Standing on a cliff at midnight in the middle of winter I couldn’t help but think of the sweet release in just jumping and letting my body be washed out to sea. I would leave no trace I had ever lived except for the wake of heartbreak and pain of youthful self exploration.
I had taken this walk many times in my life never for a good. Tonight was to mourn the passing of my daughter and her mother after a drunken hit and run.
The first few times it had been a way to get away from my father and his drinking. After all he couldn’t hit me if he couldn’t find me, but the walk hadn’t saved me when I finally got home. On those days I was lucky he would be passed out on the couch, I would help him up to bed, hoping to not wake him up. On more unfortunate nights he would be sitting on the patio with a bottle of Smirnoff nearly empty. On those days I would wish I had actually jumped.
He was not a bad man. There were far worse bastards than him. He was just in pain and unable to talk about it, because men are supposed to be tough. We can drink and let the devils tears wash away the torrents gushing up from the pit of our stomach, while life deals us blow after blow.
For decades each morning he would walk for 2 hours to the next town, to shine the shoes of the rich and privileged. Shoes he could never hope to touch except for on other people’s feet. Whatever pittance he was able to scrounge up would then go back to the family. His only joy was to see the appreciation and love in his family’s eyes, but appreciation can rot into dissatisfaction with what has been given too often. That was one of the stories he would tell himself, when licking his wounds after my mother abandoned us. It was also the story he would tell with each lick of the belt he dealt me, when his ugly drunk side came out. It was also the only story I knew.
The other story came out one night after I came home in the middle of the night to find him on the couch. The room smelled like alcohol, cigarettes and stew. The TV was on at top volume blaring out the score for some EUFA cup match he had been watching before he passed out. Behind the couch was the simple kitchen table we would eat at, and where he did most of his drinking. It had been a cheap wood laminate job with Van Gogh’s starry night to look classy. After years of use one couldn’t tell which orangish brown circles were actual stars and which were just cigarette pork marks. It was actually a surprise the table hadn’t either burst into flame or just crumbled after the abuse. On his lucid days he would often tell me how, it was the last piece of furniture left from when my mother was still around. A resilient representation of a love and beauty lost to abuse.
“ This is the last thing she left, that bitch. One day it will crumble and I will finally be rid of it. Then you will be the one legacy of our ill union.”
Somehow no matter how much he said he wanted to be rid of that table, he would always repair it as soon as it had any major damage.
On this night there was an upturned pot and a puddle of stew next to the table and a large burnt welt on the table surface. It looked like he had been cooking stew but things had gone horribly wrong, I would never know what. My first thoughts were to save the stew so I could have something to eat. Even though he had a drink every night, we had spent many nights with no food and passing up a stew was not a choice, even if the cockroaches had already had their share. But cleaning up the stew would possibly wake him up, and that would mean a beating.
How an under nourished scrawny 15 year old managed to drag his full grown fat father to bed so many times, still astonished me years after his death.
“You are so good to me, even though I am a bastard”, my father whispered into my ear. I nearly jumped away thinking the belt would be next, but all that came were more muttered slurs.
“Just like your mother. She was a good women, always kind and never gave me lip for being the disappointment of a man I am.”
I had nearly gotten him into bed, when he suddenly stood up straight and walked the rest of the distance to the bed. He then did an off balance dance to take off his pants and his shirt and got into bed.
“Come here let me tell you the story of your mother and I when we were in love.”
“I can’t, I have to clean up the stew”
“Fuck the stew, come here your father is ordering you.”
If I didn’t do as he said the belt would be next. At least whatever happened next could not be as bad as the belt and worse trying to hide the tracks from my friends and teachers.
“Ok.” I said walking slowly to the beds edge not daring to sit down.
“Sit down and stop acting like a mouse, I have made you are a man. I want to tell you why your mother left.”
“I know why she left, she didn’t appreciate how hard you worked to put food on the table. She just wanted a rich man to take care of her. She was a gold digging slut and I hate her”
“Don’t say that about your mother. She was a good woman, who made the wrong choice with loving me. I was not good enough for her.”
I had never seen my father so naked. I had seem him too drunk to walk or talk. I had seen him with eyes blazing with hate. I had seen him walk tall and straight as he put a big bag of groceries on the kitchen table. I had never seen him look so weak. He was crumbled in on himself, his hair looked grayer than I had ever seen. His wrinkles usually small waves across his once muscled arms were now undulating mountain ranges that shook with each breathe. I had seen him drunk, debilitated or deadly, but I had never seen him dull, defeated and soul dead.
“She loved me to the very end and I loved her as much if not more. I just didn’t know how to show her. I thought if I worked longer hours and brought back more money, she would know how much I cared for her. I thought if I gave her children, she would know how much I appreciated her being the foundation of my soul.”
“You said, she never felt anything you did was good enough for her.”
“No, that was what I thought, she thought. You know after you we tried to have children for over 5 years. In those years she miscarried 3 times She was distraught but each time would bravely keep trying because I pushed. But I knew what the problem was. I was the problem, my soldiers were just not strong enough to sustain life. I wanted to be there for her, but I didn’t know how. So I pushed her away and finally she ran”
“You never told me any of this.”
“I only did what the best I could. You were too young to know. It was better to make you strong with hating her and fearing me. And today I finally did irreparable damage to the table. I have finally lost her. Go to sleep, you have school tomorrow, and I want you to make me proud as always”.
That was the first and last time I saw my father.
They later found his clothes the cliff I used to go to for solitude .
That night, I went to sleep on the couch, as usual, thinking it was just another night in my screwed up life. I woke up with the cock crow as always but my father was not in his bed. The stew was cleaned up and the table was gone. Next to the couch there was an envelope with my name on it and money.
I went outside to wash my face, with questions. There was a fire dying out, in it were the remains of the table.