Dad pulls out his trophies and gets on a roll
|That was a Time
I wasn't busy, but I was concentrating on a story I was reading, trying to understand something in the plot, when Jill popped in. She hung just inside the doorway to my room. There was only about two years and some months difference between us. Even though she was my younger sister and could be a pest when she wanted to be, I wasn't used to her not barging in and scattering papers and sending chairs across my room. In other words, she was abnormally quiet and noninvasive.
I gave her a chance, but, finally I said, "What's up?" I kept my eyes on my book, but I could feel where she was and how she was standing.
She shifted her feet. "How's it goin'?" she said.
"You goin' to the dance with Sara?" she continued.
"It's the last dance in high school for you. Will it be special?" She shuffled her feet.
Jill said this last bit in a quiet voice I'm not used to hearing. But I know that tone: it's the one she's used since we were little kids when she wanted to talk about something that made her nervous. Back then, it was questions about sex or what to get Dad or Mom for Christmas or how to get out of a scrape. And it's still the same now—and it's the same type of questions.
I shut the book and swung my legs over the side of the bed, and that was all the signal she needed. With her customary brusqueness, she yanked on my desk chair and turned it backwards, bringing it close to me and kicked my door shut.
She started, "It's Dad again..."
"Oh, no!" I said.
"Yup. He's got the Smiths down there and their little kids. He's pulled out all his trophies—and some of yours, too—and they're sittin' around, the kids on the floor, an' he's goin' full tilt with all the stories. I mean—ALL the stories!"
"Oh, shit. How far has he got?"
"I told ya that he's got your trophies out, too, an' makin' as though he showed you how or coached you—stuff like that." She stopped looking at me and stared at the floor, dejection in her voice. I waited for more. "When I came up to get you, he was started on that tightrope thing back in Utah with those Indians…"
I knew what she was talking about. Our dad would tell people that he walked a tightrope stretched between two trees about a hundred yards apart but that the trees were on opposite banks of a river. He'd go on to say that he never did it before but that he had a special condition from childhood that gave him exceptional balance, something about tiny organs that spun real fast in his head. And he'd tell people that he taught these Indians how he did it and that every one of them tried it and was able to walk over that river without falling. But the truth of it was that the Indians themselves had put that rope up to entertain their kids, and, to make it interesting, they put it over a little stream of water so any kid falling off would get wet. The rope, at any place along the whole hundred feet wasn't more than a foot off the ground. When Dad got on it, the rope sunk down to the ground—he was never in the air. Every time Dad told this story the rope got longer and higher, the river deeper and rougher, and the Indians watching him would be in the hundreds.
He was a basketball star; he was able to hit a baseball clear out of the park; he raced cars; he raced motorcycles; he saved a whole platoon by running behind enemy lines, wiping them out with grenades. Often, there was a smidgen of truth behind every story, such as he had a motorcycle, a junior one that could do thirty; he was in Viet Nam but the only action he was involved in was a riot in some village of old people. And he played on the B team back in school.
Once in a while, someone would urge him to do the tightrope trick. But Dad would claim that some injury he suffered from racing destroyed his "balancing cells" and now he even had trouble walking across the yard. The same excuse was used for any request to show off. What's more, at this point, some would sympathize with him, pat him on the back, claim he should have had medals or letters of honor, commendations from the President. And Dad would float on air for a day or two, retelling all of us at the dinner table about his two moments of glory—the first one when he "accomplished" the deed and the second one when people today would see him as some kind of hero.
Jill pulled the door open to hear what was being said downstairs. She motioned me to come with her. "Now he's on the story about flying the plane when the pilot died," she said. But it never happened; he was afraid of flying and wouldn't do it.
Halfway down the stairs, we could look over the heads of everyone in the living room. Jill pushed me to the railing. We took turns doing this.
"Dad, did you forget? It's time for your medicine and your rest period." I spoke this loudly, interrupting his story where he breaks down the cockpit door.
We did this to preserve his dignity and all of ours.