June 10, 2011 § Leave a comment
The last time I saw the house I grew up in, the bathroom wasn’t finished.
We, being my father and me, had torn the walls down and the bathtub out as part of the general renovation of the house. I suppose it was also an attempt at a renovation of ourselves, of him and me. Probably my mother’s idea. The fact is, I have never, not once, not in my entire life understood what my father was thinking. I could not read his face, his expressions always carefully closed in even when he was red faced and temple trobbing with a pulse hammering through that bulging vein. Even then, when I could tell anger was there, I could never read his expression and understand.
We managed to finish the kitchen up in a few weeks, laid down a nice black tile floor, put in an island with a countertop surface and a garbage compacter. There was a nice new coffee maker with a whole assortment of buttons I never learned to use. I didn’t drink coffee, so I only learned how to get it to make a pot for my mom, who did.
The house was an assortment of neutral colors. Off white, light brown, beige, sand. Even the couch and love seat were brown. I’m sure someone who understand all of that sort of thing could tell you what it meant. For myself, it just felt like it was designed to render me numb. Perhaps that’s why I wasn’t surprised.My father at the time had just stopped working at the construction company he’d worked for throughout my entire living memory. He was using a 1972 Chevy Blazer as his vehicle. He’d painted it orange. A very bright, very sharp, almost painful orange that I never really could associate with him. He’d also grown a beard. He’d never let himself grow a beard when he was working because of the horror stories he would tell about people burning their beards off while welding or setting them on fire when their lighters exploded, again, while welding. He told a lot of stories about welding accidents. I don’t know how to weld so I guess it worked.
We had driven to the local hardware store, picked up drywall and nails and some tape, and on the way home he’d pulled the truck over. We were sitting about four blocks away from the house, kids on bicycles riding by. I saw a kid on a Huffy with a banana seat similar to the one I’d had a few years earlier, black metal and chromed chain, and all I could do was remember the many, many times I’d fallen off of it. I was always able to tell when someone let go of the seat, you see. Learning to ride without training wheels was an endless parade of falling off the second someone let go of the bike.
He was swallowing a lot. I don’t really recall what he said… word salad, mostly, in my memory. Things about people growing apart, still loving but not being in love, how they’d always love me of course, how it wasn’t my fault. Honestly, I didn’t then and don’t now think it was my fault. I never asked them to get married, stay married, or have a kid. I was mostly a bystander in the train wreck of their marriage, beginning to end. It would probably mean I was a better person if I could tell you how much it hurt, but it didn’t hurt. I was numb already to their antics.
I remember staring at my hands and nodding when he’d ask me a question. I don’t remember the questions, but the nodding seemed to satisfy him. We went home and unloaded the truck and he and my mother went off into the living room and had a hushed tones conversation I did not try and hear. There was some crying, I think from both of them. When he left, there was a shitload of drywall and supplies in the bathroom, making getting to the toilet (the only thing he’d completed) difficult. My uncle Tim, my mom’s brother, came by the next week and helped us set up a bathtub, and that’s as far as it ever got.
Eleven months later she was dead. The bathroom was still exposed wood and towels we had to pull up after every shower. When I left, it was the same.