A twelve year old loses faith in his father after the tragic death of his mother
We buried my mom today.
She didn’t die in a car, or a plane; she killed herself while taking a bath. Dad wouldn’t give us all the details, but I’ve seen enough creepy movies in my lifetime to imagine what happened. And it wasn’t the first time my mom had tried to do herself in. My two younger brothers and I came home from school one day and found her lying unconscious on the floor, an empty bottle of pills still clutched in her hand. We were lucky that time; the paramedics got her to the hospital before she died. My dad was furious. When she was released and came home, he had her bags packed and told her to get out. They argued. She said she would never leave her kids no matter what, but in the heat of battle, he threw her out, and locked the door. He filed for a divorce the very next day. And that was that. No more Mom. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my mother, but she had real problems, problems that none of us could solve for her. I guess she finally took care of it the best way she knew how. Like I said, Dad didn’t talk about it too much. In fact, he even quit sleeping in their bedroom. He said he could smell her perfume and it sickened him. I felt sick too, sick in my heart.
I’m only thinking about this now because they just lowered her coffin into the ground. The western sky blazed orange, steadily deepening toward red, as though the sun were wounded and bleeding. It was my first funeral, and I don’t ever want to go to another one. It was hard for us, but mostly my dad. He kind of just fell apart. You always expect your parents to be strong, scare away all the monsters, that sort of thing, but when you see them for what they really are: exposed and weak, it kind of gets to you.
I cried for a lot of reasons today. I cried because my father sat next to me at the church bawling like a baby. I cried because I realized that my dad was not the big tough guy I had always imagined. I cried because I saw my hero die in front of me, and for some reason...I lost respect for him. I saw him for what he really was, weak and pitiful, made of nothing more than straw. For the first time I felt vulnerable—alone.
My younger brothers, Tom and Matt, are identical twins. They’re like one person. They think, sense and feel the exact same things at the exact same time. It’s like God made a two-lane highway and the only thing separating them was a thin white line. They room together leaving me with a bedroom all to myself. I like that. My room is my fortress of solitude, a place where I can shut out the world and read my books, play my music.
Dad continues to sleep on the couch.
We turned in early, all of us feeling emotionally drained. Around midnight, while reading a story by Stephen King, I heard a heavy knock on the front door and then my dad angrily stomping through the living room to answer it. I thought, Who would come over at this time of night? Aunt Jenny? Grandma? I slipped out of bed and tiptoed down the hall to take a peek. Dad stood in the doorway looking left then right.
“Who is it, Dad?”
He abruptly turned around, his face as white as a sheet, and then slammed the door. “Nobody. Go back to bed, Joey.”
I felt a chilling breeze blow down the hallway. Gooseflesh crawled across my skin and I shivered involuntarily. Where does a cold wind like that come from in the middle of July? The funny thing was that it smelt just like Mom.
I turned and met his gaze. “Yeah, Dad?”
“Come here, son, let’s have a talk.”
I gratefully entered the living room, too frightened to go down the hallway. As I plopped upon the couch, my dad pushed his blanket out of the way and joined me. “Why are you still awake, Joe?”
“I dunno. Can’t sleep, I guess.”
He looked at me sympathetically with his heavy-lidded eyes. “Yeah, I know what you mean. You miss your mom.”
“Yeah, but mostly I miss the way things used to be.”
Which was the truth, but I missed my dad more.
“I miss her too," he said, letting out a forced chuckle. “You know, for a moment there, when I opened the door, I felt she had come home.”
I looked up at him. “She’s dead, Dad,” I said matter-of-factly. “Jeez, who’s the adult here?”
“Yeah, I know wise-guy, but have you ever thought about what happens after you die?”
“Everything turns black like when you close your eyes, and then the worms eat you.”
He sat back and gave me a weird look. “You think that’s it? That’s all there is?”
“That’s probably all there is for Mom. She committed suicide, remember? What else could there be for her?”
His face wrenched into a knot. “I must’ve missed something somewhere. Since when did you grow up so fast? I’ve never heard you talk like this before.” He put his arm around me and pulled me into his chest. I could smell his Old Spice aftershave. “You’re only twelve, hot-shot. Don’t be in such a big hurry to grow up. It’s not all it’s cracked up to be.”
I didn’t answer. Unwanted tears built up in my eyes and I buried my face into him. He held me tighter, gently patted my back, and then they just came out. I cried until I fell asleep in his arms, and the whole time he held me without ever saying a word.
When I awoke it was hotter than hell. I was in my bed again, and the floor vent next to it blew like a hot desert wind. My first thought was. Who turned the heater on? Which was echoed by my dad’s voice. “Hey, which one of you yo-yo’s turned the heater all the way up?”
I heard him bust into Tom and Matt’s room. “Get up, you bookends! I know one of you turned the heater on. Which one was it?”
I couldn’t sleep in that heat, it felt like a noose tightening around my throat. I crawled out of bed and wandered out into the hallway. At the far end was the master bedroom with its big double doors like an old barn. One hung open, and as I watched, it slowly closed.
“Get up, Matt! You too, Tommy!” Dad was still trying to pull them out of bed.
Who closed the bedroom door? I thought. My pajamas suddenly felt as if they were full of spiders.
Mesmerized, I started down the hall, and then something stopped me as if I had gum stuck on the bottom of my feet. I saw the bedroom light turn on. It lit up the bottom of the door and glowed into the darkened hallway. My hand trembled as I reached for the knob and slowly turned it.
“What the hell are you doing?” Dad’s voice broke the spell.
I spun around, embarrassed, as if I had just been caught doing something I wasn‘t supposed to. “I’m…uh…I’m checking your room.”
“Checking my room? What the hell for?” He started toward me. “Did you turn the heater on last night?”
“No, sir, it wasn’t me.”
“The middle of July and one of you clowns wants to turn the heater on.” He stopped in front of me. “So, what are ya doing?”
“I saw your door close, and then the light came on.”
He opened the door and looked inside. “The light’s not on. Are you trying to be funny or something?”
“No, sir. I saw it. It was on.”
“Well, it’s not on now.” He slammed the door and hurried back down the hallway. Over his shoulder he yelled, “Get dressed, and make your bed. I’ll get breakfast started.”
I looked at the closed doors. There was a discernible click on the other side, and then the light came on again.
“Dad!” I yelled. “There’s someone in there!”
He spun around and hurried back. “What?” This time the light stayed on, and he hesitated in front of the door. “What the hell…” He grabbed the door knob.
“Don’t go in there, Dad. It’s her. It’s Mom!”
He looked down at me, his face slack, his voice haunted. “I know.”
“Listen Dad, I understand now,” I said, pleading. “You told Mom to leave to protect us, but I know you still love her. You gave up your marriage just to keep us safe. That‘s the bravest thing I ever saw. You don’t need to do this!”
Tears slid down his cheeks. He put his hand on my shoulder. “I have to, son. I love her.” He turned and opened the door, and then stepped inside closing it behind him.
That’s the last time I saw my Dad alive, but not the last time I saw things.
Aunt Jenny lives with us now, but I still see Mom and Dad every now and then. They live with us too, mostly just fading in and out of rooms. But they look, I don't know . . . kind of happy.