Warning: This post is probably the most confessional thing I’ve done in my life. Don’t read it if confessional things bother you.
My fortieth high school class reunion was last weekend. I didn’t go; I have never gone to one of my reunions. I liked the people in my graduating class. Some of them were very good friends. You would think I’d go just to see a couple of them after all these years.
High School was not always a happy time for me. My father had something to do with that although I’m not blaming him. He’s been in his grave for over 35 years. I’ve made my own choices for forty years.
My father was about the nicest guy you would ever want to meet. He was quiet spoken and a gentleman to everyone. If he displayed his temper, it was always over the normal everyday things that frustrate us all at times.
My father was also a classic binge drinker. He would leave job and family for weeks to sit in a bar and drink away all his money. When the money ran out, he came home. He and my mother would make up and life would whir merrily along like a lull in a storm until the next time.
Despite all the fights my mother and father had when he stumbled home drunk in the middle of the night, they never came to blows. I don’t think my father ever hit anyone in his life. I did discover recently that my mother may have had a nervous breakdown when I was about six or seven years old. I remember my aunt taking care of me and my sister while my mother was gone. My aunt won’t talk about what really happened.
My Dad eventually got into trouble because he drank more than he could pay for. He passed bad checks at bars to make up the difference. The bar owners prosecuted him. He went to jail after each episode.
My father was a linotype operator for the local city newspaper. That was a union job. It afforded us a lower middle class life—the three bedroom house for a family of four in a nice enough city with excellent schools. That all went by the wayside once my father started going to jail.
Finally, he was sentenced to time in the state penitentiary. I can no longer accurately place all the dates of my father’s jail time, but I think it was the summer of 1964 shortly after I turned sixteen when he started his state time.
My mother, sister, grandparents, and I went down to the county jail on a Saturday morning to see him off to the state pen. I stayed in my grandparents car while the others went in. My act was purely teenage defiance.
My grandfather drove me to a secluded spot along the river afterwards. He tried to convince me in his rough way that things would get better. I shouldn’t walk around with a chip on my shoulder. I think, more than anything, we were both embarrassed about him having to do that. I was sixteen and real busy being a little motherfucker.
My father was a model prisoner and received time off for good behavior. He served one year. I never talked to him about the state pen. Everybody knows it’s a gruesome place to live, so what’s the point in talking about it.
My father never went back to jail. He worked for about five years at a neighborhood retail store before he died.
I remember his death well. I had gotten out of the Marine Corps that year and was home for the Christmas holiday my first year in college. My Dad’s coworkers had given him a couple of fifths of Seagram Seven whiskey, his favorite, for holiday gifts.
I started drinking highballs Christmas Eve with my Dad. That’s when I learned that my Dad’s idea of a highball was a tall tumbler filled mostly with whiskey and topped off with a dash of Seven-Up. We with both got wickedly drunk and fell into fighting as only two hopeless drunks can do. I started the fight, but over what and why I do not know. I must have wanted to impose some revenge upon him. Before it was over I accomplished my objective. The temptation to hurt him when he was at his most vulnerable was too good to pass up. I was still real busy being a little motherfucker.
My father had not been feeling well during that time. He spent Christmas day in his bathrobe and retired to bed early in the afternoon. My sister and I went to a gig her boyfriend was playing with his band.
Early in the morning the day after Christmas my mother discovered him dead in bed. As soon as I saw him, I knew he had suffered a massive heart attack while sleeping and was truly gone. I found an empty bottle of Seagram’s Seven underneath the bed, which I discreetly disposed of before the ambulance arrived. He was a month shy of his 55th birthday. The whiskey took him sure as anything.
We link today’s events and activities with those events that haunt us from long ago, whether rightly or wrongly. Anyway, I did not go to my fortieth class reunion.
However, as this post attests to, you can run, but you cannot hide.
The sun is firmly up over the lake. Time for other things.