When people hear about my mom coming out of the closet, they always ask about my dad. They want to know how he took the news. The answer is, not well.
Growing up, I only saw my dad cry once. We’d gone to visit his father’s gravesite and it freaked me out. I suppose if he hadn’t cried I would have thought he was a sociopath, because that was the only time.
I, on the other hand, cried ritually. I cried when I struck out in little league; when my mom’s steak was too chewy; I cried when my dad made me use public restrooms; when I stared at The Black Hole in my room; when I lost my homework; when the doctor drained the cyst on my knee; I cried when Darth Vader killed Obi Wan Kenobi; I cried because I heard monsters; I even cried at cauliflower, because my cousin called it an “Albino vegetable.” He told me it had no soul.
I was always traumatized.
As Vonnegut would say, I had bad wiring. I still do. My aunt had bad wiring, as well. She put a shotgun in her mouth and pulled the trigger. My parents told me she was cleaning the gun and it accidentally went off. Even in third grade I knew how filthy the mouth was and that it was a terrible way to clean anything, let alone a gun.
The first time I thought of killing myself was a month after my aunt checked out. Third graders shouldn’t have thoughts like that. They should be drinking Capri Sun. They should be playing with their Star Wars action figures. They shouldn’t open their bedroom window and sit on the ledge, two-stories up, staring down onto the driveway. They shouldn’t think to lean forward so they’ll hit face-first and not just break their legs.
I never told my parents about wanting to die. My emotional problems caused them enough stress. My father didn’t know what to do with me. He tried holding me. He tried yelling. What he should have done was take me to a shrink. But we didn’t know anyone in therapy in Kansas City. Only crackpots went to head doctors.
My father kept his feelings in check. His dad had died when he was seventeen, which meant my father had to grow up quick. Grandpa Walter was fixing a flat tire two blocks from their house. My father was watching TV, while his dad died of a heart attack.
The earth was pulled out from under my father’s feet.
It’s why he was always telling me to prepare for the worst. When he taught me to drive, he said said, “Just assume everyone is going to run into you.”
And that’s exactly what happened. After twenty-five years of marriage, his wife came out and wanted a divorce. He wasn’t a bad husband or bad father. They had a good marriage, and he didn’t turn her gay. He was just the guy who got hit by a bus.
When my mom moved out, my father started calling me just wanting to talk. I was living in L.A. Sometimes it’d be four in the morning. He’d never called before without a list of things I needed to do. One morning I could tell he’d been crying. I pictured him alone in the house weeping. He told me if it weren’t for our dog, Ace, he wouldn’t get up in the morning.
I should mention Ace was female, which just furthers the evidence of my family’s sexual confusion.
But the dog saved him. My father took her for walks and I imagine he shared his feelings with his canine buddy. Ace became his confidant, his therapist, and in return, my father helped her hunt the squirrels living in our backyard. Unfortunately, Ace had developed arthritis. She could hardly walk, let alone chase these furry bastards.
My father called me one day, said he was thinking about borrowing the neighbor’s BB gun to kill the damn things.
My father lived in a nice suburb, where people had children and barbeques and waved while mowing the lawn. I pictured him stalking around the cul-de-sac in his tighty-whities. Arthritic dog in one hand, a gun in the other.
“Dad, are you, uh, okay?”
“Yes, Anthony, I’m fine.”
But he wasn’t. He needed to talk to a professional, someone who didn’t piddle when the doorbell rang. I asked him to make an appointment. I told him I’d call for him. He said not to worry, that he’d handle it.
Months went by and I started to worry. He didn’t call as often. I had a hard time getting a hold of him.
Finally, I flew home. My father picked me up at the airport. He looked healthy, he sounded calm.
“You seem…good?” I said.
“Yeah, I am. My doctor’s given me medication. Just temporary.”
“That’s great… When you say, ‘doctor,’ you don’t mean Ace, do you?”
“No, smartass. I…took your advice. This guy’s been very…helpful,” my father said.
“Well, I’m proud of you.”
“Yeah… Look, since you’re in town, I’d like you to come along to one of my…sessions.”
I said yes. I couldn’t wait to meet the man responsible for helping my dad.
I had no idea I was about to meet the biggest whackadoo in Kansas City.
To Be Continued…