Are you okay?
I’m panting through my half run to a Biology class when two simple words bring me to a halt. It’s an 8am voicemail left by my father that I received three hours later.
Replay: “Bye, Honey”.
I call him back dying inside with every ring, ring, ring… “Hello?”
He’s alive, I think. I question him about the voicemail he doesn’t remember leaving, wondering how long he is going to last.
I was never home in high school, at least I never tried to be. I would get home as late as possible hoping the lights in my house were off. If they were off I could go to bed, I knew things were okay. But if they were on, I had to take in a breath before I opened the door. I had to hope he wasn’t upset behind that door.
I’m not going to Bio. My head droops as I can hear my father trembling for breath. There’s long pauses, and he won’t answer my probing question if he’s okay.
Are you okay? What a common question. But it’s the type no one ever wants the answer to, so you better say you’re fine in the name of trying to not look so morbid. We are a world full of questions we’re not quite sure we want answered.
How was your weekend?
An acquaintance who lived in my dorm was brushing her teeth next to me. She was acting as if she genuinely wanted to know what I did. You wanna know what I did?
“I drove home this weekend to see my family. I walked in the door and my dad was drunk and high off of his meds and causing a scene throwing things around the kitchen. My mom was on the couch crying while my dad grabbed a knife and started waving it around. So I said ‘Dad stop that or I’m gonna call the cops.’ So you know what he said?”
This is when I use my toothbrush as a knife to help with a visual.
“He gritted his teeth and looked me dead in the eye. He said ‘IF YOU CALL THE GOD DAMN COPS’ and he lowered his voice to a whisper, ‘I will cut my finger off.’ And he laid the knife right above his pointer finger. So I spent my Friday night in the ER.
You know as well as I did she didn’t want that answer. So instead I smiled and said “It was fine.”
Why are you late?
Here I am in the middle of the quad wondering how I am going to explain to my Biology professor why I didn‘t make it to class on time. Should I be blunt and give her a synopsis of the phone call, how I didn’t plan on my father calling me to say his final goodbyes? Life seems like it results in a lot of things you didn’t plan on, especially when you’re not expecting it.
A few years ago I planned to meet my friends at the movie theater at 4:00 pm. Four turned into five, triggering multiple calls and texts asking why I was late. Coincidentally my house, my room more specifically, got a four o’clock visitor: A squirrel.
My mom was running around the house screaming about the “rabid squirrel” while I was busy losing my mind on top of my bed. The little guy was hidden behind my bookcase when my Dad entered the room.
BOOM. BOOM. BOOM.
Wall debris, books, and of course massive amounts of squirrel guts exploded like the Fourth of July all over my room. I looked back to see my father’s satisfaction as he lowered his gun. Jaw dropped and tears brewing, he gave me no chance to even breathe before he made it clear who was picking up the corpse.
How was your Christmas?
So, what is Dad’s plan today, does he have pills or maybe knives? I frantically try to keep him on the line still thinking about getting to class and averting this crisis. I know his gun got taken away, I made sure of that.
It was Christmas Eve, Dad was plastered and had already shot our ceiling twice before what seemed like the CIA appeared to confiscate his gun. Dad was next to the Christmas tree where he had smashed a glass ornament and proceeded to hold the shard to his neck. I stood behind cops crying and watched men point guns at my father. After a few minutes of trying to sway him to put it down, I lunged towards the shard and ripped it from his fingers. As this happened, about half a dozen men toppled onto my father and me sending our Christmas tree, my childhood memories, and all of our bodies crashing to the ground.
“How was your Christmas Danielle?”
I smiled and said “It was fine.”
It’s 16 degrees this morning and I’m in a full sweat as my dad apologizes for being mean. I tell him he hasn’t been and I love him. I’m holding in tears because Dads crying enough for the both of us. I tell him we need to find him help and we can get through this together.
Help. Help hasn’t worked out for my dad so far. In the past year alone my father has been hospitalized over twenty times. So what do you tell someone who has already tried getting help? How do I stop a man from crying, a man who raised me to show someone my fists before ever letting them see me shed a tear? That’s Dads answer to everything, his hands (and 9 1/2 fingers).
One day after waitressing I came home to tell Dad how our neighbor had stiffed his bill to me. Dad couldn’t believe it. He threw his leather jacket and scally cap on and headed towards the front door. No one stiffs his daughter he told me. “What’re you gonna do Dad?” I’m hurrying to his side to stop him, “I’m gonna flatten his face that’s what I’m gonna do.” I grinned and let out a laugh. I hugged him, took off his hat and said “Save it for when someone breaks my heart.”
Dad is breathing heavy and has nothing else to say. “Dad promise me something” and he tells me anything. “Promise me you’ll be there when I get home?” Drawing in a breath he sighs, “I’ll leave the light on honey.”
Ten minutes late for biology, I slide into my chair. I open my book to chapter six: The Structure of the Heart. I blankly stare at the detailed illustration, knowing all too well a textbook could never explain his heart.
Danielle Dugan graduated from Emmanuel College with her bachelor’s in writing and literature. While attending she enjoyed composing poetry, fiction and nonfiction pieces. The Boston native continues to further her education.