September 24, 2012
The mailbox was open when I came home, which struck me as odd since I distinctly remembered shutting it after I took the mail out earlier. I had an immediate suspicion which turned out to be correct: Dad had driven by and left an envelope inside, on the front of which he had scrawled “Don’t tell Tommy you found this on his car or anything, otherwise he’ll get all bent out of shape.”
Too late. I drove over to his house and stuffed his stupid envelope in his mailbox. Mom got another card for her birthday the following month. This time Dad actually mailed it, and when Mom opened it she saw that it was the Valentine’s Day card he’d dropped off, but he photocopied and edited it into a Happy Birthday card instead. And like the last “card” of his this one had monkeys on it too. When she showed it to me I considered taking it and putting it back in his mailbox again, especially when I saw the Post-It note he affixed: “My Valentine’s Day card was returned to the house unopened… Do you know why??”
The next morning Mom arrived at her workplace and found a big “HAPPY BIRTHDAY” sign taped to the front doors. She assumed her co-workers put it up to surprise her, but none of them even knew what she was talking about. By the time she went back outside the sign was gone. She asked the doorman if he saw what happened to it, and he reported that a man in a red jacket got out of a taxi, ripped up the sign, and threw the pieces in the air before driving away. Sounded like Dad in his Mercury and his Knights of Columbus jacket. But that’s great – now he was inching closer to starting shit at the store. One woman already got fired because her husband kept coming in and fighting with her.
Meanwhile Shannon was getting her own special deliveries from Dad. She left her house one night and saw a man at the corner getting out of a parked car, but thought nothing of it until she found a package the next morning. It obviously hadn’t been mailed but had stamps on it nonetheless. Inside there was a photograph of ducks crossing the road, a photograph of some mother and child, her birth tag from the hospital, and other random odds and ends. And on the back of the envelope he had written “goodbye” in pencil.
Easter rolled around and I received yet another letter from Dad, stuffed into the mailbox once again. I gave it a quick read and crumpled it up:
“Happy Easter, Tommy. Oh, I am sorry I gave you another reason to hate me. As if you don’t have enough reasons already – all those times I came home drunk and beat your mother, brothers and sisters; not working enough to feed and clothe the family; my mistresses, never taking you or anybody on family trips; my constant use of foul language; not asking – never mind. Hate is a wonderful thing. It sure made my grandmother proud of her grandchildren. What did she do or not do to be treated so shabbily? Did she ever see her great granddaughter? Two of her grandsons never visited her in the last years of her life. Well, I guess it’s the good old Irish way!”
By that point I hadn’t seen or spoken to him for three months. I waited another couple of months and finally stopped by to see what the latest was. While I was there I said nothing about his letters or my last contentious visit. And some changes had taken place in my absence. He acquired a camping trailer for future volunteer trips, like the ones he’d taken to Joplin and New Orleans. And the house was empty. Forceps Baby moved to New Jersey, Jake the old guy went into a nursing home, and Garbageman was asked to leave.
Dad had a problem with Garbageman’s girlfriend making overnight visits, and I didn’t bother correcting him that there was more than one “girlfriend.” Not to mention that he was a few months behind on rent, and in addition to that he was “hiring chefs to cook for him.” Huh? “Yeah, at least seven, all around town…” Dad said. You mean he was having personal chefs coming into the house to prepare his meals? It took several minutes of questioning before I understanding that was Dad’s way of saying Garbageman ate fast food. Jesus, just say that in the first place. Dad always had a peculiar way of talking.
It was an uneventful visit, and he told me he’d call me when he was embarking on his next trip. I had just sat down with a plate of sandwiches a few nights later when my phone rang. This must be it, I thought. But instead he wanted me to come over to the hospital, and bring Mom with me. I couldn’t get any answers out of him; he just whispered that he couldn’t discuss it where he was. He was really insistent, though, so I relented and said we’d be there. I drove Mom to the hospital in high dudgeon. If this was just more of his bullshit…
Alas, it wasn’t. Kathleen’s latest asshole boyfriend had beat the shit out of her. Sigh. Well, we warned her. Meanwhile Dad was ready to murder the guy, except he was already in jail. Instead he went on a smear campaign. He stopped by the parents’ house to tell them their son was an asshole, and then he went to his workplace to tell his boss that “your employee beat my daughter and I want you to know what kind of person he is.” When the asshole got out on bail he heard about Dad’s harassment and told the police. The police contacted Dad and asked him if it was true, and he proudly admitted that it was.
I dropped Mom off at work the next morning and noticed Dad’s car in the parking lot. Son of a bitch. I didn’t say anything to Mom, I just circled around the building and came up a few rows behind him. Then I just sat watching his car as my blood began to boil. I debated what to do, and when I finally decided to confront him I debated what to say. Smashing his driver’s side window in, poking my head inside to sneer and go, “Oh, let me guess – having breakfast again?” seemed like a good idea. In any case, I was too late to do anything, because by the time I finally approached his car it was empty.
Shit. Somehow I’d missed him getting out. I phoned Mom inside but she told me she had already seen Dad. Great. I hurried into the store, still hoping to catch him, but he eluded me once again. Dammit. Anyway, he came into tell her that he happened to be in the same elevator as the asshole and his lawyer at the court building, and Dad overheard the asshole saying his story was that Kathleen was so drunk that she didn’t know what she was doing. Even if she was, it wouldn’t make a lick of difference. But this was the big emergency that he had to see Mom about.
Then he told Mom that he was still taking his trip. “How about staying home and looking after your daughter after this traumatizing experience she’s just been through?” Mom asked him incredulously. It reminded me of when Grandma and Grandpa moved in with us, and Dad was going to take off for the Dominican Republic two days later. I had to talk him out of going; the thought of staying and helping his parents adjust to the move apparently never occurred to him.
Dad went on his trip anyway, and while Kathleen’s dog died while he was gone. Talk about adding insult to injury. The only good thing about it was that at least Dad didn’t stuff in a box and put it out with the recycling like he did with her rabbit. However, he did shut off the washing machine so Kathleen couldn’t do her laundry anymore while he was away. The water was still on everywhere else in the house, though.
Dad returned almost two months later, first stopping in at Mom’s workplace to stand in front of her desk wearing his big goofy grin. “I just wanted to let you know that I’m back,” he said and walked away. I went over to the house to see him, but once again I didn’t bring up his antics. Mom told me that he does things to provoke reactions, and the best reaction was no reaction because that really drove him nuts. Instead I endured a long-winded, boring dissertation on his travels
I was enthralled by Dad’s stories when I was younger, making requests and urging him to tell others my favorite tales. But somewhere along the line his stories grew rambling and irritating. Nowadays I had to keep dragging him off his sequential tangents and back to the main point. I finally learned that he went cross-country, visiting long-lost relatives and doing more volunteer work in Joplin and Kentucky. I never found out what he did in Kentucky – partly because he didn’t stay there very long. The other volunteers attended daily Mass, but he didn’t go to anything that wasn’t a Latin Mass. So rather than get into a conflict or hurt anyone’s feelings, he just quit and came home.
Dad made one last stop in Iowa on the way home to check out his coffin.
“I – your what?” I spluttered. Yes. There were monks in Iowa that made caskets and he ordered one. He didn’t have room to bring it with him, so it was being shipped to the house instead. That alone might be strange to some, but Dad had talked about making his own casket for years. Of course, knowing Dad it would comprise five different types of wood and mismatched handles, but apparently he’d given up the dream. Headstone in place, casket on the way…”Dad, are you getting ready to check out or something?”