What it Took to Preserve Him

February 3, 2014
My Dad winked at me like we were pals or something. Granted, he was drunk, so this wasn't all that surprising.
I stood in the lighted entrance of the Salty Platoon, scanning the crowd for my Dad through the haze of cigarette smoke that hung as thick in the air as a morning fog. I had been called by the bar's owner to pick him up. The owner and I, we were pretty acquainted by now. This happened a lot.
He spotted me spotting him, and casted his deceivingly friendly wink. He was in his usual spot, slumped across the grimy surface of the wooden counter top, eyes drooping with excessive drunkenness and his head propped upon the palm of his large, swollen hands. I began to make wide strides towards him, wishing to escape the suffocating scent of liquor and the questionable company my father found himself so accustomed to.
My sterling silver cufflinks were a stark contrast to the grubby t-shirts of the bar's inhabitants. The first time I had been called to pick my father up, gruff men inside the bar cast reproachful looks my way. However, now that my father's, and now my own, presence has become commonplace within the Salty Platoon, the men no longer take notice of my presence. Which is fine by me. Preferred, actually.
I reached my dad. He smirked up at me, slapping his hand down on the counter, causing the small hardball glass set in front of him to rattle and clank.
"Hey there, pal" he said with a grin, slurring his words and squinting up at me. "Finally joining me for a drink?"
"Hello, Tom." I replied, refusing to call him "dad" any longer. I feel such a title requires that the individual actually act like a parental figure. I ignored his question, leaning over the counter to grab the keys to my father's car out of the manager's hands, who greeted me with a nod.
I attempted to arise my father out of his cracked leather bar stool, but his disposition rapidly shifted as he resisted.
"Get your hands off of me!" He barked.
I rolled my eyes and sighed in exasperation. "I have to get to an appointment. So, please, let's go."
"Am I such a bother?"
I gripped the edge of the bar top, the skin over my knuckles paling to a shocking shade of white. He just didn't understand how lucky he had it. How much we put up with for his sake.
"I don't think you get it, Zach!" Tom argued, as if he had been reading my mind. "All I've done for you! All I've been through. Am I not entitled to spend my years how I want? Too spend my money as I see fit? According to you, apparently not! You come in here, all the time, spoiling my life just like you've always done."
He continued on like this. There was no use feuding with him. No use telling him that I could care less what he does, I just didn't wish to see the poor manager suffer his presence anymore then he already had. When he got in one of these moods there was no talking sense into him. He used to be so reasonable. So happy.
People in the bar took no notice of the drunk man's incoherent ramblings. The manager just stood behind the bar, head bent, intently wiping a wet glass with a tattered rag. I stood and took it, like I always did.
Finally his discursive speech reached it's end as he wailed out in a raspy voice, "I used to be happy!"
He stopped. Stared forward, looking past me. Through me. His eyes glazed over, and his head dropped down to his chest.
"What has happened to me?"
I released my ever tightening grip on the counter. Here was the calm after the storm. I looked down at this man, with tan, leathery skin and thin hair the color of dust who used to be my father. The man I played in the backyard with, teaching me to throw a baseball and taking me for ice cream. He was a shriveled up husk of his former self.
"Let's go. We'll take my car. I'll pick yours up tomorrow."
Without waiting for a response I gently grabbed his thick, pudgy arm and successfully ushered him out of the stool. I slid a couple of dollar bills across the concrete surface, a peace offering to the man behind the counter for his continued patience with these frequented occurrences.
We made our way out to the car in silence, my father staring blankly down at his shuffling feet. I rummaged through the pockets of my fathers steel toned rain slicker, which I had retrieved from a chipped, wooden coat rack by the door. I located his thin wallet, opened it, and found nothing more than three crinkled dollar bills inside. I returned the money and the wallet back into the coat's pocket.
Same routine as always. Money wasted on a night of drowning his sorrows.
I drove with the radio turned down. The loud noises tended to upset my dad when he talked himself into these senseless stupors. My father's forehead was pressed against the cool surface of the window, gazing out at nothing in particular, lost in his own dark thoughts.
I pulled into the driveway of my childhood home. It was pleasant enough from the outside, with small, clipped bushes and a tiny flower bed, brimming with hyacinth Impatiens. My mother stood patiently on the front porch, awaiting our arrival. I had called her on the way home.
She briskly made her way down the steps and over to the car as I untangled my lanky frame from the confines of the small Honda Civic. She greeted me with a hug and kiss then worked on retrieving her husband from the pleather seats of the automobile.
She mumbled to herself, nervously repeating "Thank you, Zach. Thank you, darling" over and over, her voice came out in exhausted puffs of air.
"It's no trouble, mom" I lied, casting a discrete glance down at my watch which read 2:30. My appointment was at 3:00. I couldn't be late for this one. I was getting desperate. I walked around the car, helping my mom usher my father back into the house. Once he was situated on the couch, I made my way for the door, but my mom stopped me.
"How was he today?"
"You see him in there, mom." I replied, making a gesture towards the living room. "You know. He's back in his "bad place". Judging from his empty wallet he spent the night at the casino again. Has he been taking his medication?"
My mother shrugged uncomfortably. I set them out for him, constantly remind him that he needs to take it, but I think he hides them somehow."
I nodded and remained silent.
"I don't see how this could have happened. He was such an inspiring man in his youth."
I knew that only to well, though my mom often felt compelled to remind me. I think she missed the days when I looked upon my father with the admiration that is characteristic of small boys, because somewhere, deep down, my mother is still the doting wife who is so madly in love with her husband.
He was a man of business, with all the exuberance and charisma characteristic of a salesman. His job was important to him but did not consume him as he never missed a single soccer game, basketball game or, most importantly, a baseball game. He adored the sport with everything he had, practically raising me on ball park hot dogs and batting averages.
Whenever my dad was making life miserable for everyone around him, I always think back to our days in the backyard, playing catch. His booming voice imitating the commentators that blasted over the radio on every single car ride we took.
My father had this undeniable talent for baseball. He discovered from a young age that he could throw equally well with both hands. He was predominantly right handed, however, when it came to baseball it pumped through his veins like blood, and a strange ambidexterity was the result. He tried to teach me, but I never could gain control over the ball when I tried to throw with my left hand. I admired his fascinating capabilities, and we continued to grow closer, with baseball being the centrifugal force.
Once I graduated from high school and had gone off to college, my father spiraled into a deep depression. It was not the regular sadness that often grips parents who are left with "empty nests", rather it was a hopelessness that rattled every part of his being, and it often manifested itself in aggressive altercations with my mother and I.
He began to drink and gamble incessantly. Both started innocently enough. A few beers to unwind at night escalated into long bouts of binge drinking, and twenty-five dollars lost at the races one day, the next turned into 5,000 dollars lost.
Turns out his ambidexterity wasn't the only two-sided aspect of my father.
It's hard not to live in the past when the past is so much more appealing, but I ripped myself from those nostalgic thoughts of my childhood, and gave my mom a steady look as I placed a hand on her shoulder.
"I know that, mom. These things can happen to anyone."
"Why us?" She replied, closing her round, jade eyes as she desperately tried to control her wavering voice.
I pulled her in for a hug. I often grow frustrated with my mother. She's very emotional, but it's not her fault what my father did. I have to remember that.
I raised my eyes to the white porcelain clock hanging on the wall of the kitchen.
"Oh my gosh! Mom, I'm sorry but I have to go." I exclaimed, untangling myself from her embrace. "I have that meeting I told you about! Very important."
She nodded, smiling as she wiped at the black mascara that had accumulated under her eyes. "Good luck!"
"Thanks" I managed as I raced out the door.
I finally had a minute to think as I sped in my car towards my minuscule apartment on the other end of town. I had been dreading this since the moment I had accepted the necessity of the idea. This meeting, to me, was like the end of an era. An era where I made the precarious, yet rewarding, journey to the highest mountain peek and, because of weather, was forced to climb back down before enjoying the view.
The mountain was my research. After finally pursuing my Masters Degree I was permitted to head a research project of my own, finally giving me the opportunity to fulfill the very reason I decided to become an experimental psychologist. I threw myself into the project. I was blind to anything, anyone else, that did not involve my precious research. Long hours were spent in the library, pondering the strange irregularities that haunted the human mind. Hours more in the laboratory were spent constructing simulations that would grant me revolutionary insight into the minds of the mentally disturbed.
It was going great. As good as it possibly could. I was making impressive headway and a great deal of renowned doctors were taking an interest in my work, requesting to be a part of it. I refused their offers, however. I wanted my original team and I to be the sole contributors to what was sure to be a momentous advancement in the area of mental illness.
Looking back I should have taken their offers. Their knowledge. Their funding.
How could I have known that my father would be the torrential storm, forcing me from my revered mountain peak? That every penny my parents and I had ever saved for the sake of my education was going to be spent fueling my father's gambling addiction?
I was forced away from my research, as well as the pursuing of my Master's Degree, because I no longer had the funds the remain in school. And here I remained, on the brink of desperation, ready to sell the rights to my most prized possession. My research. In terms of a respectable job, I was stuck in limbo. I was either over qualified or under qualified for almost every position in my field. And now a rewound psychologist, whose offer I had refused several years previously, was willing to pay a substantial fee for the rights to my research. And I was forced to accept. There were medical bills to pay. My mother simply couldn't do it by herself any longer.
I reached home. My apartment. I don't really like to consider my unfitting, dilapidated living space a "home". But I digress.
I hastily logged on to my laptop, awaiting the video call from Dr. Yearling. My stomach was in knots.
I turned around in my chair, gazing at the flimsy bookshelf I had picked up from a yard sale. I hoisted myself up from my seat, striding across the room towards the shelf. I scanned it for a moment, my eyes searching for the white binding of my compiled research.
There it was. The brightest spot among the cracked bindings of old textbooks. Taunting me. I pulled it from the shelf and ran my hands across its smooth surface. I gazed down at the small, Times New Roman font on the cover.
There it read: "Relieving the Effects of Acute Manic Depressive Bipolarism Towards the Human Brain"
I sighed, glancing up as my computer beeped, alerting me of the incoming video call.
"You'll never realize to what extent I worked to preserve you, Dad"

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Wondering_About_Infinity said...
Feb. 16, 2014 at 4:46 pm
This took my breath away, woow.
DaniJo519 replied...
Feb. 16, 2014 at 6:53 pm
Thank you so so much. That means the world to me.
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