Chapter 23 – I’m Not Well
I’d say that that whole summer of 2020 right after my dad died, if I had to characterize my overall mental state during that time frame, I’d label myself as not well. Of course, the only medicine that was gonna do me any good was a hefty dosage of time to assimilate myself to the new version of reality I’d been living in without my dad in it. And ideally, during this grieving process, I’d do my best to steer clear of anything and everything that would upset me unnecessarily and exacerbate the already shitty feelings I’d been overwhelmed by, but that’s not always possible. After all, no man is an island.
At an impersonal level, the thing that upsets me the most is the news. For me, the news is like mainlining poison straight into my brain and the stuff they were puttin out during the summer of 2020 was especially toxic. Constant covid death tolls and narratives fanning the flames of racial tension for the sake of ratings in a nation divided – these things were all the rage among America’s top media outlets at the time. Never before this summer of despair as I’ll call it had my disgust towards the human race as a whole reached such a level that our complete nuclear annihilation seemed preferable to one more incident involving some trigger-happy police officer killing an unarmed black guy followed by a bunch of opportunistic morons comin outta the woodwork to indiscriminately loot and burn anything they see fit while beating down anyone – black or white – that stands in their way. I mean, nothin says social justice quite like a new 60-inch flat screen TV in your living room and a fresh pair of Nikes that ya didn’t hafta pay for – am I right?
And then as if all that shit in itself wasn’t depressing enough, for months on end after the fact we gotta sit around and listen to everyone bickering all the time. All sorts of idiots – left-wing, right-wing, BLM, MAGA – everyone shouting, everyone waving banners, everyone so smug, so self-righteous, and so quick to point an accusatory finger in the direction of the rival camp, yet absolutely no one making any reasonable suggestions or effort to heal our fractured society. It was all just a buncha fuckin noise. All just a buncha smoke and mirrors. And all so very fuckin sickening. I hate that things hafta be this way. I hate that in America everything is about race. I hate that everything is black vs. white and red vs. blue. I hate how there’s no middle ground. I hate that people can’t just get along. I hate that the ultra-rich own so much of the wealth while the poor starve, but I also hate how the poor never hafta work yet get a buncha free shit from the government all the time while middle-class, blue-collar chumps like us never get nothin and end up workin ourselves to death tryin to have a decent life. Like, how come nobody ever hears our cry? How come no one stands up for us? Why does our struggle not matter? Why are we always shamed with the label of “privileged” and told to not make a peep while we’re repeatedly bent over and fucked in the ass by a society that takes our work ethic for granted? I dunno, man. It just hurts being ignored. America’s such a fucked-up place right now and…and I just fuckin hate everything. I hate everybody. I hate the world. And all’s I wanted in the summer of 2020 was for everybody – whoever you are, no matter your race or gender or sexual orientation or political inclinations or any of these other distinctions we love to identify with; I’m not discriminating here – to just shut the fuck up and die and go the fuck to hell so I can be alone with my fucking thoughts and mourn the passing of my father in peace.
That summer, in addition to the current events making me wanna take a gun and splatter my brains all over the wall, I was also havin some problems at home livin with my mom. For the first couple months after my dad died, we were like a team. Mom was sober and we were workin together tryin to keep the household running as smoothly as possible, and takin time out to talk about our feelings regarding the fact that – even though we both wished and hoped he would – my dad was never gonna come walkin through that door ever again. But then all of a sudden it was like she just gave up or somethin. She stopped bein strong and started drinkin again. And when she started drinkin, she stopped bein honest and open about the hurt she was feeling from the loss of my dad and instead channeled all that negative energy into bitching about a buncha dumb shit that doesn’t even matter.
I swear, I’ve never seen alcohol take someone who’s so good and kind while sober and turn ‘em into such a miserable fuckin cunt the way it does with my mom. After a couple drinks, she goes out of her way to find somethin to bitch about and, if she can’t find it, she’ll just make somethin up. She’ll bitch about which of the neighbors are pissin her off now, or which one of us kids or which one of her friends, siblings or in-laws has wronged her most recently. She’ll talk shit about my sister’s boyfriend, my brother’s girlfriend, ex-employers, supermarket employees – literally anybody and for any reason. Then she’ll whine about how my dad’s friends never cared about him and just used him for his window washing business just before she transitions into what an asshole my dad himself was and how badly he mistreated her back when he was still alive and how now I’ve turned out just like him. And then she’ll start crying and whimper about how no one cares about or loves her, in the process making herself out to be the biggest victim that’s ever existed on the face of the planet. It’s really quite a production. And then the next day, she gets up and acts like these episodes never happened. I tell ya – it’s absolutely maddening. Like, honestly, this behavior is super fucked-up and – not only during this time after the death of my father, but always – has left me feeling completely abandoned. I mean, let’s not get it twisted here – Mom was still doin all the grocery shopping and was cookin dinner every day and for that I’m very grateful; I gotta give credit where credit is due, and deep down I know that no one in the world cares about me as much as she does – but in the summer of 2020, never knowing which version of her I’d be dealin with every day upon comin home from work was really startin to drain the shit outta my emotional battery.
Speaking of which, work was another thing that’d been takin its toll on my mental health during this critical time period. Last May, after my dad died, you wouldn’t think it at the height of covid, but our phone’d been ringin off the hook with people wantin me to come over and wash their windows. I’m not sure if it was because everyone was workin from home and felt trapped and couldn’t stand lookin out dirty windows all day or what, but people would not stop callin our fuckin house. We were busier than ever and it would end up bein a trend that lasted all summer long, all the way up until the start of our gutter cleaning season in mid-November.
When I got back to work in the days following my dad’s funeral service, I had a childhood buddy who was in between jobs at the time helpin me out. He wasn’t a bad worker and did alright for about a month or so, but then he started flakin out on me. I’d ask and he’d tell me he’s available to work the next day, so I’d set up enough work for two guys and tell him to be at my house at 8:30 the following morning from where we’d drive to our first job by 9. He’d say, “Okay, yeah, see ya there.” And then I’d get a text from the guy at 8am sayin, “Sorry, something came up,” or, “Sorry, I just remembered that I hafta do X today and can’t come to work because I gotta go do that instead,” and I’d be stuck workin these nine-hour days by myself out washin windows in the ninety-degree heat. It’s like, “If you don’t wanna work anymore, just tell me straight-up and I won’t be disappointed. I’m an adult. I can deal with it. Just stop lyin to me and blowin me off like that, you fuckin asshole.” Unfortunately though, that’s not the way this guy handles stuff, so – after the third or fourth time that that shit happened – I was sick of his bullshit and just stopped callin him.
Now, this might sound a bit dramatic, but with the trust I lost in that buddy of mine also went the trust I felt for other workers in general. Like, I felt hurt and disappointed that he’d blow me off like that because, to me, what I felt I was doin at the time was much more than just washin windows and cleanin gutters, ya see. I liked to believe that, in a way, because I was carryin on the business that he created, I was goin out every day on a mission and fighting to keep my dad alive. It’s like, I thought that if I did a good job runnin his business, he’d come back home or somethin like that. It’s insane, I know. I was in major denial then and still am now to some extent a year later – not nearly as bad as last summer, of course – but back then I took this mission very, very seriously. And because I felt there was no one I could trust to take my mission to keep a dead man alive as seriously as I did, I had no other choice but to do all the jobs by myself. Workin all day six or seven days a week from late-June until mid-November to keep up with the business was not an easy task. I pushed myself to keep goin even at times when I would’ve preferred to have taken a break and, no doubt, suffered some pretty serious psychological consequences because of it.
Sometimes I’d have shit days at work where I’d replay the scenarios of past hurts over and over in my head all fuckin day. It was always stuff like family fights or arguments I’d had with friends from years ago or dumb shit my dad did that I wished he didn’t – like, basically just all the shit in my life that can’t be changed that I hadn’t yet made peace with, ya know? And outta all those scenarios, I’d hafta say the most vivid and inflammatory one’d been from this one incident that occurred a couple years back when my dad was at the gas station he always went to on Milwaukee Avenue. It was there that – as he’d done quite a few times before in recent years not only because he couldn’t see where he was goin with his fucked-up neck, but also because he’d been losin his mind – he backed into somebody’s car while tryin to get outta the lot. This time it’d been the car of some old Asian guy. They exchanged phone numbers or whatever, and my dad went home and told my mom what happened. Like all of Dad’s other accidents and fuck-ups, once Mom’d been told about it, the situation now became her problem to deal with. So, she called the guy up and they both decided that neither of ‘em wanted the insurance companies involved in order to keep their rates down. So the guy went to get some body work done – it was like a thousand bucks or whatever – and called my mom to tell her, and they arranged to meet at that same gas station for my mom to pay him. I was not in town for this one. If I was around, I would’ve gone with. My sister was around though, and she decided to go along with my mom for moral support.
Instead of just makin the payment and bein done with this guy, my mom tried to seek some sort of understanding and sympathy from him by explaining a bit about my dad. She didn’t do this because she was hopin the guy would then not wanna take our money or anything like that, it’s just because my mom lives in this fantasy world where she thinks everyone should be good and care about one another and all that typa goody goody stuff they rammed down all our throats over the years in Catholic school. And I hate that. Like, don’t you see how cruel the world really is? Why would you set yourself up to be crushed like that? People don’t fuckin care – they don’t care about me or you or anybody but them-fuckin-selves. I fuckin hate vulnerability. If I learned one thing from my old man over the years, it’s, “Never leave yourself vulnerable.” He literally said that. Of course, when he said that, he wasn’t referrin to emotional vulnerability – he was actually really drunk and tryin to nail my brother and I in the nuts with a squishy football we were throwin around while roughhousing in the living room after he’d gotten home from the bar one night. Vulnerability in that context had of course meant leavin your genitals unprotected, but even then I recognized the versatility of such a statement. It’s just not cool to put yourself in a position where other people who don’t give a damn can squash you like a bug.
So, back at this gas station, my mom and sister meet with this guy and my mom tells him how, “My husband was a firefighter in Chicago for thirty years and he’s a hard worker that’s provided for our family, but this terrible thing happened to him with his neck…” and how it shakes and how he can’t turn it and how that makes it hard for him to do a lotta things, especially seein where he’s goin when he’s backin out and how he’s only sixty-two years old and how it’s tough for him to have lived with this disability for the past fifteen years and how sorry she is that Dad hit his car and…ya know, shit like that. And so, later, when my mom and sister are tellin me this story, they say that the whole time my mom was sayin all that stuff – talkin about my dad’s problems – this fuckin asshole was just standin there laughin in their faces.
“Pfff!” the guy said. “That man not sixty. He look like he eighty. He look like old man.” And while chuckling to himself, he took the money from my mom and got in his car and drove away.
And so, one day when I was out washin windows – I was already in a bad mood; I’d woken up on the wrong side of the bed and felt burnt out and had no interest in goin to work that day – this scenario popped into my head. And just all day, for like six or seven hours, over and over, it was this guy laughin in my mom’s face about my dad lookin twenty years older than he really was. It hurt so bad to think about because it was true. Dad got old way before his time from workin two jobs and doin a buncha drinkin to cope with all the workin he had to do, and here was this jagoff yukkin it up about the poor bastard’s mental and physical problems, and makin a big joke about all the suffering my family had gone through because of it. And then the fuckin jagoff takes our hard-earned money, gets in his car and drives away, probably laughin to himself the whole ride home. And then when he gets home, he’s probably tellin his wife about what fuckin chumps we all are and sharin a good laugh together at our expense. It was just so painful for me to think about and I couldn’t think about anything else, even with my headphones in and a podcast on. And it kept playin on repeat all fucking day.
Eventually my imagination came up with an alternate ending to the scenario to help ease my suffering and mitigate how helpless and powerless I’d been feeling. Suddenly, I was there at the gas station instead of my sister and, when the guy started laughin at what my mom was sayin, I grabbed him by the shirt and threw him to the ground. He landed on his back and I pounced on top of him. I yelled that “My family’s suffering is not a fucking joke!” as I started to repeatedly slam his skull against the pavement with such force that blood was beginning to pool up beneath him. Although I was tempted to keep going until I saw his brains leak out, I managed to stop while he still remained conscious. I then stood up and pulled out one of the gas pumps and started sprayin the guy from head to toe with regular unleaded. He whimpered that he was sorry and pleaded for me to not light the match. “It’s too late for any of that shit,” I said, and lit him up. And I stood there and reveled in his agonizing last moments, watching him roll back and forth, listening to him scream in unfathomable pain.
My days weren’t always that bad, but there were many like it during that summer. And when I’d come home from work after fightin demons like that all day, I was always thankful when I’d see that my mom was sober and that I was safe and could relax for a few hours before goin to sleep and then havin to do it all over again the following day. On days when I’d come home and find my mom to be drunk and belligerent, I did my damnedest to ignore the bitching and the attempts to provoke me while I was eating the dinner that she made for me. I’d shovel all the food into my face as fast as I could then go upstairs and hide out in my room for the rest of the night where I’d more likely than not text my sister about my mom’s behavior in order to let off some steam. Unfortunately though, I wasn’t always able to contain myself like this. Sometimes I couldn’t make it through dinner without blowin the fuck up.
One day after work, for example, when my mom had been drunk and was layin into me about god knows what, I lost my fucking mind. I couldn’t help it. It felt like an involuntary reaction. I started shouting at the top of my lungs, flippin chairs over and throwin shit everywhere. Like, sometimes when I start gettin angry, my mom keeps eggin me on because she likes to see just how pissed off she can get me, but there was no need for any of that this time around and she knew it. I went from zero to sixty in less than a second and charged at her with my fist cocked back. She could tell I was one-hundred percent ready to beat the fuckin shit out of her. She ran towards the bathroom as I chased after. She jumped in and slammed the door behind her. I lifted my right arm and smashed my elbow through the door. This action caused me to instantly forget about the rage I felt towards my mom. I suddenly became so upset with myself for having damaged the door that I was debating whether or not I should go to the kitchen, take a knife and stab myself through the heart. I managed to set the idea aside and went to go lay in bed and close my eyes and let the rage episode leave my body.
The next day after work, my plan’d been to take the door offa the hinges and bring it over to Home Depot where I figured I’d buy a new one and have one of the employees there modify said new one to the exact size as the old one. I’m not sure if the hinges had been too painted to take apart by poppin the pin out usin a hammer and nail as I’d always seen it done or if I just didn’t have any fuckin idea what I was doin. It’s most likely the latter. I’m not handy at all and I hate DIY projects. But, whatever the case, I was havin no luck gettin that fucker off the traditional way. So, after about half-an-hour of dickin around, I ended up just unscrewin the leaves of the hinges from the door frame to get that thing outta there. I then carried the door out to the garage where I’d just cleared all the window and gutter equipment out the back of my dad’s truck, slid it in there and drove over to the Depot. After finding one of those carts made for transporting stuff like drywall and plywood and settin the door onto it, I steered the apparatus towards the main entrance and headed for the section in the back where they got all the doors on display.
Following a twenty-minute wait to talk to the man in charge of that section who’d been busy helpin some other customers with their purchase, I presented my case and was quite disappointed to find out that they don’t cut new doors to size like that. The guy told me that if I needed somethin like that done, I was gonna hafta hire a carpenter. I asked if he knew any carpenters he could recommend that might be willing to do the job. He said he didn’t, but then had a closer look at the damage and told me I was better off tryin to fix the door myself than I was buyin a new one and then payin a carpenter three or four-hundred bucks to cut and install it. I honestly wasn’t too thrilled at the prospect of takin on this job myself, but just wanted the god damn thing fixed ASAP so my life could get back to normal. Like, I felt so fuckin guilty and ashamed of what I’d done that I was tellin myself I wasn’t worthy of bein alive until that hole’d been satisfactorily mended, so…I dunno. It’s kinda hard to explain, but simply put – in my fucked up emotional logic, it just had to get done so I wouldn’t hafta kill myself.
That said, during the hours of the day I wasn’t at work, I spent the next several days watchin a buncha YouTube videos showin a buncha different hole-fixing methods, many of which I tried to no avail. After a week of dealin with expanding foam sealant and breathin in the harsh chemical emissions of Bondo as well as doin a whole mess of patching and sanding and painting and swearing at and punching myself for bein such a stupid fucking worthless piece o’ shit, the door still didn’t look all that great. Viewing it from straight-on it looked okay, but when seen from certain angles, you could still see there’d been a hole there. And that really bothered me. I was concerned that every time I went to take a piss, I’d see that shit and be reminded of what a loser I am. I desperately wanted this to be over with, but felt the door was simply unacceptable in its current state. So, seemingly against my own will, I trodded towards the basement door, headed down the stairs and went to go get the tub of DryDex and a putty knife from the storage room down there. When I came back up, I’d apply yet another layer which I’d then hafta sand and paint again the following day once it’d sufficiently dried.
When I came back up, the sober version of my mom had been standin by the bathroom door havin a look at my work. She said I’d done a pretty nice job. I didn’t agree and explained how I was about to put on another layer of spackle to see if I could make it appear more even. She told me I didn’t have to. She said it looked fine the way it was. I argued that I can’t go on with my life until the door looks exactly as it did before I ruined it. And that I hate myself and can’t forgive myself for what I’ve done. I had to make it right, I exclaimed. She looked me in the eyes and said she didn’t give a fuck about the door and cared about me and wanted me to just let this shit go already because she was starting to get worried how much I’d been obsessing over this stupid fucking hole. I momentarily considered continuing to argue with her and trying to convince her to hate me as much as I hate myself, but just sighed instead. I gave my mom a hug and went back downstairs to put away the spackle and the putty knife. The scar left from that day could not be erased. I was just gonna hafta learn to live with it.