I knocked on the door, not ready to face the man who answered. My hands slid back into my pockets, now moist with anticipation. My heart racing.
“Jon? Is that you?”
I hadn’t heard his voice in years. It was as I remembered, but with what sounded like a throat of sandpaper.
“Yeah, you going to let me in?”
I heard shuffling around inside before the light from inside pierced the cold darkness I had been standing in for five minutes debating my choice to come here. A wave of alcohol breath followed the light and I knew nothing had changed.
Doug opened the door, his arms wide and a smile wider inviting me inside. I thought me coming over might have not been a good idea. I hadn’t seen him in four years, and I was doing fine without him in my life. I am not sure why I thought we would be able to pick up where we left off, and picking up where we left off didn’t sound appetizing at all.
People don’t change. Not without a real reason to at least, and I was no reason enough for him to change his ways. This is what he wanted. To live a mess of a life, in a shack held together by rusty nails. At least he had the relaxing sound of waves crashing on the shore that most people paid millions to enjoy. If only it wasn’t waves from the shitty part of town that no one in their right mind wanted to live by.
“You just going to stand there? Come in man, it’s been way too long!”
I nodded my head as I stepped in and got a full view of how he was living. Trash surrounding him, empty bottles on top of the trash, and the yellow filled bottles were the most concerning as I knew they were not yellow liquor. He was a mess, still.
“What have you been up to? How’s the job, still at that tech place?”
“You mean staples? Yeah unfortunately I am still there, at least I’m a shift manager now, so I make slightly above minimum wage which is exciting.” I didn’t have much enthusiasm left in me, but he didn’t seem to notice.
“That’s awesome! Moving on up the corporate ladder. That’s not really for me, but I’m proud of you.”
I dealt with enough of this small talk at work, and I wasn’t in the mood for it with him.
“Look, why did you invite me over? I thought you might have been dying or something and I would’ve felt bad not seeing you before you died. Although, looking around, maybe that is the case.”
He didn’t respond right away. Like any addict, they aren’t too fond of their problem having the spotlight. I could tell it struck a nerve. One I didn’t mind much of hitting since he didn’t have anyone else to hit it for him.
“Look I didn’t mean it like that I just- “
“No, it's fine, your right. But I’m ok, I’m doing as good as I want to do. Besides, that’s not why I reached out.”
I knew what came next. The same as always. Money. He needed money and knew I couldn’t say no.
“I need some help. Financial help. Not a lot, just to get me by until next month is all. I’ve got it figured out past then, but just need a jump start.”
“Listen, Doug, as much as I hate you, I do love you, but we have been through this before, and I can’t keep bailing you out. It’s not fair to you, or to me. You need help for sure, but money isn’t going to fix it.”
“Your right. I shouldn’t have asked you for it. I’m not sure what I expected from you. I thought maybe you had grown enough to help your old man.”
“Listen man, did you forget all the years I helped keep you afloat? How many summers did I give up being a kid so you would have enough money to keep drinking? All for what. Where did that get you? I thought to myself that maybe if I left, and you had no one to help you would either learn to help yourself, or it would kill you. Either one would have been better than seeing you like this again.”
That may have been a little harsh. I hadn’t seen him in years, and within five minutes told him I would rather he be dead than help him out. It wasn’t my proudest moment, but it was true.
“That true? Do you really mean that?”
“I mean yeah. I’d hope you’d sober up and be a half-decent dad for once, but seeing that you have no interest in doing that, I figure death is the only thing that could help you with your problems because clearly drinking ain't fixing shit.”
I started pacing in the limited floor space that wasn’t covered in garbage. I had to keep my cool. If not, I couldn’t help him in the way he needed.
“Who do you think you are Jon? Think your hot shit because you’ve got life figured out? Don’t have any demons haunting you down every night reminded you of the reality that you live in isn’t as great as you had hoped? Yeah so, I got some fucking issues, and drinking helps, so what? It ain't hurting anyone.”
“That’s your problem, you think because you feel fine when you're smashed that it doesn’t matter who else it hurts. Do you think taking care of your dad while he is hammered is something a normal child should have to do? You were worthless as a father, and even more so as a member of society.”
“Dude, the world doesn’t fucking revolve around you, just because you don’t like something, or how someone lives their life, doesn’t mean they have to change to fit your mold.”
“I’m not asking you to bend over to do what I want, I’m asking you to consider how other people feel, and maybe giving a shit about someone other than yourself. It's simple stuff, like real basic to be a human.”
This was starting to sound too familiar. We had this fight countless times. He could not understand that simple fact that I wanted him to give a shit about me for once in his life, or at least put on a show and pretend while I was around.
“You don’t have to be such an ass Jon; I am your father after all. I raised you, took care of you. I don’t see your mother stepping in for parent of the year award.”
“That’s too far. That’s not fair at all. Why would you even say that?”
“It’s not my fault she left; she made that choice to not be a parent anymore so fuck her.”
“It is 100 percent your fault asshole. If it wasn’t for your abuse and constant drinking, I would still have a mother!”
I could not take him any longer. I reached over the table between us and socked him in the mouth. He felt his lip that started to bleed. He set down his beer and got out of his chair while I stood there staring at him in the face.
He was going to hit me back; I couldn’t believe it. I should have though; he didn’t care enough to apologize for the past, why not fuck up the future. I braced for impact.
His arm moved slowly through the air as his fist came toward my face. I wasn’t much of a fighter, so I ducked to avoid the contact. He must have put all his weight and balance into the punch since missing contact with my face wobbled him to the floor. I knew that would only make him more pissed off for ‘making me look like an idiot’.
I tried to help him up by lending my hand. I stood there over his body face down in a pile of trash. I waited for him to turn around, but he laid there not moving.
“Get up, look I didn’t mean to hit you. Well I meant to, but I shouldn’t have.”
He didn’t respond.
I fell beside him and flipped him over. I couldn’t hear him breathe. My fingers when to his wrist to check his pulse and I felt a quick movement, and then a bottle crash over my head.
The impact made my body buckle under its own weight while I tried to grasp what happened. I stood up knees shaking while checking my hand to see it blood-covered.
“What the hell? Did you hit me with a fucking bottle you asshole?”
I couldn’t make out what he said but saw him smile. My head was pounding, and he wasn’t speaking clear to begin with.
My legs started to get weak and I fell to the ground. I felt him jolt up and support my weak body.
“Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, your bleeding. Like bleeding bleeding. I’m so sorry Jon, oh fuck!”
He seemed to sober up by the sight of the blood gushing out of my head. I was fighting consciousness. I felt him lift me to the chair he had been sitting in minutes before. I didn’t have the energy to sit up straight. My vision blurred and I saw a vague shape rushing around in the kitchen. I heard drawers and cabinets opening and slamming shut.
The dark blob came rushing towards me, lifted my head, and wrapped something over my wound. I saw the blob cover my vision, and mumbles coming from it. Then all went black.
I woke up lying in bed. My head pulsating with pain. I looked around and saw that I was still at my dad’s. Then my memory started flushing back of what happened. I felt my head and it was covered in wet rags. Blood covered rags I soon realized.
I tried to stand up. I needed to get to the hospital. I was too weak to move. Before I could call for my father, I was out again.
Bright lights and beeping woke me up. My eyes took a minute to adjust. Head was still pounding but felt better. As I tried to look around, I saw nurses and doctors rushing by my room and took a sigh of relief.
“How you feeling?”
I heard his voice, but I didn’t see him at first. He was sitting in the corner of the room, looking like a beaten puppy holding his hat in his lap and shoulders slouched.
“Been better. Thanks for not letting me die I guess.”
He started walking over to me. “Figured it was a good idea and all, plus didn’t really want to go to jail.”
“Alright, got it, it’s definitely you. I’m alive, you can leave, I won’t press charges.”
“I’m joking Jon, I wasn’t going to let my son die from my drunken outburst.”
Was that an apology? About as close to one I have ever heard from him.
I sat there in silence for a moment. Why did I let it get this far? Why did I let him anger me so much? It wasn’t worth it. It never was.
“I forgive you.”
“For the joke? Or for cracking your skull open?” he said with a slight nervous chuckle.
“I forgive you.” I wasn’t sure if I meant the next words I said or if it was the drugs in my system, “for, well, everything.”
He took a step back.
“What do you mean ‘for everything?’”
“I mean I forgive you for being a shit dad. I forgive you for making me take care of your drunken self when you couldn’t. I forgive you for not giving a shit about anyone but yourself. I forgive you for pushing mom to take her own life so she wouldn’t have to deal with you anymore. I forgive you because I just can’t keep carrying this hate for you.”
I didn’t say anything.
“Is that really how you feel about me? That’s not what I wanted; it never was.”
“You know how I feel dad, all this fight did was make me realize you weren’t ever going to change, so why should I hold onto the past.”
“I’m, I’m sorry Jon. I don’t know how I let it get this bad. I’ll make it up to you, I promise.”
“Listen dad, I’m still in a decent amount of pain, even with the drugs they have me on, but I’m done. I’m not looking to reconnect like I thought maybe we could. I just want you to face your demons and take responsibility for yourself. I can’t do that for you like I thought I could.”
He stood in silence for some time. Neither of us said anything. I could see on his face remorse, actual remorse for once. I don’t think seeing his son almost died from his hands changed him, but I sure hope it woke him up.
He put his hat back on his head and muttered three words I do not know if I have ever heard him say, “I love you.” And he left.
I waited until he was out of sight and let the tears run down my cheek. For him to manage those words, and seem to mean it, I knew that I helped all I could. I wasn’t planning on a head wound to be the help he needed but was hopeful it would at least stick.