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I ask the fat mortician how my father was killed.
The mortician turns around, a bloated, gas-filled thing. He sighs, and tells me that my father was shot by a policeman.
Apparently, my father was in a woman’s apartment last night. Apparently, the woman didn’t want my father to be there. Apparently, the woman called 911.
And apparently, my father charged the responding officer with a knife and then was apparently shot three times in the chest and apparently he is dead on the slab in a morgue in front of me.
He looks awful.
His face is craggy, one eye has gone a shocked and dead gray-blue. He’s looking down at the three brown holes in his chest, flecks of dried blood spackled around them. His skin’s gone gray, and I think it would’ve been that color if he was alive.
This is the first time I’ve seen him in fifteen years.
The fat mortician unwraps a Jolly Rancher that he took out from a pocket in his lab coat, and he tosses the candy into his mouth. There’s no sound in the room, except for the buzzing of fluorescence and the slick clacking of the candy against the mortician’s crooked teeth.
“No offense man,” the fat mortician says, “but your dad was f*****’ stupid.” He laughs. “Knife to a gunfight. F*****’ classic.” When the fat mortician laughs, little droplets of spit made green by the candy fly out of his mouth and land on my father’s dead and broken chest.
My father would always go fishing.
Not in the way most sons talk about. Not the kind of fishing where a son learns how to bait a hook, the kind where a son and a dad walk back into their house telling a mom about how the fish they caught was this big. Not the kind where a family is served the fish for dinner as a dad and a son happily chat about how big a fight the little sucker put up.
No. Not that kind.
The kind of fishing my father did killed me.
Six, seven times a year, I’d hear my mom and my dad screaming. I’d hear dishes smash, sometimes I’d hear a blow land. And then the next day, I’d see my dad holding a fishing pole, walking out the front door. Always, always, I’d ask him where he was going.
“Not now, son.”
He was gone for a month once.
Weeks of my mother chain-smoking on her recliner. Weeks of sobbing whenever bills came. Weeks of staring at the empty and malicious telephone and waiting and waiting and waiting for a call we knew would never happen because it had never happened before when my father was gone, and it never would happen ever.
And then he’d be there.
I’d come home from school, and he’d be there. Because he just needed to get away for a while. And because it was nothing to worry about, son. And because why don’t you go see what your mother’s up to, I’m tired right now.
And after he got back, he’d take out a fish from a cooler, and he’d filet it. He’d open a drawer and pull out the crusty filet knife, the blade a dull, off-white color. Stained from years and years of use with chunks and strips of flesh stuck on it always.
And the sound it would make when he cut into the fish.
It was a greasy sound. A wet, slick slice that would never, never end. The kind of sound that drips and pools in your ears sloshes around your head for years.
Shlick. Shlick. Shlick.
I hated the sound.
I hated the sound, I hated the fish, and I hated the f****** knife.
I want to say that one time, he went fishing and never came back. I really do. Whatever would’ve happened after he left would’ve been better than the pathetic years he spent with us, gave to us.
But he didn’t. He always came back. Somtimes it’d be days. Sometimes weeks. But He’d always, always come back.
And there was one time when he came back, and I knew that he’d start cutting up the fish soon. I knew that soon every room in the house would echo with the shlick shlick shlick of the crusty knife slicing the flesh of the confused and dead fish.
So I left.
I haven’t seen my father since.
And now he’s dead. And I’m identifying his body.
“I’ll need you to sign this,” the fat mortician sprays. He hands me a piece of paper on a clipboard. The board smells sterilized, like clorox and embalming fluid. It makes me want to throw up for a second, but I wince the sick down.
The fat mortician notices, laughs. More green spit flies onto my father’s dead chest. It’s starting to collect; little green rivulets of fluid are flowing in the folds of my fathers’ dead and peaked nipples, a tiny green oasis here and there in the gaps between his collarbone and his shoulders.
The paper on the clipboard says that the corpse I’m identifying is, in fact, who it’s supposed to be. I sign, and I hand the board and the paper to the fat mortician. He starts to chew on the remnants of his Jolly Rancher, open-mouthed. The chunks of the candy in his cavernous mouth are dollar bills in a dryer.
If I have to look at that f****** man for one more second, I will kill him.
So I turn. I leave. And I’m back in my apartment.
And then I’m back in my house.
I’m back to being twelve. The walls are alive with the wet, wiggling pulse of the knife doing its work. And even though I’m under my blanket, and even though my mother is almost, almost drowning the noise out with her screaming and yelling and coughing, the noise still scratches, cuts at me.
Shlick. Shlick. Shlick.
My mother screaming. My father cutting. Me crying.
These are all I have left of my childhood.
Memories of screaming. Of fishing. Of pain and misery and indifference.
And memories of the noise. Of the visceral and wet cadence that has branded itself in my brain and will dog at me until I am like him, like my father. Dead. Gray. Cut up by a fat man in a lab coat.
Shlick. Shlick. Shlick.
And I’m going to be sick.