Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Family: Chapter XIX- The Flood

After what seems like weeks, the muddy waters recede, and I finally begin assessing the water damage in earnest. We have had storms before but not like this one. The rain fell for days, thick gray sheets of water that slapped the pavement with a wet scream. At first everything was okay, but by the third day, the sump pump went out, and naturally the basement started filling with water. I stood at the top of the stairs and watched as the bubbling tide seeped into all manner of boxes and blankets. Truthfully I don't even remember what half of this crap is. I sat heavily on the top step with my head in my hands. If Natalie were here.... she would have known what to do. I guess it doesn’t really matter now.
I start down the stairs into the darkness. This old water heater will obviously need replaced. Oozing and burping, it looks like a broken contraption from some kind of monster movie. I know better than to try and mess with it. Thank god I have a stash of bottled water. Hopefully the power will come back on tonight, but I have to try and clean some of this up. Damn I wish Natalie had stayed.
After last month Natalie finally ran out. She just couldn't take it anymore. The drinking, the lying, the constant phone calls. I admit I totally saw this coming. But what can a man do? Natalie already knew about my girlfriend. It turns out she had known for months, but was just too tired to care anymore. I had been out of work for months and living off of my trust fund. If you can even really call that living. Once the money was gone, there was no real reason for her to stay. I wouldn't have stayed either. I just stood there in the driveway as she drove off, wordless. I wanted to say something, something profound... but what? I was too drunk to fight anymore. It just seemed like so much wasted emotion. And so I stood, like a coward, and did absolutely nothing as she backed out of our driveway and out of my life.Another one of my great Life decisions, but that’s for another story.
I sigh and grab the old shovel that hangs on the basement wall. The one with the cracked handle. It feels good in my grasp, heavy and reassuring, a reminder of a simpler season. I guess I better start before the sun goes down.
I shovel away the muck and mire, shards of cardboard and tattered remnants of my broken life. Christmas ornaments, Halloween decorations and ancient video cassettes swirl in a hideous soup. My arms ache. I throw old ruined sweaters into a plastic bag, and beneath my old cd case I find the sopping mess of a photo album. Of course it is beyond destroyed; all the photographs are soaked and stuck together in a huge grey glob. I flip through the pages, which come apart as I turn them. In the middle, I find one photograph almost miraculously untouched. It is a picture of Natalie,ten years ago, standing before the gates of Disneyworld in Orlando, smiling as I take her picture. I hold the photo up to my eyes. For a moment she seems real. I sit heavily on the floor with a splash, heedless of the puddles and grime. I drop the shovel. I rub my forehead with mud- streaked blistering hands. My head is pounding as I remember her the way she was. She is thinking only of the sunshine, and where she will go next.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Family: Chapter XVIII- The Prison

I go to visit my brother in prison. It is late November and the leaves swirl about our feet as my mother and I enter the secured parking lot. We are on the far side of the prison, the section typically reserved for immigration violations. Her face is like ash as she speaks.
“This isn’t going to be easy, you know, …” she warns.
“I know.”
“I have done this before,” she mutters, “and I swear they make it difficult on purpose.”
“Well, I was expecting that, so…” My voice trails off.
For a second we stand outside the gate, readying ourselves. A coarse wind blows as we make our way toward the huge metal doors.
We give our names to a uniformed guard, and take our seats in a room full of frustrated Hispanics and their attorneys. My Spanish is terrible, so I can’t really tell you what has them all so worked up. My mother explains that this wing is always that way, and that most of these people are in the country illegally.
“Then why is Patrick here, instead of in the General Population?” I want to know.
“I guess it’s because of his mental state, and the fact that because of his addiction issues, the authorities felt that he would be safer…”
“Oh.” I say, although I still don’t really understand.
After a lengthy wait, it is time for our visit. I haven’t seen my brother in months, and truthfully I was not prepared to see him like this. He looks gaunt as he shuffles into the Visitor’s Area and takes his seat. A thick pane of plexiglass separates us.
I greet him warmly, but the pitiful sight of him catches me off guard. He wears an orange jumpsuit and is clearly heavily medicated. His hair looks like a bursting volcano. I wipe off the telephone by my side with sanitizer. Our conversation is stilted and uncomfortable. Neither one of us knows what to say. After exchanging awkward greetings, he leans forward.
“I had a dream,” he says. “I dreamt I saw Dad, and he was standing at the foot of my bed.”
This revelation shocks me a little. I hadn’t really come to terms with grief. In fact, I was still seeing my therapist. I was pretty sure I was crazy. Now I lean forward. Our faces are inches apart.
“What did he say?” I whisper.
“He stood there, not saying anything until I was awake. I sat up on my bed, and he looked right at me. He told me not to worry. He said to remember that we love each other, and that’s the most important thing.”
A deep chill runs down my spine. If you knew my father, this was exactly the kind of thing he said. For a moment I considered the impossible- had my father’s ghost actually passed through York County Prison? It seemed unlikely; but on the other hand, he had spoken to me from beyond the grave three times now. This was basically the reason I was seeing the therapist! Remember, I’m crazy.
“Oh my God,” I say, stunned. “That sure sounds like him.”
For a moment I see our faces reflected in the thick glass, and I swear I can see my father watching us. I experience a terrible flashback.
It is now twenty years ago. I am at a party after hours, celebrating another successful gig with my brother. I am sixteen years old. In front of me some bleach blonde expresses her admiration for my performance. Truthfully, I have no idea who she is. While she begins her own performance, I glance over into the next room. The lights are dimmed, but I can see my brother in a group of older guys. They are taking turns snorting cocaine off a glass mirror. The mirror gleams in the twilight. All four guys huddle over the white pile, twitching. An old Magnavox stereo is playing Metallica’s “Fade to Black”. The music thrums and for a moment my head swims. I blink. Why isn’t anyone watching my brother? Why aren’t I watching my brother? What the Hell is happening to our lives? After the girl is finished, I stand up and head to the filthy kitchen to get another beer.
I blink as the guard flicks the lights.
“Time’s up!” he says, and by his expression I can tell he means it. I hang up the phone. I reach out and touch the glass. My brother does the same. A man comes and leads my brother away. I watch as he shuffles unsteadily down the hall.

After we leave, my mother and I pause beside the car for what is becoming an increasingly emotional moment. The November wind kicks up and pelts us with dry leaves. She leans heavily against me, and cries until she cannot cry anymore. I place one hand on the roof of her car and brace myself against the storm that is coming.