When I was 15 my father died. This in itself is not a rare statement. Fathers die, at some point all fathers die. My father was a father in the basic sense. He was there at my conception, assuming my mother never lied to him; he was there for my birth, assuming he never lied to me. I’m not sure how he died.
My mother said he had a heart attack. His wife said his liver failed. His girlfriend said he died of a passion so strong no man could bare it and he simply stopped breathing.
The autopsy ruled it suicide.
So there I was, 15 years old, slightly overweight, bad skin and a dead father. My father and mother never married, not each other anyway. My father was married to his wife when I was born. Alice was old and fat. She was completely miserable, and understandably hated me and never let me forget it. My mother, Cathie, didn’t find out about poor, fat Alice till I was 1 and she crashed my birthday party loaded up on vodka and KFC. The pictures from that party are rather amusing.
From then, there was no more love between my father and mother. My mother was furious, and in the years that followed refused to let my father take me out of her sight. Partly because she didn’t trust my father, partly because she didn’t want Alice to eat me.
Eventually, I began to spend weekends with my father. I hated those weekends. My parents loved them. My father had to pay less child support, my mother had an entire weekend to screw whatever boyfriend she had picked up for the month.
My father loved me though. That I knew. My mother loved me too. I never doubted that.
Once when I was 13 I asked Alice why she didn’t leave my father when she found out I existed. She told me I didn’t have that much power over her life and that one day when he realizes I was a mistake my father was going to love her again. Dad said he never loved her said she didn’t leave because she had no where else to go.
Some time after that he started seeing Starla, the ex- stripper turned flight attendant from Nebraska. She was six years older than me. Thirteen years younger than my mother and twenty years younger than the miserable, even fatter Alice. Starla used to bring me airplane sized bottles of run and gin, I liked her.
Dad left Alice. Moved in with Starla. Alice never signed the divorce papers, she was convinced he was coming home to her. My mother was angry, he never left Alice for her, so I didn’t see my father for a bit after that.
May 21st, he was waiting when I got out of school. He was leaning up against the passenger side of his crappy old mustang. His stomach had distended into a pleasant old man belly and his hair was thinning on the top, greying everywhere else. He was wearing a black tshirt and faded jeans. He smiled. He asked if we could go for ice cream, like we never did when I was little. I laughed, sure dad.
We drove in silence. Not even the radio was on, like it should have been. We ate and talked. I had mint chocolate chip, he had pistachio.
Parked in front of my mother’s house, my dad looked over at me. This time he didn’t smile. You know, he said, maybe there was a point to all this. I looked at him, to what dad? To all this, he said, always remember that there are things worth fighting for, and things that aren’t. Remember that, will you? Sure dad, though I had no idea what he was talking about. He went on, I’ve made some mistakes, you’re not one of them. Be strong for your mother ok, she needs you. I may be going away for a bit. He wouldn’t tell me where. Just on business he said, just on business. I got out of the car and walked up to my house. I turned around and he had already driven off.
That night, I went to a party with my friends, My father checked into a motel off the highway. I should have known that he was going to have a heart attack that night. I should have known that his liver was going to fail. I should have known that he would just stop breathing. I should have known, should have stopped him. I didn’t know. I didn’t stop him.
I never told my mother, or Alice or Starla. I never told anyone, that maybe deep down I knew. I don’t know if I knew. I don’t want to know.
When I was 15 my dad died. The autopsy ruled it suicide.