“The Ride Home” by Ernie Quatrani

Dune House by Dariusz Klimczak (Kleemass) on 500px.com
“Dune House” Image courtesy of Dariusz Klimczak

The addicts have emerged. Twenty-one of them congregate to share hugs, encouragement, and smokes in the hellish July heat.

Nick’s people.

I’ve been waiting in the parking lot since the family support group meeting ended.

My people.

I guess I’m going to wait some more. I am running the air-conditioning, listening to the Phillies game.

“All they have is each other,” someone noted at our meeting tonight.

So be it. Anything, if it leads to a turning point.

Last summer, I sat waiting for Nick in the parking lot of the Bucks County Men’s Center, a prelude to his incarceration.

I AM a dedicated father.

Finally, Nick starts for the car and climbs in.

“How’d it go?’

No response.

I get pissy body language when I tell him to buckle his seat belt.

As I make a right turn onto Rodgers Station Road, I ask him to put his window up.

“I want some fresh air,” he says by way of refusal.

“And I want the AC on.”

At the light I ask again.

I get ripped for making a big deal out of nothing, as usual.

As a 25-year-old teenager, overreaction is one of Nick’s many unendearing traits. Addiction will do that to you.

I set the AC at max; he leaves the window down.

My jaw is clenched. I fight the urge to tell him to go to hell.

I flip on the turn signal as I approach Norristown Road, heading for the turnpike.

“Didn’t you notice I didn’t say anything all weekend? Didn’t you notice I haven’t gone anywhere in a week?” Nick asks.

Of course I had noticed. His silence was a freaking blessing.

“So?”

“Shouldn’t that tell you something?”

“What?”

Guess-what-I’m-pissed-at goes on for the 1.3 miles it takes to reach the ramp onto northbound 476.

Earlier this afternoon, a rant-a-thon  ruptured the weekend truce. I had been on the fence about going to the support group meeting, but after Nick’s diatribe, I couldn’t wait to go and at least get the hell away from him for a couple of hours.

I was unpleasantly surprised when Nick  announced at dinner that he wanted to go to Kennett with me for an addicts’ meeting. I have been going for several months. This was a first for Nick.

Maybe his coming along is a good thing, I rationalized.

What an ass am I.

The ride down had been mostly silent, except for a sarcastic critique of my radio choices.

Whatever.

I went to my meeting; Nick sat in the car listening to his far-superior music.

Now, as I wait at another light, I lean up against my door as far as I can. Right hand on the wheel. Left hand below my left thigh, giving Nick the finger. I smirk at my passive-aggressiveness and think about other things.

Nick gets frustrated when I don’t acknowledge his brilliant insights, so he attacks.

“You don’t care about other people.”

“You take everything personally.”

“You hold everything I ever did against me.”

“You think you know what I’m going through because you go to these stupid meetings. But you don’t.”

“Don’t roll your eyes like that.”

I’m trying to merge into 50-mph traffic in a narrow construction zone. There is a big orange truck filling my driver’s-side mirror. I briefly consider just going without looking. Who cares if I end up under a tractor-trailer? I don’t.

How did he see me roll my eyes?

At about the 25-mile mark on the Northeast Extension, I score my first and only point.

“If you think I’m incapable of knowing what you’re going through, and you need to talk to someone, get a sponsor.”

Cha-ching.

That buys me a few miles of silence. I know, and he knows, that a sponsor is key to his recovery. It’s been eighteen months since his first rehab stint. No sponsor. Plenty of heroin.

In the tenuous quiet, I catch up on the Phillies game on the radio. Not much of a diversion; they are getting hammered in Chicago.

A family rolls by in a van. Mom is smiling in the shotgun seat. I can see the DVD player in the back. Cartoons. I give them a salute. Enjoy. While you can.

At mile marker 28.7, nearing the Lansdale exit, our three-something minutes of peace are shattered as Nick ramps up the same-old-same-old.  “I’m bored to death at home.”

“Get a job, get some money, and move out,” I said.

“You said you would help me get a place to live.”

“Yeah, if you got a job and proved you could get by on your own.”

“I need a fucking car for that,” Nick whines.

“Not gonna happen.”

Nick’s license is suspended. Those pesky DUIs.

I continue, “Pick a train or bus route; get off at every stop until you find a job. Then get a place to live close to the train route.”

“You never fucking support me like you do Jimmy and Hannah.”

Been here, answered this. Apparently, free room and board, utilities, and food are not support. Same arguments I heard this afternoon, higher decibel level, more obscenities.

“We’re not talking about them, are we? And watch your mouth.”

Thirteen miles to go before I get off the Extension. I should have gotten off at Lansdale and walked home.

He finally puts his window up. I turn off the AC and put my window down.

Screw him.

I curse myself for insisting he put on a seat belt. I fantasize getting his door open and kicking him onto the shoulder of the road.

But after reflecting on the plan, I realize that I can’t do something like that.

The center console is too much in the way.

So, I detach. His punctuation-less rant continues on.

It is not getting to me like it used to. Yada, yada, yada would be less time-consuming and more interesting.

I notice I’m only doing 60; I press down on the accelerator. Traffic is thick, though; best I can do is 70.

Please, God, and PennDOT, no construction tie-ups.

I ask Nick to keep his voice down.

“I am not talking loud,” he shouts. A silent chuckle at the irony.

Nearing Quakertown, Nick informs me that Jimmy and Hannah also think I am a cold, distant, uncaring father. Another rerun. I think I’m smiling to myself again, but my lips apparently betray me.

“You think it’s funny that all your kids think you are a total asshole?”

“Nick, I’ll tell you what. Why don’t we just cut ties? If you strike oil keep it all for yourself. Send me a Christmas card if you want.” I am channeling Biff from Death of a Salesman.

As we go through the tollbooth, Nick picks up on my thread. Never, NEVER would HE suggest to me that we become estranged. I guess that’s his idea of the moral high ground.

I’m fantasizing about never seeing him again. I make sure my smile stays internal.

On 663 now, we pass Nichol Road. Nick finally dams his oral diarrhea. Maybe it’s because this is the intersection where he was stopped by a state cop and ended up having blood drawn which revealed traces of opiates that led to the hell of the last two years.

Or maybe it was just coincidence.

Or maybe he now finds texting more important. I can imagine what he is sending.

The Phillies are still losing to the pathetic Cubs, and Roy Halladay only lasted four innings. He had an awesome night compared to mine.

Finally, I start up Benedict Road. Nick unclasps his seat belt a quarter of a mile before the driveway. He is out the door before the car comes to a stop.

I sit in the car, resting my chin on my left fist, giving him time to go up to his room.

When I get out, I notice the driver’s-side window is still down, so I get back in, reinsert the key, and put the window up.

I also note the mileage in case Nick has any plans to hijack the car in the middle of the night. Again.

I say hello to Michelle, who is doing work at the kitchen table.

“How was your night?”

Thumb down.

“Why? What hap—”

I put my finger to my lips. I don’t want to talk about it. In case Nick is eavesdropping.

“OK,” Michelle says as she packs up her laptop. “See you upstairs.”

In the family room, I flop on the soft, blue couch. The Phils aren’t any better on television. Soon, I hear clomping on the steps.

Sigh.

Nick rushes into the family room.

“You never listen to—”

“You know what, I’m going to bed.” I shut off the TV and stand up.

He stomps outside. I climb the steps to the bedroom and lock the door.

Another day. Something to talk about at the next meeting.

 

 

Ernie Quatrani has taught in the Upper Perkiomen School District for thirty-three years, where he was heavily involved in co-curricular activities including the school newspaper, TV studio, and baseball. After coaching for thirty-two years, he retired and was inducted into the school’s hall of fame. He earned degrees from Temple, St. Joseph’s, and Villanova University. His work has been published or is forthcoming in The Main Line Times, The News of Delaware County, The Catholic Standard and Times, and The Town and Country.

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