bad wife for having let him fall apart like that. I thought that that scenario was a bit unrealistic and said so, but also said that I was on board with the plan if the two of them were on board with it. They reassured me that they indeed were on board with said plan. So, not too long after, my mom made a call to the office of the doctor who’d recently performed a hip replacement surgery on my grandmother and set up a date for a consultation in early November which my mom and I attended alongside my dad to ask questions and get all pertinent information that we knew he wasn’t gonna get. That appointment led to a surgery date of December 10th which would be during the second half of our gutter season – a fact that caused my dad great worry – but I assured him I’d make sure that everything would get taken care of during his recovery period.
At the consultation, my dad was given a bunch of brochures regarding the procedure itself, the cost of the procedure, the type of physical therapy he’d have to do afterwards and the prerequisites he’d have to fulfill beforehand – namely a few appointments with different doctors to run a few different tests to get him cleared for the surgery. None of these things really interested my dad all that much – to be honest, they didn’t interest me that much either – and so the responsibility of setting up a physical for my dad and figuring out how we were gonna afford this surgery all fell on my mom who spent days making dozens of phone calls to various doctors and our insurance provider to make sure they’d be covering at least some part of the cost. Since my sister is a nurse and would know the right types of questions to ask and also because she wanted to relieve my mom of some of this undue responsibility that’d been dumped on her for Miles’s new hip, she agreed to go with him for the appointment my mom’d set up with his primary care physician.
During one of his previous accidents that landed him in the hospital – I think it was the fall off the roof while I was in the military – my dad was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation. Now, I ain’t a doctor, but I’m about to get a bit medical with you guys right here for a minute, so bear with me. So, atrial fibrillation – or A-fib as it’s commonly known – is when the two upper chambers (the atria) of the heart beat irregularly and chaotically. They’re out of sync with the two lower chambers of the heart known as the ventricles. This condition is dangerous because it often causes blood clots to form in the upper chambers of the heart which can then be pumped out, get stuck somewhere along the line in the cardiovascular system and block off blood flow to other major organs. Without the delivery of blood – particularly the fresh oxygen carried in the blood that’d been transferred there by tiny sacs in the lungs called alveoli – to the organs on the other side of an artery blocked off by a clot, the tissue of those organs will begin to die. You still followin me here? And so, when this nasty shit happens in one of the arteries that supply blood to your brain, it’s known as a stroke. I guess all this was explained to my family back when my dad was in the hospital. The doctor said to ‘em that people who have A-fib are something like five times more likely to suffer a stroke than a person with a normal heartbeat. He said he highly recommended my dad go on blood thinners to prevent the formation of clots due to his atrial fibrillation in order to minimize his risk for a stroke.
“I don’t wanna go on blood thinners,” is what Dad said when my family tried to explain to him the situation. “I always get little cuts on my hands and I’m afraid of bleeding out.”
This is true. As a window washer, my dad always had little cuts all over his hands. I have ‘em too. But sometimes the cuts my dad got in recent years were more than just little ones, making the use of blood thinners a legitimate concern. Like maybe a month or so before he ended up getting the hip surgery, for example, me and my dad’d been at a window washing job down by Shabbona Park. We’d just gotten there. We were pulling out the triple track storm windows and setting ‘em inside before heading out to wash the exteriors of her old double hung windows when one of the storms slid down like a guillotine and smashed my dad’s finger. He couldn’t pull it away in time. It got him just below his nail and cut down to the bone. Blood was running everywhere. He made it to the bathroom sink and started running water on it. I asked the homeowner for Band-Aids and Neosporin and eventually got the situation under control. For the next month, I regularly cleaned this wound and changed the Band-Aids and yelled at him every time he was washing windows without a rubber glove on, dipping his hand in filthy water with liquefied bird shit and whatever other type of filth in it that we’d sponged off of people’s windows. Maybe though – maybe if he’d been on blood thinners like the doctor suggested instead of taking a daily aspirin as a less effective alternative to prevent clots formed by his A-fib – his worst fears would’ve come true. Maybe he would’ve bled out and gone into hypovolemic shock because of that stupid little incident at that customer’s house or during the several other similar accidents Dad had during his final years. Who knows?
So anyway, now that we got that background info covered, let’s briefly go back to the time my sister volunteered to take my dad to the appointment he had with his primary care physician just before his hip surgery. At this appointment, the doctor noted that he heard a “whooshing” sound during his auscultation of my dad’s carotid artery that most likely indicated a narrowing of said artery. Arteries get narrowed by a buildup and hardening of fatty deposits known as plaque and can put you at higher risk for such things as heart attack and stroke. The doc recommended having this looked into but otherwise approved him for his hip surgery. My dad didn’t care about anything the doctor said other than the fact that he’d gotten the thumbs-up to have his surgery. My sister on the other hand did care and was very concerned about the potential of my dad having carotid artery stenosis on top of his atrial fibrillation. It’s just not a cool combination to have and she was quite worried. That said, she was also very busy with her own life working full-time as a nurse on the night shift while also in grad school to become an NP and had recently gotten engaged and had a wedding to plan and just overall had a lot of stuff on her plate at the moment. And although she shared this information with me and my mom, we too had a lot of stuff going on in our own lives at the time and Dad himself hates going to doctors and couldn’t have given less of a fuck about going to get his carotid looked at, so we didn’t set up any appointments beyond what was required for the hip surgery and ended up putting all that carotid stuff on the back burner.
As it happens, in May of the following year – about five or so months after that appointment where we’d been made aware of the whooshing noise – my dad suffered a fatal stroke caused by a completely occluded carotid artery. My sister would not stop blaming herself for not having done something about the information the doctor had given her at that appointment the fall beforehand. We told her it wasn’t her fault. We tried to convince her that it was Dad’s fault for all his shitty lifestyle choices over the years – smoking and drinking and eating greasy chicken sandwiches from Nick’s Drive-In twice a day instead of Mom’s home cooked meals. We also said it was his fault – and definitely not hers – for not being concerned enough about his own health to set up an appointment to get that carotid shit checked out because, like, he was at that appointment too, ya know? He heard what the doctor said and he was the one that chose to ignore that information. She thought it was nice of us to say those things, but didn’t accept any of our rationalizations. She said he wasn’t capable of setting up an appointment for himself and that she should’ve done it right away. She said it was her fault that he was dead.
Honestly, we didn’t know what more we could say to her. Even though we by no means held her responsible for my dad’s death, we knew where she was coming from. We each had our things we blamed ourselves for. I blame myself for my dad’s fall from that roof that cut god knows how many years off his life and keep telling myself it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t run off to join the Air Force. My brother gets upset with himself for having given up on my dad years ago and having stopped trying to include him as part of his life in any significant way. He was just disappointed and hurt too many times over the years and created that distance to protect himself. I don’t blame him either. That safe distance between him and insanity is probably the reason why his mental health has been so much better than mine over the years. And my mom…well, my mom blames herself for absolutely everything. She cries and says that he’d still be alive today if only she’d taken better care of him over the years – if only she’d been a better wife to him. I dunno. It’s stupid. Like, we all loved him. And we all did our best to keep this man alive for as long as we could. But like, no matter what we did, we couldn’t prevent the inevitable from occurring. This dude was headed for destruction and there was nothing anyone could do to stop it. And even though we all know on a rational, intellectual level that the fault is not our own, this is just the realty of the feelings that we’ve all been dealing with since my dad’s passing. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. My dad isn’t dead yet in the story I’m currently telling.
So, back to fall 2019. Gutter cleaning season started and at first it was just me and my dad. Then a few days later we started using a buddy of mine who worked seasonally for the Cook County Forest Preserve that had nothin else goin on during this time of the year. We didn’t necessarily need the help at the time, but I wanted to start showing him the ropes so he’d be able to help me finish the season off after my dad’s surgery. The guy wasn’t good at carrying the bigger ladder, didn’t like going up high or walking on steep roofs and would end up dropping one of the blowers down to the ground from the top of a ladder, but he wasn’t a bad ground guy. He was good for cleaning the gutters on garages and the lower, flatter sections of people’s houses and was good for blowing all the debris off the sidewalks and checking downspouts and heeling the ladder for me when I was stepping on and off of all the higher, steeper roofs. My brother also took a couple weeks off of work to help us out around Thanksgiving and the four of us were able to get a decent chunk of the season’s work done during this time period. I think the most difficult part about the season was how every now and then Dad would insist on going up and cleaning the gutters on a garage roof and – short of physically restraining the guy – there was no stopping him from doing so. He didn’t look any better up there than he had the year before when that Fat Ed guy complained to me about not wanting to see my dad’s gimpy ass up on his roof anymore, but I think it made him feel better about himself that he’s still able to do the work. Not gonna lie, I was always nervous every single time he went up there, but we managed to make it through December 10th without anything terrible happening.
One of the last memories I have of my dad from that gutter season is of him narrowly escaping gettin caught takin a piss in a customer’s backyard. I mean, it’s hard to hold your piss in for eight hours straight – you ever try it? During gutter season, I try to wake up early and chug thirty-two ounces of water before I even get out of bed and then piss it all out before I leave for work at 8:30 because I know I won’t be seeing a toilet until after 5pm. The thing about gutter cleaning is that we get so filthy while working that you can’t ask a customer to go into their house to use the bathroom. We also got so much work to do – the gutters on somewhere between three and four-hundred houses to clean in a month-long window between when the leaves fall and before we get froze-out for the year – that we need to take advantage of every minute of daylight when there’s no snow on the roofs and when the temperature is above freezing. Like, we just plain old don’t have the time every day to go drive to a gas station for a group restroom break or some kindergarten-ass shit like that. Hell, there’s not even time to eat lunch. You just stuff snacks in your face in the car on the way from one job to another. It’s a hectic time of year. And in spite of my best efforts to stay hydrated without having to piss during the workday, sometimes even my bladder gets so bouncily full and bloated with piss that I can’t hold off until I get home. I’m always keeping my eyes peeled for a good discreet piss spot in people’s backyards and take advantage when I find one. I sometimes piss into the little circular sewers people got at the bottom of the stairs next to their basement doors, but I most often piss behind people’s garages. It’s the best spot. In my eighteen years of doing this shit on and off, that strategy has only failed me one time. It was when I was in Wildwood doing a house on a corner and’d been pretty well hidden – or so I thought – behind some garbage cans and a bush behind the customer’s garage when some angry guy who’d been drivin past on the street stopped his car and yelled, “Hey!” And then once he’d gotten my attention, he added, “This is a cop neighborhood!” And that’s all he said before driving away.
My dad’s had some close calls before in the past, but I honestly don’t think he’d ever been caught in the act even in spite of being absolutely horrible at choosing good spots to piss. Like, this one time up in Evanston we rang the doorbell to let the customers know we were there to clean their gutters and I don’t know if Dad just assumed they weren’t home or what, but he didn’t even wait for five seconds after we rang the bell before he whipped out his monster and started pissin on this bush right next to their front door. Like, I’m sure anyone who was walking by on the sidewalk or driving by on the street could’ve easily seen what he was doing. And from the front porch, although he wasn’t immediately visible because it was a pretty big bush he was behind, you could easily hear his piss stream hitting the dry dead leaves there on the ground under the bush. And as he’s mid-piss, the front door opens up and the customer greets us. And I think it was my brother who jumped in and decided to greet ‘em back to divert their attention away from my dad and buy him a few precious seconds to flop his dick back into his pants by saying something like, “Hi there, Lally Gutter Cleaning here to take care of your gutters.”
So anyway, that time in Niles in the fall of 2019, it was me, my dad and that buddy of mine I mentioned earlier. We rang the bell to let the guy know we were there to do our thing. He was home and we talked to him at the front door real briefly then he went back inside just before we started. I set a ladder up on the north side of the high roof and got up there and started walking the perimeter, using my gas powered handheld leaf blower to blow out all the fallen leaves and pine needles and whatever else he had in there. I get to the south side of the roof and look down to where they have this long blacktop driveway leading from the street in the front of the house all the way to their detached garage behind their house in the backyard. They don’t have alleys in this area. So behind the garage is just about three feet of space then the back side of the neighbor’s garage from the next block over. These are usually the best garages to pee behind because nobody can see what you’re doing back there from the vantage point of their houses. Of course, you don’t just show up at someone’s house and walk right back there, take a piss and then step out from behind their garage while zipping up your fly in full view of the back windows of their house. You wait until someone is cleaning the gutters on the garage roof and you pretend you’re cleaning up back there or checking the downspouts for the guy on the roof and you quickly do your business then go on with your day. That’s the best way to do it, which of course means that my man Miles did the complete opposite. Let’s review…
From the roof I see Dad open this gate on a small fence – waist-high, you can clearly see over it – that divided the front yard from the back. He enters the backyard, takes a few steps forward on the driveway then turns to his right and takes about ten steps away from the house towards the fence that divides the property from that of the neighbors who also happen to be customers of ours. And it’s right here where he chooses to take out his thing and start urinating. Like, not even up against the fence or into a bush or anything – just right there at the edge of the driveway is where he’s takin his leak. And these customers got windows right there that look out onto their driveway from their kitchen. God forbid anyone happened to walk past ‘em on the interior of the house and look out, there’s really no mistaking what my dad was doing. I mean, sure, his back was turned to ‘em and he could’ve said he was doing anything else, but that puddle of piss pooling up on the blacktop was like a smoking gun. So, I take a glance around to see where my buddy’s at because I wanna check in with him and see if he’s witnessing what I’m witnessing or if my eyes are deceiving me here. I look towards the front of the house and see him on the ground with a blower in his hand walking towards that little gate leading to the backyard. The thing is…he wasn’t alone. The man of the house – a guy of about seventy – was walking right alongside him. It was a disaster waiting to happen.
“Yo!” I yelled over the sound of not only my blower but also the one my dad’d set down when he began to relieve himself. “Hey! Yo!”
He didn’t hear me. They were just a few steps away from the gate. If they hadn’t already seen what he was doing over that short fence, there’s no doubt they’d see exactly what he was doing when they entered the yard. I belted out one last “Yo!” hoping to get his attention just before the clinking of the gate indicated their arrival. I could tell by the way he jumped, my dad was startled. But in one magical motion – starting with his back facing the gate through which my esteemed colleague and the homeowner’d just walked – my dad managed to put his dick away, do an about-face and respond to the customer who in that moment called his name to ask him some questions about the gutters that he forgot to address when we’d spoken to him at the front door. It was one of the closest calls I’d ever seen.
After I got off the roof, I asked my buddy if he’d seen my dad pissing when they entered the yard. He said no. He said that he’d been talking to the guy and wasn’t looking.
“And you didn’t see that puddle of piss on the edge of the driveway either?”
“Nope, didn’t notice.”
“Amazing,” I said. “He must have some gutter cleaning angels lookin after him today cuz there’s no way he shouldn’t have gotten caught there.”
So anyway… Next thing ya know, the tenth of December had arrived and the high temperature that day and the next were only in the lower twenties which means that all the shit in the gutters would be frozen and I wouldn’t be able to get any work done. This worked out well because I was able to both drop my dad off at the hospital for his hip surgery on the one day and then pick him up the following day. Before we could get to that, however, we had a minor crisis on the home front. Ya see, a day or two before the surgery, the only station on the hundred-whatever cable channels my parents pay for each month that’d gone out happened to be the only one my dad ever watched – the MLB network. He was pretty unhappy to say the least. For years, my dad’d only slept a couple hours a night. He was tormented by his anxiety which he tried to quell by smoking cigs at all hours of the night and – although you’d never guess it from a guy that weighed about a buck thirty soaking wet and wearing boots – stuffing half a pack of Oreos in his face and washing it down with milk every night around 3 or 4am. And while he always had that MLB network on in the background during his waking hours, he especially needed it at night as background noise to get his couple hours of restless sleep here and there. So, Miles ends up making this angry phone call to the cable company, ordering them to get over here and fix it right away. This was unusual because he himself never called any company to get anything fixed – that’d always been my mom’s job – so that just goes to show how desperate he really was to get that fuckin channel back.
Alright, so, we dropped Dad off at the hospital early in the day on the tenth, and me and my mom’d planned for that evening to clean the shit outta the basement while the old man wasn’t down there. He’d been living down there for somewhere between ten and fifteen years at that point. He slept on a couch whose cushions were molded to the shape of his skinny, beat-up little body. Although he kept some clothes that he almost never wore in a dresser that’d been next to the door leading to the backyard, the weight bench that I used to use in high school had become the clothing rack on which he set or hung all his pants, sweatshirts, jackets, etc… and underneath that he had ten years’ worth of shoes and boots all piled up. Just to be clear, we had no intention of getting rid of any of his stuff or anything like that. We just figured that nothing down there had been cleaned since before my sister’s graduation party two-and-a-half years beforehand and we felt guilty letting him live in his own filth like that.
So, using Lemon Pledge, we dusted the wooden TV stand, the coffee table, the end table and the book shelves housing our DVD collection. We vacuumed the one area rug around the coffee table and the other one underneath the weight bench/closet. We then moved the couch and the love seat and swept up all the dust bunnies under there as well as whatever else there was all over the rest of the floor. Then after sweeping, we mopped the tiles with some Mr Clean floor cleaner. We even went so far as to clean the disgusting bathroom down there that had two-and-a-half years’ worth of shit, piss and blood stains splattered all over the place. And as a finishing touch, my mom stepped outside of the exterior basement door where my dad always smoked at the bottom of the crumbly cement staircase and emptied the little red ashtray that was overflowing not with butts – because my dad discarded those on his own – but with several months’ worth of ashes. Overall, Operation Deep Clean took up the whole evening, but everything smelled fresher and looked cleaner by the time we finished and we felt good about ourselves for having tidied up my dad’s sub-par living conditions.
So, the next day in the early afternoon, I go by myself to pick Dad up from Resurrection Hospital. I go to his room and he’s in a shit mood. He wants to get the fuck outta there this very instant.
“How do you get these fuckin things off?” he said, tugging on his IVs.
“Dude, just leave ‘em in for a minute,” I said from the crappy little two-seat couch next to the bed. “They said the nurse’d be right in to take ‘em out. Then the physical therapist wants me to do a few of the exercises with you and then we can go.”
So, the nurse comes by and does her thing. Dad asks if we can go now. I say no. We wait another fifteen or so minutes and then the physical therapist comes by. She shows my dad how to get out of bed in a way that won’t pop his new hip out of place. She sets the walker next to the bed and he takes the reins. We go out into the hall where she has him walk back and forth a few times while coaching him on his form. In what I interpreted as an attempt to show this lady that he already knows how to walk and doesn’t need any of her advice, Dad started to go as fast as he could.
“Slower, Dan, slower,” she said and he sighed heavily. “Right now you’re walking the way you would with your old hip. You put the one foot forward and then bring the back foot up only to where the front foot is. This is a maladaptive way of walking you’ve developed to avoid pain. With your new hip, I want you to focus on changing that. You don’t have to shuffle like that anymore. I want you to take it slow, use the walker for balance and put one foot all the way in front of the other how you used to before you developed these problems with your hip, okay?”
Next, we went over to the staircase. She took a crutch and demonstrated how to use it to get up and down the stairs without putting too much strain on the hip.
“Now you try,” she said and handed him the crutch. “And you,” she turned to me and said, “I want you to stand behind him to offer support and to catch him if he loses his balance.”
My dad was getting more and more frustrated with every comment the lady made about his form. We finished that exercise and – because she could tell he wasn’t gonna listen to her – she informed me that he’d have to do X amount of hours of therapy in the center they got there at the hospital as well as X amount of hours at home as part of his recovery program. After that, after the therapist was done giving her spiel, we went back to the room for the purpose of signing some papers and my dad was officially discharged.
“The nurse is going to take you in the wheelchair to the front entrance,” they informed my dad.
“I’d rather walk,” he said.
They wouldn’t let him. I said I’d go pull up the truck and meet ‘em at the entrance. I did just that and helped my dad from the wheelchair into the passenger seat of the truck and thanked the nurse. I got back in the driver seat and the first thing my dad did was light up a smoke. It felt a lot like as if I was picking him up from prison after he’d just done five years hard time. To say the least, he was not a happy camper about those twenty-four hours he’d just spent in the hospital away from his daily routine. Before going back home, we stopped and I ran in to pick up my dad’s daily chicken sandwich from Nick’s on Harlem to…well, to feed him of course but also to calm his anxiety from having missed a whole day of his mandatory activities. I parked in the alley because I figured it was closer to the basement stairs in the back so my dad would only have to deal with one flight as opposed to going up the external stairs to the first floor in the front of the house and then down the internal ones to be back in his living space. So that’s what we did. Dad wasn’t too interested in using the walker or the crutch to get back inside the house and I knew better than to try and force him to do so. And so he’s inchin along the sidewalk in the backyard, and when we finally got back into the basement and my dad saw the cable guy workin behind his TV down there, he absolutely blew his MF’n stack.
“What’s this fuckin guy doin here?!”
My mom was down there too because she cared about my dad and taking care of people she cares about is her primary reason for living. She planned on asking him if he needed anything and wanted to get him as comfortable as possible in his nicely clean basement. She probably wasn’t expecting him to walk in the door yelling, but tried to calm him down by saying that the cable guy was here to fix his MLB network for him. That didn’t appear to be a viable excuse. She reminded him that he himself was the one who called the cable company to have this work done. That also didn’t justify the man’s presence in his basement and actually kind of irritated him even more. I think the cable guy said something like “I’m gonna go check the wires outside” and left us to get my dad settled back in. As it happens, we were unable to accomplish that task. He stuffed his chicken sandwich in his face, grabbed his keys and stormed out of the basement – well, he stormed out as hard as anyone who’d just had hip surgery and refused to use a walker or a cane or crutches could storm out of anywhere – then got in his truck and drove away.
He was gone for five hours. We had no idea where he was. He wasn’t answering any of our calls. My theory’d been that he went to the woods to go get his miles and my mom added her worrisome spin to my theory, wondering if he’d slipped out there and couldn’t get back up and – given it was only twenty degrees outside – was out there freezing to death somewhere. She was ready to grab some flashlights, get in the car and go lookin for him along the trail. In response to this, I remember sayin somethin like, “Fuck that. I hope he is dead out there. Because the surgery is exactly what he wanted and this behavior is just inexcusable.” Unfortunately, we’d all said shit like that when our frustration with Dad would reach its tipping point over the past ten or so years, every time he had another silly accident or violent outburst or drunken fuck-up. We’d say things like what a burden he is and say how much easier life would be without him around and all that typa shit.
“Tim,” my mom said, “he just doesn’t know any better. He’s not there anymore. He can’t take care of himself.”
Her reminding me of this reality made me kind of upset and I wanted to start yelling, but didn’t. Instead…
“I know,” I sighed. “I don’t actually want him to be dead. I’m just so tired of this shit. It’s so fucking painful. Why did Dad hafta turn out so goofy? Why do our lives hafta be like this? I’m emotionally exhausted and can’t fuckin take anymore.”
Earlier in the day when I went to pick him up, my mom asked me to ask Dad if he’d eat a pizza from this place called Phil’s for dinner. He said yeah. I relayed the message to my mom. She ordered the pizza and it came around 6pm which also happened to be when Dad came home from wherever he ran off to. We knew of his presence because we heard the clink of the gate on the side of the house as he entered the backyard after parking his truck on the street and then we also heard the opening and closing of the basement door. We gave him a couple minutes and then went down there to find out where he’d been. Turns out he’d spent the whole afternoon at a bar called Charlotte’s getting wasted. He was just as surly as he’d been five hours beforehand when he made his dramatic exit. At the time, he’d been shuffling across the basement floor wearing nothing but a pair of underwear that’d been wrapped around his right ankle that he could probably neither bend down nor lift his leg up high enough to get off.
“You’re gonna listen to what the doctors tell you!” my mom said with authority.
“I’m gonna eat my god damn dinner! Get the fuck outta here!”
“You can eat your god damn dinner…”
“Where the fuck is my rag – the rag?!” he barked, presumably referring to his shower towel. “It’s always on the fuckin Eclipse.”
The Eclipse is an elliptical machine wedged into a little nook in our basement my mom bought twenty years ago that’d effectively spent more time used as a place on which my dad hung his shower towel than an actual piece of workout equipment.
“And now it’s right here so you can take it when you come out of the shower,” she said, walking into the bathroom and pointing at the towel rack. “It’s right here. That’s where it’s supposed to be.”
“No,” he retorted. “It’s not.”
“No, it’s not,” he mimicked derisively then grabbed his towel from the bathroom and began shuffling towards the laundry room. “Fuckin bitch.”
“You’re so anal. Everything has to have…“
“Yeah, fuck you. You’re fuckin anal,” he stopped his march and put his hands in front of him to do an impression of my mom. “Ohhhh! I gotta pick up the…,” he didn’t seem to know where he was going with this impression, “…fuckin…”
“It’s clean,” she interrupted him. “Your towel is clean!”
“Yeah, fuck you,” he again started walking towards the laundry room. “It’s not clean.”
“No it’s not!” he yelled.
“We all…we washed everything. Tim and I…”
“…worked hard cleaning up this basement.”
“Yeah, don’t touch my basement,” he said before elevating his voice. “Don’t ever touch my ashtray.”
He was unusually pissed off about my mom having dumped his ashtray and yelled at her about that for the next couple weeks. This is probably the reason why a year after his death the ashtray remains untouched on the ledge next to the bottom of the basement stairs. Neither she nor I can bring ourselves to do away with it.
At this point, Mom was standing on one side of the doorway leading into the laundry room with Dad on the other where he’d been bent over, trying to get that pair of underwear off his right foot.
“We did it so you won’t get an infection!”
“Get outta here!”
“Get the fuck outta here!”
“Listen!” she shouted again.
“Get the fuck outta here!” he repeated right back and started shuffling a couple feet further inward into the laundry room.
“You gonna slam the door on me?” she asked and he did. “Ooooh,” she said mockingly, as if to say “you’re so tough.”
“Fuckin fat-ass bitch,” he said from the other side of the door. “Go eat your fuckin pizza, you fuckin cunt.”
“You were supposed to have pizza with us.”
“No I wasn’t!” he shouted. “Tim said, ‘You want pizza?’ I said, ‘No!’”
“No,” she replied, “he said you said, ‘Yeah, that would be good.’”
“No I didn’t. I said I don’t like fuckin Phil’s pizza,” he said then switched back to the mocking tone. “’Puts more money in your fuckin wallet’ or whatever the fuck it is,” he said, referring to their “We put the crunch in your pizza, not in your wallet!” slogan. “Shut the fuck up.”
“Oh my god…” my mom sighed, walking back towards me.
We left it at that and went back upstairs to have our Phil’s pizza while Dad ate the dinner he picked up from the bar by himself down in his dungeon.