October 14, 2000
Whenever we got carried away with our mirth, Dad would appear out of thin air and growl at us that there was too much laughter in the house. I never understood why it irked him so much. Perhaps he thought we were supposed to be as miserable as he was? Maybe he thought we were all making fun of him when he wasn’t in the room? In any case, I was cleared to laugh, but everyone else had to muffle themselves with pillows lest they set him off again. But one day he wiped the smirks off our faces for good.
As I’ve said previously, our house was a disaster of monumental proportions – much to everyone’s annoyance. So it was no surprise when Dad’s teetering tower of roofing shingles tipped over and crushed the plastic containers of used motor oil stacked in front of the garage. Dad and I came home late that afternoon and found Mary mopping things up.
“What happened?” he asked.
“Your shingles fell down and spilled your oil all over the place, so I’m cleaning up your mess,” Mary informed him. There was oil running down the driveway and splattered on the garage door.
“That’s not my oil, that’s your brother Johnny’s oil,” Dad said testily. (It wasn’t.) “Mine’s in the garage where it’s always been. He should be out here cleaning this up, not you.” He noticed that Johnny’s car was parked out front, so he marched up to his room and stood in the doorway. “Are you going to go downstairs and clean up your mess outside, or are you going to let your sister do it for you?”
Johnny was working on something at his desk and made a face at Dad without answering. Dad went back outside and scooped up one of the broken containers – one with a decent amount of oil still in the bottom – and marched back upstairs. Johnny had placed his broken door over the doorway during Dad’s absence, but Dad simply kicked it aside and hurled the container of oil into the depths of the room. It hit the opposite wall and splattered all over his bed, his clothes, and his drum set. Johnny was up from his desk in a flash but Dad grabbed him. Johnny knocked his arm away and shoved him into the wall.
“You put your hand on me again, it’s going to be broken,” he snarled in Dad’s face. Johnny then turned and stormed downstairs. Dad was nipping at his heels and breathing on the back of his neck the whole way, but he didn’t dare touch him again. He followed Johnny right into the kitchen where he picked up the phone, dialed 911, and then bashed it down. The two of them started going at it, quickly joined by Mary from outside. Mom was out with Patrick and they came home to a full-blown shouting match shortly afterwards. They entered the ruckus as well and it become a rafter-shaking scream fest. This time I knew enough to stay out of the fracas, but I still had a front-row seat. Patrick finally got fed up with Dad’s nonsense and called him a moron. Dad reached over and hit him across the face.
“No, that’s not necessary, that’s not necessary at all,” Mom said as Patrick became the second person to dial 911 and bash the phone down. The police took their sweet time getting there, showing up an hour after that second phone call. Dad opened the door to a male and female cop on the threshold. They came in and took statements from everyone. Patrick filed a police report against Dad, but he was 21 and not interested in pressing charges. Then the cops tried to talk some sense into Dad. He tried his best to keep his temper in check.
“You don’t understand,” he told them. “I’m out there breaking my ass twelve hours a day, every day of the week to provide for them and put a roof over their heads, and then I have to come home and be treated like shit… Do you have kids? How would you react if they treated you that way? Tell me…”
The female cop held up her hand and said, “But you have to understand that when you react like this, you’re only pushing them further away…” I could see Dad getting hot under the collar. He was already incredulous that the police were entertaining this instead of seeing it as a “simple family dispute” and moving along, but now he was being lectured by a woman. It was almost too much for him.
Finally the cops suggested to my siblings that it might be best if they found somewhere else to stay for the night. They each grabbed a few things and went to crash with friends. Dad watched the front door swing shut as the last person left and I saw his shoulders droop. He didn’t say anything for a few moments. He just stood there staring at the closed door until finally turning and shuffling into the kitchen.
“Are you hungry?” he asked me, putting on a pot of spaghetti before I could even answer. I wasn’t hungry but I didn’t have the heart to tell him when he looked so sad and defeated. My feelings were all mixed up. I still wanted to believe in and support my father, but I was struggling with that in light of all I had just witnessed. It was hard to believe that just a few hours before Dad and I were in the car on our way home from my dance competition, laughing and joking around as if all was right with the world.
I did know one thing, though – my brothers and sisters were never coming back.