By TJ Larkey
My parents used to walk around naked when I was younger.
Not sure how that affected me.
My mom was 40, my Dad 45 when I was born.
They were hippies.
Dad fought in Vietnam where he was shot in the shoulder and sent home with a Purple Heart. Then he sold drugs in San Diego for a while until he got caught.
He did jail time in Mexico for trafficking.
The drug kind, not the human kind.
My Mom had been in to the free-love-yoga-peace thing.
Dad would later call it the crazy-slutty thing.
They did not get along.
Not sure how that affected me either.
After her hippy phase my Mom got her PhD while she was pregnant with me.
There is a picture of her in a graduation gown, looking like she could pop me out any second.
She used the PhD to get a job as a professor.
She worked and worked and she loved her job.
Because of this, she was gone a lot.
But Dad made up for her absence.
He was at home most of the time because after years of searching he finally found a job that allowed him his own hours and no boss.
He has what they call “Peter Pan Syndrome”.
Mom would call it “Emotionally-Stunted, with Sociopathic Characteristics”.
All Dad ever wanted in life was sons.
Sons that he could teach, love, support, and become best friends with.
He liked baseball and I liked baseball and we would play everyday until the sun came down.
We’d invent games like counting how many tough catches I could make in a row or how fast I could run the bases.
He’d always remember my times and I was always trying to beat my personal records.
But I didn’t really know anything about my Mom except that she did not like baseball.
Baseball helped me turn off my brain.
I had trouble sleeping because I over-thought everything and I was convinced I would be kidnapped in the middle of the night or assassinated for knowing too much.
I had a warped opinion of my importance in the world.
One of these nights, when I couldn’t sleep, I got up and out of bed and went to the kitchen.
I flipped the light on.
“What are doing up?”
It was my Dad.
He was sitting comfortably in his favorite chair in the living room, reading a book written by a fellow Marine that served in Vietnam.
“I’m having nightmares again,” I said.
“What are you so scared of?” he asked. “You’re 9 years old!”
I could tell he was disappointed.
I’d never seen him scared.
He’d been to war, to jail.
He was as tough as they came.
And here I was, 9 years old and still feared death!?
I gritted my teeth and said, “Nothing. I’m scared of nothing.”
He smiled a big and caring smile and I didn’t feel afraid anymore.
As I walked back to my room I remember thinking, as long as Dad isn’t scared, I won’t be scared either.
A few years later things started to change.
All kids must grow up.
I was less interested in playing baseball or spending time with my Dad.
And my Mom became less interested in both of us.
She was gone even more than usual, sometimes weeks at a time.
Dad became quiet, depressed, and he isolated himself more often.
I saw this as a weakness, the first weakness I’d ever seen in him.
He was becoming like the other adults.
I was 12 when I decided that I needed to help him, like he had helped me.
And this is how I helped him.
I called him names, ignored him completely for weeks, and often antagonized him until he would finally lose his temper and get physical.
I would’ve done anything to get my Dad back.
My Dad, the fearless man-child that never took anything too seriously.
But my constant bullying made him retreat further into himself.
He looked defeated.
I would lay awake at night and think about him.
I’d toss and turn and clench my fists and tighten my jaw and think, he’s gone.
My Dad is gone.
One morning the broken man who had replaced my Dad was driving me to school.
Without turning his head, he told me we needed to have a talk.
“I’ll pick you up,” he said, “Maybe we can go to that pizza place you used to love. We’ll talk there.”
“Just say it now,” I snarled.
He stopped the car, and turned around to face me.
His eyes were red, like he’d been crying.
He looked scared.
It was the first time I’d seen him scared.
“Your Mom is leaving me,” he said. “She’s been seeing someone else.”
I hated him.
I thought to myself, who is this imposter?
I demand he make himself known.
“Okay,” I said.
My Dad looked at me like he didn’t know me, and said very quietly, “She’s a liar. Always has been. Do you even care?”
This was fine by me.
Mentally noted to myself: tell Mom you know she is a liar, have suspected her for some time, information confirmed today by man who calls himself Dad.
“No I don’t care,” I said. “I’m going to be late for school.”
He clenched his jaw the same way I did late at night.
He wiped his eyes and sped off toward the school.
When he pulled up in front of the building he said, “I’d like to pick you up today. Please.”
“I’d like to take you to that pizza place,” he said. “The place we always used to go.”
I said it without looking at him.
All day at school, I thought about my Dad.
The old Dad would’ve shaken it off, made it into a joke.
He’d tell me the joke and we’d laugh like we always used to laugh.
But that Dad was gone gone gone.
After school I decided to take the bus home.
I hated the bus because it was full of kids and my whole life I would look at these kids and just know deep down they were not like me— no worse or better— just, not like me.
As the bus driver pulled out onto the street, I saw him driving by.
My Dad was there to pick me up like we had agreed on that morning.
He looked happy.
The happiest I’d seen him in a long time.
I felt sick.
I slumped into the old worn-down bus seats and tried not to vomit.
Then I took a deep breath.
I knew what I had to do.
I ran up to the bus driver and pleaded with him.
“Please,” I said. “Turn back around.”
“Can’t stop yet kid,” he said.
“I’ll jump. I swear!”
He laughed at me.
He was unaware that I no longer feared death.
“Sit down you little shit,” he said.
I started prying at the door with my finger nails.
Everyone on the bus was watching me.
I was crazy.
And I wanted to die.
Deserved to die.
“Stop the bus!”
By the time the bus driver stopped, we were a few miles away from school.
I didn’t think twice about it, I just started running.
I ran the fastest I’d ever run.
I pretended it was the winning run in the World Series, like my Dad and I used to pretend.
My feet felt like they were hovering above the ground.
I made it back in record time.
But I was too late.
My Dad wasn’t there and I was out of breath and my chest hurt and I wanted to vomit and cry and play catch with my Dad all at the same time.
But I didn’t do any of those things.
I never told my Dad what happened that day.
How I almost jumped out of the bus, or how I realized what he was scared of, or how I ran so fast, faster than Willie Mays, faster than Ty Cobb, so fast I lifted off the ground and must have broken all kinds of personal records.
Not any of it.
Still not sure how that affected him.