I remember one time, when I was sixteen-years-old and finishing up another lazy spring day in the life of high school sophomore, Dad got off of work from the lab early. He pulled up blaring some deep cut from Soundgarden or something – I’m not sure, I wasn’t really into that kind of music at the time – and said he wanted to take me to a baseball game. I think I had plans that night with one of the hundred jerks I dated in high school, but something about hanging out with my dad just felt like the right thing to do. I didn’t much care who the Jacksonville Suns were even playing or how they were doing in the standings, I just remember eating this really big hot dog and cheering when the crowd did. I was also a fan of pulling for the underdog during those stupid half-inning mascot race games. That night, it was The Great Office Supply Race, featuring Nicky the Sticky Note, Armstrong the Rubber Band, and fan-favorite Jim the Paperclip.
One thing I had always found odd was that it was just my dad and I living in such a big house. The residence at 1228 Halcyon Drive, with four bedrooms and this awesome loft, was clearly big enough for a family much larger than our little dynamic duo. That loft, which I eventually named the Sky Roost, was my sanctuary and favorite room in the house. I spent days there, even opting on most nights to sleep up there on a daybed my dad surprised me with on a random trip to IKEA. Forget the bedroom! From the front window, I could see the entire neighborhood and give everyone their own fictional backstories… the birthplace of my overactive imagination for sure. There was Grandma Francine bringing in produce from the local farmer’s market. And that was Scooter Squad, a group of four kids who ceaselessly tried to impress the neighborhood girls with not-so-superb stunts on their two-wheeled machinations. Perfectly decorated, perfectly representing my personality, the Sky Roost was my hideaway.
Dad let me bring over whoever I wanted – gal-pals, study partners, even boys – and let me do whatever. And oh did I ever take advantage of that, too. Every conference he went to was an excuse for a party. Hell, late in high school it got to the point where I even themed the shindigs based on where he was going. It was a game of sorts. Was he presenting his findings at UCLA? Perfect, let’s have everyone dress up as their favorite movie character. Flying off to New York for a weekend? That fits nicely with the 20’s, Gatsby, Flappery theme I was planning. People were wondering where I got my ideas, but that was a secret to everyone.
“Just… be sure to keep this place clean while I’m gone,” he’d say while heading out the door. “I love you, Syd.”
“I love you too, Dad.”
“Oh, and Syd,” he’d sometimes say say, poking his head back in one last time. “Please don’t get pregnant.” Then he’d chuckle and I’d smile while giving him a mocking salute.
I really miss my dad.
That night at the baseball game, as the sun dipped below the horizon around the seventh inning, I remember he finally felt comfortable enough to tell me what happened to my mom. I’d asked him a few times before, but he always managed to wiggle out of the conversation. He’d never resort to anger or force, he’d just change the subject with jokes or distractions while making it clear non-verbally that he was not okay with talking about it. So I stayed patient, never resorting to force, knowing the answers would come someday.
“You were three years old,” I remember my dad telling me, “when your mom left us.” He recounted how when he came home from work, he saw dozens of prescription pill bottles littered about, with Mom lying right there in the middle of it all. Some of the bottles didn’t even have her name on them, so she much have pilfered them from other people’s medicine cabinets or just faked a doctor’s prescription. She didn’t even get through half the pills before falling asleep for the last time. I was with my grandparents, but I probably wouldn’t have remembered it even if I were there.
As tragic as it was, it didn’t come as any great shock to him. My mom had dealing with depression issues since before she even got pregnant with me, but it resurged strongly during a bout of post-partum depression that simply never ended. She had been overdosing on prescription drugs occasionally, but it was manageable with therapy and family support. But when she hurt her knee while exercising, and the doctor prescribed a strong opioid to help the pain after surgery, it was all over. Within three months, she was lying on the floor, unresponsive, never to wake up again.
I honestly can’t imagine how difficult it was for my dad to take care of someone for so long. A weaker man might have become bitter, relentlessly chasing things like alcohol, drugs, or women to make himself feel better after losing his wife. I’ve seen it happen with so many other families that I thanked my lucky stars that he turned out all right. Still, in the recesses of my mind, I have to wonder if losing my mom wasn’t the best thing that could have happened. It’s a terrible thought, I know, but could it have been the thing that severed the cord and allowed him to live a happy and free life once again? One life died so the other could truly live.
“I’d love to ask him if he was happier after losing my mom,” I tell Millie candidly. “But I guess I’ll never get a chance to do that, either…” The concerned expression on her face is palpable, and I feel a bit guilty for laying all of this on her. Still, definite props to Millie for not running away as soon as I started talking.
“You were always welcome to talk to me,” Millie reassured me, tossing the box of pizza onto the nearby glass coffee table. That’s rare, she is always so persnickety about immediately putting things back up where they belong. Or maybe I just always thought she was a prude.
“I know that now.” I say.
“So… on with it. What happened?”
A new section is released every Monday! Next week we’ll be continuing Chapter 3: “Metal Conducts Electricity.” As always I welcome your feedback in the comments. 🙂