44. Poking the Beast

September 22, 2007

Bill landed in the hospital again. He was on his way to work when he felt chest pains, so he drove himself right to the emergency room.    They held him for an angiogram, probed at his heart, and after initially talking about surgery they reversed course and determined he hadn’t had a heart attack at all.  They let him out a couple of days later, and then he remembered he was supposed to be in court that morning.  Dad was suing him for $2,500 in phone charges.  He printed out the call log and submitted that as evidence, but when Bill showed it to me I noticed that most were calls Dad had made himself.  Nice.  But now I knew what Dad meant about Bill “getting his paperwork.”

Bill was able to get an adjournment after the hospital faxed the court, and Dad flipped out after he’d wasted all that time down there.  He was convinced that it was another production from Bill the Actor, that he was faking heart problems again.  And while Bill mostly laughed off Dad’s antics, it was clear he was under a lot of stress.  I asked him why he didn’t just move out already, and Bill told me it was for Grandma’s sake. He was very fond of her, and the whole point of him being there in the first place was to help look after her.  By continuing to stay, he felt better knowing she had at least one competent caregiver, since he didn’t think much of Dad and Tina’s abilities.

Unfortunately Bill had given up his apartment, quit one of his jobs and cut back on the other when he moved in with us, so it was taking him a while to get back on his feet and get ready to move out again.  But he agreed that it was probably time.  Dad was stalking him around town now.  Bill walked most places and Dad followed him in his car, like Harry and Marv following Kevin in Home Alone.  Then he called the police on Bill because he had expired inspection stickers on his car.  The cop who came to the house didn’t give Bill any grief, he just told him to get it up to date and went on his way.  Meanwhile Dad’s own inspection stickers weren’t legit.  He’d cut out the expiration dates on old stickers, rearrange the numbers, and cobble together a new sticker that looked current.

Dad flipped when Bill told him the police simply talked to him and left. He was so worked up that he started babbling incoherently, so Bill picked up a glass of water from the table and flung it in his face.  Dad slapped the glass out of Bill’s hand and it shattered on the floor, and then he picked up one of the pieces and made like he was going to stab Bill with it.  “Come on, John, are you really going to cut me with that?  Do it, baby!”  Dad apparently came to his senses after that, but he was so frustrated that he went into the backyard and started dismantling the tree house.  My, how things had come full circle, after my oldest brother Johnny once bashed apart the clubhouse out of his frustration with Dad.

A few weeks later Dad went to the practice hall for Shannon and Patrick’s marching band.  He barged in, completely filthy from work and looking like a deranged homeless person, and started going bonkers about how they hadn’t visited Grandma and probably wouldn’t before she died.  They were pretty shaken up from that, and my mother was too after hearing the story.  She worked in retail and now half-expected him to show up at her job going bonkers too.  It had been a relatively peaceful few years for her, and now she felt she was back to square one having to look over her shoulder all the time.

Not to be outdone, Dad dropped in on Mom’s sister unannounced.  He started playing his violin as soon as he walked in the door, asking for her help in getting back together with Mom.  My aunt told him that wasn’t going to happen and Dad responded that he had great faith and that all things were possible with God. He even rolled up his pant legs to show her the marks from when he crossed the plaza at the basilica on his knees like the pilgrims from the third world.

“John, those people have more faith in their little finger than you have in  your entire body, and you can walk all the way to Rome on your knees for all the good it’s going to do you,” she said.  Then she shoved a beer in his hand and sent him on his way.  He was there for all of five minutes because that’s all she would tolerate.  Mom even once told Dad that he could bring in the pope himself and she still wouldn’t change her mind about getting back together with him.  But Dad was on a mission.

I had words with him myself.  The evening started out innocently enough, but I was in one of those moods where I wasn’t going to shy away from a fight.  At the time I was in the middle of an engine rebuild on an old Pontiac, and Dad asked me how it was coming along.

“It’s coming,” I said.  .

“Where is it, at your place?” he asked.

“Yeah.”

“Oh! Can I come see it?” His face almost lit up at the idea.

“No,” I said. He deflated like an old tire.

“Why not?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe I don’t want you bringing your nonsense over.”

His eyes darted around in his head before he fixed me with a look. “What nonsense?” he asked, feigning ignorance as always.

“Like the kind of nonsense that goes on around here with everybody else,” I answered.  His usual stupid little smile was creeping up on his face and I felt like slapping it off. He demanded to know what I was talking about, but I wasn’t interested in playing along if he was going to play dumb.  That enraged him further.

“Oh, of course, as usual everything’s a secret and I don’t understand any of it.  Everybody’s perfect, they’re all angels, but I’m the bad guy,” he said through clenched teeth.

“Oh, this old song and dance, huh?” I interjected in the middle of his sob story.

“Yes,” he said.

“Gee, I guess I should have brought my violin,” I chuckled.

“Yeah, you should have,” he said.

“I’ll bring it next time – any requests?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said. “Going Home.”

“What does that mean, you want me to go home?”

“No, I want to go home,” he said dejectedly. This again. He wants to up and die because nobody down here cares for him.  “But it’s not up to me,” he added. “It’s up to your mother, though. Patrick’s going to pull the plug on her.”

HUH? “How did we get from that to this?’ I asked, utterly bewildered.  What the hell was he even talking about?

He just sighed deeply and said in a tone reminiscent of Vincent Price, “Ask your mother and she’ll tell you all about it.”

“Ooh, sounds real scary!” I chuckled again.

“It is,” came the reply. And I did ask my mother about it.  She later told me that Dad told her that she killed Nanny.  In other words, my mother and aunt followed Nanny’s wishes not to be resuscitated.  So according to Dad, Mom is a bad Catholic and she’s going to hell.  And he said that maybe it was time to pay my brother Patrick another visit.

“Oh!” I said. “And you asked me before, ‘what nonsense?’’

“That’s not nonsense,” he corrected. “That what you do when someone has shit for brains. Just like they all have shit for brains.”

“That a great way to talk about your children,” I observed.

“Isn’t it?” he asked, his barely smothered rage working its way to the surface. “It’s a great way to treat their grandmother. They won’t come to see her when she’s alive but they’ll all come to the funeral like they did with Grandpa. Hmm, I wonder why they did that?” he asked with mock curiosity. “I guess it was because they wanted to show respect,” he fairly spat the last word at me. “So maybe it’s time to pay Patrick another visit. I obviously didn’t embarrass him enough last time.”

“Well, it’s hard to embarrass somebody when you’re acting like a raving lunatic,” I said. “But hey – maybe next time you can try punching some holes in the wall for added effect.” Then he got really angry because I was “rehashing” stuff that happened years ago. Of course, he never rehashed or drudged anything up from the past. But so what if he made a hole in the wall once, he said.  Big deal.

“Well, it could be a person next time. We don’t know.”

“Oh yeah,” he fumed. “It’s a real small step going from hitting a wall to hitting a person. I hit you guys all the time,” he continued, his voice dripping with sarcasm. “I was in jail all the time for beating the shit out of you guys. When was the last time I hit anybody?”

“How about the time you slapped Patrick in the face?”

Dad barely held his composure.  “Oh, that was just a little tap on the cheek.  That’s what you get for calling your father a moron.  Another example of what I’m talking about – no respect,” he said, adding that hitting walls is something he does when he’s mad, like that time with Johnny and the spilled oil.

“He told me that he didn’t have to clean it up because it’s not his driveway, but I guess he thought it was okay to let his little sisters clean it up instead.”

“Oh, so it’s okay to rehash this nonsense with Johnny from years ago, but it’s not okay to rehash anything about you?”

“I’m ‘rehashing’ it because I still don’t understand it, that’s why.”

“No, there’s a lot of things you obviously don’t understand,” I said.

“Well, maybe you can explain them to me.”

I just shook my head. Then he circled back to his visiting Patrick at the practice hall.  First he said that Patrick just walked out of the room without answering him, but then he claimed Patrick told him he was “too busy” to visit Grandma.

“Really?” I eyed him skeptically. “He said that?’

“Uh huh.”

I nodded. “I’ll ask him and see if that’s what he said.”

“Oh, thank you.” He was really fuming now. “Are you saying I’m a liar?”

“Wouldn’t be the first time,” I said with a shrug.  He then demanded to know the last time he lied about something, so I struck a mock thoughtful pose as I tried to come up with a good one. “Gee,” I mused. “Ya know, there are so many to choose from that when you put me on the spot I can’t quite remember…” A smug little smirk was creeping up on his face, because he thought I was stalling for time.

“How about the time you opened my college financial aid letters – oh wait, sorry, here I go ‘rehashing’ stuff – and you said it was addressed to you.  And I found it on your desk with three photocopies you made of it -”

“Photocopies?” he interrupted. “I don’t think so.”

“There you go!” I cried out jubilantly. “There’s a lie right there!” I had him trapped and he knew it. I watched his face working furiously for a second.

“Oh, that’s a real biggie!” he said sarcastically, fluttering his hands around.  I just shook my head.  To argue with him was pointless.  He’d just dismiss or deny everything.  I made to leave and he asked me if I was glad I came over.

“Oh yeah, it’s always a real joy coming over here,” I remarked.

“Yeah.  So tell Patrick that I’ll be seeing him again.  And you can tell your brother Johnny that I’ll be paying him a visit as well.”

“Is that right?  Well let me know when it’s going to be so I can videotape it.  I could use a good laugh.”

“I’m not telling you when.  It’ll be a surprise,” he added threateningly.

“Yeah yeah, whatever,” I slammed the door shut on my way out.  Once I was on the road I called my mother and told her to lock her doors in case Dad decided to go over there next.  She asked me what happened and I said I’d fill her in when I arrived.  She was waiting up for me along with Johnny and Mary.  They all lived together and wanted the update.  I filled them in on my visit to the house and Mary told me it wasn’t a good idea to provoke Dad like that.  I agreed, but at the same time I couldn’t live myself had I not talked back to him.

Johnny, on the other hand, was ready to go over and knock Dad through the wall after he heard about his threat to “visit.”  Oh boy.  Johnny had a hair-trigger temper already, and that was sending him over the age.  I should have known it was a mistake to discuss Dad with Johnny anywhere in earshot.  We tried our best to calm him down, and he finally relented and said he was just going to go over and leave a note in the mailbox.  He went into his room, scribbled something on a piece of paper, and zoomed away in his car.  Great.

I went after him with the intention of intercepting his note before it fell into Dad’s hands.  That would only make matters worse.  Leaving a paper trail was a bad idea.  I called Johnny’s cell on the way, and by the time I reached him he’d already dropped the note off and was parked at the shopping center nearby to cool off.  Good.  I parked around the corner from the house and set out on foot.  It was 11 at night by that point so I figured it would be easy to just walk up and grab it out of the mailbox.

The only problem with that plan was that I encountered Dad.  For reasons known only to him and God, he was rolling a tire or something around in the middle of street.   Jesus, what were the chances.  And what the hell was he doing?  He must have been so worked up from our fight that he cleaning out his truck or something.  I was too close to turn around, so I broke into a run and prayed I’d be able to pass myself off as a late-night jogger.  I passed within six feet of him and left a loud silence in my wake.

I continued all the way around the block and I was almost back to my car when I noticed familiar looking headlights approaching.  Shit.  I dove behind a clump of bushes, flattened myself against the ground, and watched Dad’s car cruise past.  He obviously recognized me in the darkness, and there was no way he didn’t recognize my car parked nearby.  Double shit.  As soon as he was gone I bolted for my car and took off.

I was nearly out of the neighborhood when I noticed his headlights in my rearview.  Fuck.  He was following me, and I didn’t want him finding out where I or my mother lived.  He remained a surreptitious distance behind me, but once he realized I was trying to lose him he started closing the gap.  This was going to be tricky.  He was a former cop with a V8 and I was an ordinary schmoe with a V6.  I headed for a neighborhood I knew with lots of twists and turns and many streets.  It took me ten or fifteen minutes but I finally managed to lose him in there.

I didn’t go back to his house until the middle of the night, and luckily the note was still there:

Listen up….
Stop threatening to “visit” any one. Don’t think even once about paying me a visit. Understand? I heard about your intentions. Think again. Got it!?

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