This is a story from my first memoir, which is written in a series of stories, or vignettes. It jumps around a lot, to reflect the way we think, or at least the way I think and write, with memory, thought, the way memories surface and resurface in our minds:
I said “I miss my dad” on Father’s Day, Rose sitting with me at Mama’s in Oakland having our late breakfast. She was almost seven.
“He is always with you,” she said.
Sitting in my apartment in San Francisco in Bernal Heights feeling the fallout from a breakup. My father was sober for a long time and I was sober for about two years until the summer of 1989. I was living in a small apartment in Kent, Ohio, I was struggling, this was the summer of the big earthquake in San Francisco. I had a big black and white TV, I don’t think it worked at all actually, but I thought I could communicate with aliens through the TV. When I was living in Philadelphia, I thought they were angels orbiting the planet. They were nice and told me things like “brush your teeth.” I was in bad shape and when I relapsed that summer in things got a lot worse.
Driving through California as a kid, in the Winnebago, the summer after 4th grade, reading a book about evil cockroaches that destroy a town, a book I got at a gas station. American gas station sci fi. Like the Stand which I read not long after.
I don’t remember much about that trip, California. I watched my dad take a drink in Wyoming, a beer. Looking back, I think I knew he had never drank alcohol in my entire life at that point. I learned later he had eighteen years sober at that moment, then gone.
There were a lot of alcoholics, as far as I can tell, in my family, mainly on my dad’s side. The genetic thing. My Aunt Jane, my dad’s middle sister, could have been a great CIA agent, but she drank herself to death instead. Of course, her husband beating her up didn't help. Also an alcoholic CIA agent, Uncle Dave. I found an article she wrote in 1957, which was declassified in 1994. About Cicero, a special agent in Turkey in WW2. She had many talents I’m sure that did not blossom due to her drinking.
My father was not around much when I was a kid. I grew up in Ohio, like him, in the Akron area, although he was born and raised in Akron itself, Goodyear Heights. There was a small shop there I used to go to as a kid to buy comic books on Goodyear Boulevard. Donald Duck and his friends’ adventures. Chilly Willy the Penguin, etc.
He grew up on Sumatra Avenue where my grandparents lived. We both went through a lot and now that I have a daughter, and my father has died, right before she was born, I want to talk about him and what he meant to me, and what he means to me now, and also how being a father has changed the way I see and feel about him. About a lot of things. He never thought he was too bad off maybe except in the sixties when he found his first wife in bed with another man and drank so much, he had DTs. His neighbors found him, and he went to St. Thomas Hospital in Akron, Ohio, where Alcoholics Anonymous had started back in the 1930s.
Sister Ignatia was taking care of people like him at that hospital and he got sober right around that time. We had a lot of conflicts when I was growing up but basically, I was afraid of him and he got more angry it seems as I got older.
I was in fourth grade in Tallmadge, Ohio. I held the shotgun up and pointed it at my mother. She moved toward me, she seemed calm. I was going to elementary school about a half mile from where I lived on a dirt road in the suburbs of Ohio but next to a big farm; corn and black angus cows, early seventies, that morning I took a shotgun shell to school with me probably got it from a box of shells in my dad’s top dresser drawer I wanted to do something fun and this was yet another way for me to try to connect with kids at school, where I wanted to be liked I wanted to be cool.
Things at home had changed since we moved from a nicer neighborhood, more suburban, with lots of kids and families around, my sister was born when I was five, which was great, the focus was off me and I could do whatever I wanted. And now we were out in the country on the edge of the suburbs.
That day, after taking the shotgun shell to school with me, the red plastic casing and gold end the case with the button that the gun triggers the shot with. Not really understanding what would happen I threw the shell on the blacktop in the playground, hoping or thinking it would go off like a firecracker, trying to hit the button on the shell casing on the blacktop of the playground. Kids all around. Nothing happened, just a few dents on the shell, but I got caught somehow and ended up in the principal's office again.
I had been in the principal’s office many times due to fighting other kids. He said that the shell could have gone off and hurt someone, he was a hunter he said, like my father. He said he would tell my parents about it, which scared the shit out of me. I ran home down the side of the dirt road past a few houses, a red house, the road with no sidewalk, just a small path, toward the house with brown aluminum siding where we lived.
I ran upstairs avoiding my mother who was in the kitchen in the 70’s style split level house. I pulled my dad's 20-gauge shotgun out from under the bed, put a new shell in it and went upstairs by the attic to hide and wait. My mother came up, she came up and I pointed the gun at her. She walked toward me, and I started crying, throwing the gun down, running around her and down the stairs to go outside in the backyard. I wanted to get away from her and then she started hitting me with thin, biting willow branches that cut deep into the flesh and sting the skin like jellyfish.
After that they made me sell milk instead of going out to recess with the other kids, white milk and chocolate. I got to keep my lunch money and buy comic books.