Sundays

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Sundays with my father were anything but holy.

Submitted: November 09, 2015

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Submitted: November 09, 2015

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My father recently got remarried. The wedding was on a Sunday in a small church in the middle of a forest. A long brick pathway wound up a hill to the gray stone chapel. It looked like a tiny castle. Outside the church there were trees that wrapped around the building as if they were holding hands in a circle—protecting the small wedding house. Flowers bloomed in every shape and color along the brick pathway, and the only sound to be heard was the gentle rustling of leaves when the wind blew through the trees.

Just as the ceremony was about to begin I saw my father squirming in new shoes as he made his way up the pathway, flowers on both sides saluting as he past them. He was wearing a black suit, a purple shirt, and the brightest most nervous smile I’d ever seen on his face. I hardly recognized this man. I hardly even knew this man. Sundays spent with my father in the past were never this beautiful. They were quite opposite.

Late one night when I was nine, and my brother Mark was five, my mother woke us up and told us we needed to leave. I swung off the top bunk and nudged my brother with my bare foot to wake him. As we got dressed rain fell hard on the roof, sounding like someone rapidly tapping their fingers on a desktop. After we got dressed we met my mother in the kitchen. She looked tired, panicked. There was a bag lying next to the kitchen table that was stuffed with clothing. She looked down at me and her face froze for a second. I was wearing a yellow T-shirt with a small bear cub in the middle of it and the words Piper Cub written across the front. It was the brand name of an airplane that my father bought, sold, and flew to far off places. It represented his business. Him. I felt like I had done something wrong, but before I could ask she just grabbed the bag from the floor and told us we had to go. My brother and I followed our Mom to the front door and stepped out into the pouring rain. And we just stood there feeling scared and confused as we watched our mother pass through windows turning off the lights, then making her way to the front, and eventually locking the door behind us.

That night when we left, my father was probably enjoying his time in some far city. By the time he got back he had no idea where we had gone. He was gone often. Flying all over the country dealing planes and God knows what else.

Early on it was great fun for me. My brother was still too young to go on long trips in small airplanes, but I wasn’t. So, I went along on rides that stretched across the country. Sometimes my father would make me fly the plane while he’d take a nap. The instructions were to keep the altimeter above 3000 feet, keep the wings straight by watching a small gauge that showed when the plane level, and to follow a skinny line below. He would point out the window at a winding line that traveled through square patches of farmland. “That’s the expressway,” he would tell me. I would watch the line intently, noticing the toy-like vehicles traveling in both directions, and I’d hold the steering wheel tight but my flying skills faltered as soon as we hit any turbulence.

The plane would shake violently, dip, fall, and regain altitude while I tried to croak out the words “Wake up”. None of it woke him. So, I’d hold one hand on the wheel and try to shake my Dad awake with the other as the plane bounced about in the air. At some point he’d come to, half awake, and usually just shrug and tell me to give him five more minutes, just another five minutes of sleep. Like I was waking him from a nap at home. We were going to freaking die. At least, that’s how I felt at the time. So, I pounded my right fist down on his hip that was curled with his body in the fetus position and yelled, “I think we’re going down!” This time he completely woke up, very suddenly, kicking a floor pedal that almost caused the plane to dip into an actual crash-worthy scenario, and then took the controls, straightening the aircraft. 

Everything calmed down and went back to normal. He’d look over at me, scared to shit, and start laughing. I’d get mad, but not for long. He’d start banking the plane left and right. Then make it roll completely over and before you knew it I was laughing and smiling again. We’d fly off to meet people I didn’t know. My father would talk with them and I would play video games in some airport lobby or small town bar. Then we’d fly back home and on Monday morning I would tell the other kids in the third grade how I just got back from Texas, or Florida, or Albuquerque. No one even knew what the hell Albuquerque was. Then came a day that my Dad flew off and didn’t come back. My mother had no idea where he was, which wasn’t so unusual, but she knew something was wrong, because she wasn’t walking around saying what an asshole he was, she was silent.

 

Family visitation at the South Carolina Penitentiary is on Sundays. I remember that the weather was beautiful, and staying in a hotel room with my mother and brother seemed like a fun getaway from Chicago. I don’t remember flying there or flying back. My one vivid memory is a short visit we had with my father somewhere outdoors. It seemed sort of like a park beside the prison. Thick green grass covered a large area that was cut off by incredible trees protecting a forest behind them. There were also smaller trees and bushed scattered throughout the area leading back to a gateway. At the time, the punishment for drug smuggling wasn’t nearly as serious as it is now. His surroundings seemed pretty nice to me; I wanted to camp there overnight.

At one point during the visit my parents spoke away from us in quiet, angry tones too low to make out. So, my brother and I wandered off. We walked in the lush yard outside of the Penitentiary toward a row of bushes. At the end of the bushes stood a man. A dark man with huge muscles who, to us, appeared to be ten feet tall. He looked like a super-hero, minus the hero. Super villain I guess. I was convinced that the man must have had some kind of superpowers, most likely used for evil, which was why he was captured and contained behind the fence. Watching him look down at us sent a volt through my little body that made instantly me want to take a leak. He motioned to something. I didn’t know whether to look, keep my eyes on him, or take off running. My brother was still oblivious to it all. I decided I wouldn’t run.  Super villain or not, he was still behind a tall fence. Too tall for him to leap over. Unless, of course, he really had super powers.

He motioned again. Nonchalantly, I turned to look. I didn’t see anything at first, just some bushes, gravel, grass. Then I spotted it. In the bush right in front of us there was something crawling in the branches. I moved closer and held a palm up to keep my brother from following. I started pulling some of the branches to one side to get a better look, and when I saw it I froze. “Tarantula,” super villian said. “They all over down here.” He chuckled. It was a deep, raspy, villainous laugh that probably scared me more than the gigantic spider inches from my hand. My brother spotted the spider and screamed. I screamed. We took off running. Looking behind us as we ran, to make sure the spider was not in pursuit, I noticed that he guy behind the fence had his back turned his head bowed, and he was gently walking away.

We went running back to where my parents were sitting. My father looked around protectively, and seemed a little disappointed in me when I told him it was only a spider. I pleaded with my parents to leave, and finally my mother nodded silently while she wiped the corner of her eye with a crumpled piece of toilet paper. I walked over to my Dad, grabbed his hand, and tugged on it. He looked at me for a moment, then he told me that he wasn’t going with us. He said that he had to stay.

My mother came up behind me and rested her light hands on my small shoulders to let me know it was time to get going. I grabbed my father tightly around the waist but he peeled me off and told me he’d call me at home soon. Then he walked off toward the gateway that led to a large gray building. I don’t remember ever getting any phone calls from him while he was away, just like I don’t remember anything else about the trip, but later he told me he was pretty sure he called.

 

My father is a Vietnam vet. But even two years in the jungles of Vietnam—under heavy fire—watching all your friends die while you still survive—doesn’t mean you’re indestructible. My father drank as if he were such.

After the divorce my brother and I saw our old man on Sundays. Almost every Sunday, unless he was too hung over to get out of bed to come and pick us up, which might have happened once a month.

My Dad would come to pick us up on Sundays anywhere between 9am and 2pm. He would eventually roll up in front of our apartment in some old rattletrap and honk the horn. My brother and I would run toward the door when we hear the horn, but before I left my mother would always stop me. “Don’t forget to get money from him,” she would tell me. I’d nod my head, give her a quick hug goodbye, then run to catch up with my brother.

My tiny brother would struggle to open the rusty steel door of the old tan colored Chevy our Dad drove. When he got it fully open he would jump into the backseat that was as big as our couch, and I’d always jump in front next to my Dad. Depending on the season there was usually some kind of sports game on the radio. Wintertime it was the Bears. Summertime it was the Cubs. And, no matter what time he came to pick us up my father was always prepared for the round trip from his place—to ours—and back with three beers. One for the way there. One for the way back. And a back up in case he spilt one.

By the time he picked us up there was always at least one empty bottle rolling back and forth on the floor between my feet. He’d always ditch the empties on the floor by the passenger seat. I don’t know what he was thinking, I mean if a cop pulled him over was he going to be like “Oh! Those aren’t mine. They must be my nine-year-old’s. He’s got a drinking problem.” But, being nine years old, the empty beer bottles and drinking while driving didn’t bother me much. My Dad would light up a smoke once I had the door in motion to shut, and he’d take off. This would send the empty bottle rolling under the seat all the way to the back where my brother sat. My brother would stand up behind the passenger seat and kick the bottle like a soccer ball right back up toward me. So, then, of course, I had to retaliate and kick the bottle, with the heel of my foot, back to my brother. And he’d kick it back. And I’d be about to kick it back when my Dad would slam on the brakes. “Cut that shit out!” He would yell. Silence. He’d open another beer.

And the loud gulps from the bottle and the screeching tires from over-accelerated turns kept us quiet until we’d go back to his place or the bar, depending how well stocked his fridge was.

 

When my father picked us up on Sundays many times we went straight to the bar. There was a few of them that the three of us would frequent. Pete and Mary’s was a regular hang out of ours for a while. The bartender on Sundays was this super small Asian woman that wore way too much make-up. My father once made a remark to someone else at the bar that she was a slut. So, ever since then, my brother Mark and myself giggled when we exchanged dollar bills for quarters with her for the video games. Because we knew her as Mary the slut. I have no idea if her real name was even Mary. For all I know it could have been Pete, but we were sure of one thing: that little Asian women definitely looked like a slut. And even though we really didn’t no what a slut was we still knew that it was bad, so we liked her all the more. 

Some Sundays at Pete and Mary’s were calm and the video games played well. Other Sundays were boring cause our father was always busy talking to Mary the slut and some old dude was hogging the video game. Then there were the days when my father would get into fights. These were especially bad Sundays.

If it was past four in the afternoon my father would most likely be pretty juiced up. No. Not just Sundays. Everyday. So, when four or five O’clock rolled around and Mary ran out of quarters, and we were bothering my father to leave, and everyone else in the bar was stumbling around, it would always so happen that someone would stumble into one of us: being small kids walking around in a dark bar. This would send my father into a frenzy.

He’d confront the guy who bumped into one of us and ask why he didn’t watch where he was going. The guy would reply something like “Go fuck yourself. Why don’t you take your god-damned kids home?” Then my father would punch the guy. My father always preached one thing to me, that he said made all the difference. He told me: “Always get the first punch. Whether you’re right or wrong for starting the fight, always get the first punch.” My father definitely had a good punch. I could hear it even if I didn’t see it. It was a loud thud mixed in with a slap. But, unfortunately, he was on the receiving end just as much as he was the giving. My brother and I would be crying as we rode back in the car with my father as he bled from his eye and forehead. He just laughed and grabbed a beer from between the cushions of the car seat. We begged him to go to the hospital but he would just keep saying he was fine even though blood ran from his nose. Instead of going to the hospital he grabbed the extra T-shirt I brought along (in case I got dirty playing at the park) and he cleaned his wounds with it. I never took that T-shirt back home even though it was one of my favorites. It was stained with more than blood, and although my father washed it numerous times and always had it at his place for me I never wore it again, it only reminded me of my father’s bloody face.

 

Sometimes Sundays with my Dad were the most fun I had as a kid: even though those fun times were usually the times that my Mom told my Dad he’d never see us again, or she would just call the police.

I had a lot of fun the time my Dad’s friend let me shoot a gun with a silencer on it into a bunch of cardboard boxes in the back of a warehouse. Shit, how many other sixth graders were doing that? He was one of those really sly looking mobster type of guys. He let my brother shoot the gun too, which was a mistake cause being as excited by it all as he was he told our Mom as soon as we got home. Not meaning to tell on our Dad, but just in the bragging way form excitement—especially since he was only about eight years old. The cops got a call and visited my Dad that night.

One of the favorite times with our Dad was the Sunday closest to either mine or my brother’s birthday. We knew what this day meant; and it wasn’t about presents. It was about one thing: The swear off.

For each of our birthdays our Dad told us that we could each say as many swear words as we could manage in one single breath, anywhere, in any public place, until that one breath ran out. Then it was back to normal; no more swearing. My brother and I would be saving it up all day, because it worked equally for each of our birthdays: we both got to swear our brains out on our own and each other’s birthday.

We’d plan swear words. Try to arrange them just right, as we ‘d recite them under our breath, so we could get the maximum amount of swearage out of one single breath. Most of the time we chickened out in the very public places, like the mall or a quiet movie theater. When we attempted it in these places one of us usually shouted out one loud swear word then burst into laughter. The best swearing was actually on the ride home, when we had saved them up all day and never used them. So, a mile, or even a block or so from home I would roll down the window at a stop light and, with a car right next to us belt out FUCK, SHIT, COCKSUCKER, MOTHERFUCKER, DICK, ASS, PUSSY, SHIT, ASSHOLE, BASTARD, SON-OF-A-BITCH! And as soon as I was done my brother would stick his head out next to mine and repeat a similar phrase. The people in the car next to us always seemed old, but maybe because I was so young, or maybe because of the shocked look on their face, or maybe it was just because they never had an twelve-year-old call them a cocksucker.

People I know now ask me how I learned to play pool, sensing that I can play well. I tell them that I just picked it up over the years, and they tell me how they played endless hours in college. How they had a table at their frat, or the rich kid who had one at home, or the kid who was super smart in math so he knew all the angles, and the chic who says she had to learn to be good just cause it was a man’s game. I have no idea about any of those scenarios. I started playing pool in bars on the South Side of Chicago when I was about nine. The biggest game of my life came when I was eleven, and my Dad was throwing a bunch of cash down for me to beat a grown man who was ruling the table at Pete and Mary’s.

I wasn’t given a choice. YOU ARE PLAYING THIS GUY! AND YOU BETTER WIN. That’s pretty much what my Dad told me as he handed over a stack of bills to a bulky guy full of tattoos. I let him brake. I could brake decent, but I figured if he spread the balls out more than I could it would give me better shots. It did. Nothing went in for him so I leaned my skinny chest up against the rail of the table. I steadied my stick under my index finger, over my middle finger…guiding it with my thumb, then I gently pushed forward. The cue ball clicked into a solid colored ball and the ball fell into a pocket. Everyone around cheered, and I felt it hard to stop smiling. I got the next ball in but then the game got tuff. The older guy sunk a bunch of balls in and thought he had me, but I kept making in one ball at a time, and another ball at a time and more people at the bar started paying attention. Mary the slut yelled out for me to “Beat that red-neck!” and I know the jukebox was blaring some rock song but I couldn’t even hear it.

The guy made the last stripe he had and only had to make the eight ball. I stood there clutching the poolstick, that was almost as tall as me, with both hands right in front of my eyes. The guy I was playing against was feeling good about his last shot. It was a relatively easy shot cutting the eight into the corner. So he nodded at his friends, he tipped his John Deer hat at me, he kept smoking his cigarette as he lined up the shot, and he hit he cue ball just to the left making the eight ball bounce into the center of the table.

I was up. I looked back at my Dad for advice but he just shook his head, letting me know that I had to do it on my own. I only had one solid left, which was sitting pretty in the middle of the table. I knew my Dad would say I should shoot it right into the corner, and maybe it’s because of that thought that I chose to go for the side. When I set myself for the shot I looked out of the corner of my eye for my Dad. I was sure he’d be running over at any moment to stop me, but he never did; he just let me go. Then I stared right into the middle of the cue ball and just punched the stick forward without thinking. The cue clicked the far side of the solid and it banked right into the side pocket.

People laughed, people clapped, and people actually bet. It was just me and this old guy with only the eight ball left, but unfortunately we were playing by the house rules: LAST POCKET. So you have to sink the eight ball in the pocket that you sunk your last ball in. Which made my cause all the worse because my last pocket was a side pocket, which is incredibly hard to make a shot into normally.

As I’m about to shoot I feel the presence behind me; it’s my Dad. I cringe, hating that he’s going to tell me what to do, but he doesn’t. The only thing he tells me is: “Don’t give him a shot.” Then he walked back to the bar, leaned his lower back on it, and tilted his bottle of beer my way. This little piece of advice changed everything. All of a sudden I saw that if I missed my shot the other guy would easily finish me off, and I wasn’t about to lose now. So, instead of even going for the win I just gently hit the ball to a spot on the table where I knew the other guy would have a hard time making the shot. He didn’t make the shot. People laughed, people cheered, and Mary the slut was ringing some kind of fire bell behind the bar. I did it again. Again he missed his shot. I did it again. Again he missed his shot. I did it again. And again he missed his shot, but this time he hit it harder than before and the eight ball landed perfectly in front of the side pocket in which I  had made my last shot.

It seemed as if the whole bar took in a deep breath. I heard my Dad say: “You can just bring me the drinks now.” I stood there trying not to shake. I looked at the eight ball in front of my pocket and tried to focus on the middle of it. That’s what my Dad always told me: to just focus on the middle of the ball. I gripped the stick in my hand and started moving it back and forth. Then the guy I was playing started talking to me. He’d say: “Make sure you’re lined up.” And “You better not miss little guy.” And he was about to say something else when my Dad came up to him. I could hear the argument behind me but I still held the pool cue, aiming it at the eight ball. My dad and the guy were about to fight when I let the stick flow forward. I hit the cue much more softly than I meant to, and it slowly rolled as my Dad and the guy were grabbing each other by the shirts. Then the cue ball bumped into the eight ball just right, and the eight ball fell into the pocket.

This stopped the fight. It kind of stopped everything because all the other people in the bar were having a good time making fun of the guy I had just beat. My brother actually stopped playing Donkey Kong to come over and see what was going on. I heard that my Dad made a hundred bucks on the game, but when I asked him he said he had no idea what I was talking about. So I shrugged it off and just took some quarters for video games.

 When he took us home that night I actually remembered to ask him for the money he owed my mother. When he heard the question he fidgeted around in his seat for a moment then reached into his pocket and pulled out a small wad of cash. He flipped through it and gave me fifty bucks. I nodded and as always we agreed to meet same time same place next week. Then I woke my brother up, who was fast asleep in the back seat. Once my brother got out we both pushed the door shut and the car instantly sped away. We walked to the front door and our Mom was there watching, waiting to let us in. Then we walked inside and Mark immediately fell onto the couch. Before I could make my way to my bedroom my Mom stopped me: “Did he give any money this time?” I stopped suddenly when I heard the question. I held both of my hands clasped in front of me down between my legs, slightly trying to feel for the fifty bucks with my elbow; to make sure it was really there. And my Mom asked again: “Did he give you any money!” And without looking her way I just told her “No. He just dropped us off. No money.” She huffed and walked off to her bedroom. I think I deserved the fifty.

 

As the Sundays went on my fathers drinking got worse. The older I got the harder it was to realize how horrible my father was. When I called his recent place of work I never knew which name to use (my father always had at least three different identities to hide from the government and whoever else.) Sometimes he’d be gone for a year or so. Sometimes he’d call out in the middle of a nap, crying about a young Vietnamese boy he saw get shot. A lot of the times he’d show up at my work place on payday to borrow money. And I always gave it to him. Hundreds at a time, while I was supporting my brother who was living with me as he was still finishing high school (our mother had run off with some millionaire.) He had no problem taking the small amount of cash I earned pumping gas at the airport, and he had no problem using it on nothing but booze.

We didn’t see each other as much then. I was twenty, and my bro sixteen. That’s when he was totally gone. Living up in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and even Reno Nevada. Sporadic phones calls occurred but we basically lost contact until he needed something.

My Pops needed a place to stay so he asked if I knew of any place that was open. I made the joking reply that there was plenty of places open in the building I lived because it was such a hole. Then before I knew it he lived in the apartment downstairs of me. My Pops tried living there for awhile but I couldn’t imagine a worse atmosphere for him. There was at least three other die hard alcoholic’s on his floor alone, and as soon as he arrived he let everyone know that he was the king of the alcoholics.

He’d occasionally piss off the porch in front of everyone. He’d throw bottlerockets into our neighbor’s windows. Once and awhile he’d walk out of his back door naked. He’d get into screaming matches with me that caused the people in the building to call the police. And he was always an endless supply of beer. There would be nothing but a dried up jar of mustard and beer in his fridge. For some reason he never wanted to change.

 

One Sunday when I was hanging out with my friends I got a call. I listened closely but I couldn’t hear the voice at first. I took the phone into another room and hear my father’s voice yelling: “Larry! Larry! I’m in jail you gotta come and get me out!” I stopped, not knowing what to say. Wanting so bad just to hang up, then he’d always lay the guilt on me: “You’re the only one I got. I got no one else. I’ll pay you back.” And I know it’s all lies, and I can tell he’s drunk off his ass, but I still agreed to bail him out.

After I give $200 to the police station at 31st and Lowe my father comes out acting like an asshole. He’s yelling, he’s asking cops stupid questions—he’s still totally drunk. I wish they wouldn’t have released him until he was sober; but I guess I can’t blame them.

 

Being jailed multiple times didn’t bother my father—it was always someone else’s fault, he didn’t think he had a problem. It wasn’t until he was sitting in his kitchen, next to a table covered with beer bottles, that someone told him that he was turning yellow. He didn’t know what that meant. It was explained to him it wasn’t like being scared yellow, you just are yellow! Your skin has turned yellow. Your eyes are yellow. And you can hardly get up from your chair. “So…do you think it’s bad?” he asked, and tears started forming in my eyes as I stood there listening because I knew he would be dead within six months.

Three days later a friend down the hall from his apartment died from alcohol. My father stopped for a week then went back to waking up with a drink and drinking until he passed out. A month later another neighbor died because of excessive alcohol abuse. After that was the first time my Dad went to the V.A. veterans hospital to try to get treatment. He was back drinking in a week. Three months after that my father’s roommate and best friend died from drinking too much Scotch, to the point where he passed out, went into cardiac arrest and never recovered. After losing his best friend and seeing the yellowish sight of himself in the mirror my father checked himself back into the V.A. hospital.

My brother and I visited him there and we saw a man struggling. No matter how much you hate one of your family members, if you see them struggling your views change pretty quick. In the hospital they were pumping fluids into him and it was bringing back him natural color. The nurse brought him an extremely small cup of coffee and then left. My Pops took a short sip then looked up at the two of us and said: “You know. If I could keep myself in here for awhile and you guys go out and take a huge life insurance policy on me, it might be worth while….you can always come back and smother me with a pillow.” We laughed as we were all on the brink of tears because we all knew how close we had came.  Our father looked up us for an instant, and held that instant unafraid. His eyes watered and they said it all without a sound from his mouth. He never drank again.

 

When my Dad walked down the aisle, inside the chapel, to take his place at the front of the house, he looked nervous as he walked. He seemed uncomfortable as he passed by friends that have no idea what he’s been through. He swayed from side to side in a swagger just trying to do the wedding walk right, then he came to the helm. As soon as he broke free of the audience he seemed to brake free of many more things. That walk was much more than just marriage. It was the walk of life. The walk of realization of what got him there. And the walk of what he cherishes about life.

Once he got past the audience and saw my brother and I standing there, the scared and confused look went away. He was with his guys—right or wrong—and we were with him right or wrong. Which, as much as we may have hated it, we were always there loving that man no matter how wrong he was. Now it’s time to get to know each other for the first time once again. Actually, we’re getting together for breakfast this Sunday.


© Copyright 2018 Lawrence Lamovec. All rights reserved.

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