To His Honor
I was 13 and already I’d learned about the concept of honor. Sure, I’d also learned failure and disappointment, but I’d had a large helping of fortitude and commitment as well; commitment in all its meanings in fact.
As soon as my mother had driven off on her way to her mother’s for the afternoon, my father had called a meeting. He’d never called a meeting before, it sounded silly, and yet we were all dreading the probabilities. My sisters were 12 and 10, and the three of us gathered in the dining room while my toddler brother locked his brain into memorizing commercial jingles on the television in the next room.
“Obviously your mother and I have been having problems,” he began.
Yea. Problems. Like the sheriff showing up on Christmas eve to take mom to the nuthouse. That was a problem. Like the constant screaming, the smashing furniture, the wielded weapons and the continual accusations; he cheated with the church women, with the neighbors, with the neighbor’s daughter, with her sisters, he was a sex machine, a penisaur, a regular Johnny Appleseed. Yea, those were problems. None of us had spoken about the particulars. I knew he was innocent, as well as I knew anything, but even then I was addicted to the idea that there are no absolutes so I was forced to wear a nagging doubt around my neck like a freaking dead and rotting albatross that stunk to high heaven. My siblings on the other hand, I had no idea what they thought. I only knew they disagreed with me on nearly all matters of importance (and even those of no importance at all) so it was likely they assumed their father was a scumbag.
“I’m sad and worried about what this is doing to you guys, and I don’t see many options as to how to fix what’s broken.”
My stomach started to rotate, top to bottom, like it didn’t want to hear what was coming next so it was covering it’s tummy ears by squishing them into my intestines.
“I think I should move out.”
My stomach suddenly flopped back into position, but I thought it had gotten caught on my guts along the way as I nearly puked right there. The girls were teary eyed. Nancy cried a lot, so that didn’t surprise me, though when she’d cry I found it damned hard not to cry myself so I prayed that she would just sniffle a little and let it go at that. Barb on the other hand, even if she cried I couldn’t care, because if she did I was pretty sure it would be tears of joy that Nancy and me were in pain and suffering as that was the entire root of her miserable life.
He went on for another 20 minutes I think, though I was kind of floating off the ground so it’s hard to tell if my time sensors were working right. He explained that he’d already looked at an apartment up in the Lowery Hill area and it was crappy and hot, but close to work so he wouldn’t need to buy so much gas because it would be really tough financially but he thought he could make do and all that.
I visualized him in an apartment. Some shabby couch would be in the living room with a lamp next to it, on the floor since there wouldn’t be any end tables. Just a couch, and a tv, if he could even afford a tv. Maybe that would have to wait. And then the bed would be out of my grandparents’ attic, that teeny thing I had to sleep on when I’d go do yard chores all day and have to sleep over even though the bed was made for a Japanese guy and I’m tall like Frankenstein. And there he’d be I figured, most of his day when he couldn’t beg an extra shift off the post office, just staring at the wall and wondering what life was for since it obviously wasn’t for what he’d thought it was.
“But I wanted to let you guys have a vote in it. You’re young, but this will affect you as much as me. You’d have to live with mom and go to school just like you do now. I couldn’t take any of you with me, and I wouldn’t want to do that to your mom anyway; she loves you very much you know, even though she doesn’t show it lately.”
I knew that. I always knew it. Even when she was stark raving mad she loved her little Ronnie. And I knew it would kill her to not have us there. And of all the things I wanted my mom to be at that point, dead wasn’t one of them.
“So I want you guys to vote. I need you to tell me what you think. Should I go? Would you be ok if I went? We’d see each other all the time, you don’t have to worry, I’ll visit and I’ll have you over and we’ll go on Sunday drives like always… but, what do you think?”
There wasn’t even a breath taken between his question and our response. It was clear, and immediate. “Yes” we all said at once.
Why my sisters said it, I couldn’t be sure. I only knew how I felt. My dad leaving would tear my heart right out of my chest; but watching him slowly die, his soul eaten away by the acid of my mother’s mental illness, was killing me outright. I couldn’t stand to see him suffering anymore, trying to let it roll off his back only to have it fill his boots and weigh him down to the point of paralyzation. I wanted him to go even though I would then be the man of the house, responsible for all that man stuff that my mother wouldn’t be able to do. Maybe I’d become the target of her rage. Oh please God, let her skewer me and give dad a break. If only.
“Yes” we said again. And we all cried, except for David, who was busy repeating the last six McDonalds commercials word for word.
He never did go. He couldn’t. We, including mom, were his responsibility, and he just had to work it out. And none of us complained. I was only glad to have been there, to let him get his burden off his chest for one hour of one day. To his honor.