My Father: A Series of Vignettes This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category.

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     The houseguests wade in a pool of confused silence. “Is ... is that a Jackson Pollock?” they ask, swearing they didn’t realize my dad was so rich. Pollock books weighed down the only bookcase in the house, and for a week, Dad researched, studied, and even watched how Pollock spat out paint on the canvas.

To him, modern art was simple.

“I can do that,” he told me once as we passed Pollock’s Cathedral. I laughed. I thought he was joking. But when I shuffled in one day, there hung a mammoth, splattered, stringed, dotted, splashed, perfect Jackson Pollock on the once barren wall. I looked at him in disbelief: Did he steal it? How did he ...? My brain ran out of room and began to skip like an old record. But he looked back, glowing with accomplishment. I could see him picturing the thousands of houseguests to whom he could show off. He thought of how impressed they would be when he told them he put a piece of canvas on the garage floor and “just did it.” He thought he would act modestly (for the right effect) and prepared himself for the showers of praise that would douse him with glorious attention.

“I told you so,” he must have said to himself.

***

He had been reading a magazine, and I was listening to loud teen angst music. Both the magazine and I were resting in those sticky leather chairs, waiting to board a small plane to Chattanooga. Then Dad came back from the bathroom.

“Did they call our flight?”

I didn’t know. He ignored his magazine (and me) and quickly paced over to the counter, his loose, black, duffel bag in one hand. He asked the woman something.

She replied.

Outrage. Fury. His clenched fist that gripped the handles soared into the air. The weight of the bag pulled him onto his toes. Clenched teeth strained his neck. Blood vessels popped. And he brought his bag down with a violence I had never seen.

A deafening “What!” carried across the airport. Never before had I seen such anger. My pulse skipped more than a few times, and my eyes began to well up for reasons I could not explain.

In the aftermath, after he called Grandma to tell her we would be late for Christmas, my father discovered that he had shattered his brand-new Palm Pilot in his rage. I waited in fear for another explosion.

***

The life of the party. Always social. Always outgoing. Does his age faze him? Of course not. He works out daily. He shows dauntless confidence. He laughs at his own jokes. This is the outward Taylor. This is the culmination of his training. I know how much went into his training: vocabulary, history, art, physics. Years of trying to improve his knowledge left him feeling like a jack-of-all-trades, able to converse with anyone on almost any topic in order to defy his Southern stereotype. He believes loud talkers from Tennessee can be erudite. And with such an encompassing knowledge, he has fine-tuned the art of persuasion. True, his ability to manipulate others is an effective tool in business, but I detest his skill when I constantly find myself sweeping the patio or cleaning out the gutters.

My dad is uncomfortable with silent pauses. He must reply to anything said, be it a mere “I like your hat,” or “It is hot outside.” But in the split second before he responds, a miracle of idiosyncrasies overcomes his wrinkled visage. This confused and strange thought process entertains me to no end. His eyelids close slightly for that one second of thought, his lower jaw unhinges and shifts back, and his cheeks curl to reveal his glowing teeth. His unkempt furry eyebrows shift downward, and the thick wrinkles on his forehead recede into smoothness. He blinks tightly during those final stages of forming his thoughts and then proceeds to dish out his well-developed point of view in a manner most interpret as yelling.

To the unassuming audience, he may seem tactful, but I can still hear his voice over the screaming jets of a Boeing 747. I can hear him on the phone from the other side of the house. I can hear his piercing laughter as it carries across the masses during dinner parties. I can hear him whisper five miles away. This loud man is my father.

***

His reverberating drawl bounded across the room and upstairs. “Son, can you come down here for a second? I want to talk to you.” I stumbled down the carpeted stairs into the bleak white kitchen. A revolver was on the counter.

“This was your grandfather’s when he was chief of police in Chattanooga.” I smiled blankly, half-expecting him to take me on a field trip through his father’s past. The other half expected something ridiculous.

“Alright, pick it up, and put a bullet in one of the chambers.” The bullet became warm between my sweaty fingers. Click.

“Good, now don’t look and spin the cylinder.” My eyes closed, I heard ball bearings whizzing and scraping violently against metal. An eternity passed before the cylinder stopped.

“Alright, now put the cylinder back in. Good. Now would you put the gun to your head and pull the trigger?”

I told him no.

“Alright, now look, son. That bullet there ... that’s a baby. And if you put another one in, that would be STDs. They can end your life. You get what I mean? Do you understand what I’m gettin’ at?” I nodded and smiled as I tried to play it off as a good joke. I was horrified.

“Good. I know you already know this, but I just wanted to re-emphasize things. And I know you got a good head on your shoulders, son, right?”

“Yeah, alright,” I murmured.

As he smiled and patted my back, I looked down at the revolver. The bullet was only one chamber away.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category. This piece won the June 2006 Teen Ink Nonfiction Contest.






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