taking a break from the psychopath’s guide…
“Kid, love is one giant kick in the balls after another,” he said. He leaned back in his oversize leather arm chair as if that was the conclusion of the discussion. As if he had come to a great revelation and was satisfied with just that.
“How can you say that?” I responded. “You were in love with mom for 47 years. You’re telling me that your entire life together was just a kick in the balls?” I asked while holding up air quotes with my fingers. I knew he couldn’t stand the gesture, and it would add that much more salt to the wound. He stared at his knees as he tapped an impatient finger on the brown leather. It was as if he was frustratingly waiting for his own mind to catch up to him. It did.
“Look, you little shit,” he began. “You know as well as I do that I love every moment with your mom. Every god damn second with her was like coming up for air after drowning my whole life. But when it’s over…” He paused, coughed for a second, and seemed to be choking on air. His eyes started to look like wet gray stones, darting back and forth, searching. Remembering. Trying to hold it all in. He raised his eyes to meet mine, blinked hard, regained composure and began again. “When it’s over, when love ends, you’ll wish it had never started. You’ll wish you had never let yourself get so vulnerable, so weak. There’s no way to guard yourself against what comes next. Whether she cheats on you, you cheat on her, she dumps you, you dump her, she dies, you die, in the end, everyone gets fucked.”
“I don’t get it dad. I saw you with mom. I saw the way you turned on when she was around. It was like she a battery keeping you going. When she left you’d just kind of shut down, and when she came back you became yourself again. You’re telling me that you’d give up the way you felt when she was around?” I tried to dull the edge of the conversation by using the most calming tone of voice I could muster.
“Have you ever given someone your heart boy?” he asked.
“I think so, yeah I have,” I replied.
“If you think so, then you haven’t. You’ll fucking know it when you do. And when you do know it, then come talk to me about this. Until then stick to talking about something you actually know a thing or two about.” With leather rippling and squeaking, he got up out of his chair and walked to the nearby window. He reseated himself in a lone dining room chair seated next to the window, and next to a small table with an ashtray on it. He pulled a lighter from his pocket and lit a cigarette. With a slight gesture of the pack, he silently offered me one. I walked to the window and leaned against the sill, taking a cigarette and lighting it. With one puff every flavor, every scent, every story of this house came screaming through my body. Holidays, birthdays, Tuesdays. With this one burning stick of paper and tobacco it was as if I could see the entire life of this house playing back in my mind. I let the memories flow through me with each breath of smoky air. I wondered to myself why I had ever started this conversation? Hadn’t I learned after all of these years together that some topics were best left out of our discussions? Obviously not, because I pressed on.
“Dad, we’ve established that I don’t understand true love. You’ve proven that,” I said, stroking his ego slightly. “You do know about it though. So tell me why you’re so soured on the idea of love. Explain it to me, make me see your side. Isn’t that what you always told me growing up? If I could explain my position then I could do whatever I pleased when I was a kid. Well explain yours.”
“I’m not explaining a damn thing. I’m not asking for permission to do anything. You’re the one blabbering on about love, trying to get me to sign off on the idea of you wasting time with some girl you barely know. Why should I explain anything? You explain it to me wise ass.”
“You are asking for permission though!” I shouted. I angrily smashed my cigarette into the green ceramic ash tray. A small of trail of smoke burst out before completely burning out. “You’re asking, without having the balls to actually ask, for permission to not have a part in this wedding. To not show up, to not acknowledge that I will have a wife, to not be there for the most important day of your sons life just because you’ve got some delusional issues with the whole idea!” I moved back over to my seat and fell into the sofa. He got up from his chair and walked slowly over to a bookcase, trying to find anything he could stare at to avoid eye contact with me. “Dad,” I continued, “you’re asking for permission to ignore this and so you’re going to have to explain yourself. If you can’t, then you’re going to show up.”
“Boy, you’re getting good,” he said without turning to face me. Keeping his eyes on the spine of a random book on the shelf he went on. “I used to tell your mother how much I looked forward to the day when you and I would go round for round in some heated argument. Watching you adapt, twist my words around, drudge up things I said in the past. It’s a proud day for me,” he said with a hint of sarcasm. “I’m a stubborn old cuss who loves a good argument. But you’re right. I do owe you an explanation.”
He finally turned to face me, walked over to the sofa and sat down right next to me. He rested his worn hand on my knee and patted it gently. “When you give someone your heart, and you truly give it entirely to them, it’s gone. You turn your whole life over to them, and they turn theirs over to you. You live for them, and it’s almost like they’re living for you. Their breath is what keeps you alive. Their voice is the only sound you want to hear. Their face is the only thing that you can see. The world doesn’t stop when they’re not around, it just goes dark. It gets muddy, and suddenly nothing seems as bright or as good as it was a few moments ago. I can tell you boy that I gave your mom my heart. My whole heart. And that wasn’t enough to keep her going. I’d have burned this whole god damn world down if it would have kept her going. I would have torn out any part of my own body and gladly handed it over, but nothing could save her.” At this his glassy stone eyes finally burst. For the first time in 4 years I saw him cry.
“When she left, she still had my heart. She took it with her and there’s no way of getting it back. I died with her. Now I’m here, waiting for my body to catch up with my mind, and finally give in. So like I said, whether you just split up, or whether death steals it from you, in the end we all end up fucked.” Still crying, he reached into his shirt pocket and fished out his pack of cigarettes. With shaking hands he quickly lit one and inhaled hard. He flicked ashes from it onto the carpeted floor, and wiped at his eyes.
“Dad, I know feel empty since mom died, but I wish you could understand where I’m coming from.” He stared blankly, and with the exception of the smoke streaming from between his fingers, he was as still as stone. “I know that this will end. I know that everything eventually ends, but I also know that if I have a chance at even one day of what you had with mom, then that is worth it. You said you would have burned the world down to save mom. Well I’d burn the world down just to be in your shoes. To have the knowledge that someone had completely given themselves up to you, and you right back to them. The knowledge that what you had was absolute and as stubborn as you yourself! That’s worth anything that I’ll have to endure as a result of having that same feeling.”
I reached over and took his cigarettes out of his shirt pocket and lit one for myself. I blew a puff of smoke into the air and watched it mingle with his. “I don’t know if I’m even making a dent here dad, but just know that I say this with all sincerity. you’re the luckiest guy I know for having buried your true soul mate and knowing that she was just that. Most people just get to put a familiar face in the ground.” Still unflinching, he stared ahead, at a blank wall. I stood up, flicked a few ashes from my cigarette to the floor, and walked out of the room. Out of the house. Out of that place. That was weeks ago. I haven’t hear from him since and can only hope that I broke through enough to see him sitting in this church today.
As I scribble this letter to you, sitting in small room in the back of the church, I still have no clue whether or not he’ll be here today. I don’t know if a single thing that I said made any impact on him whatsoever. I do know that when you left, you left two broken men in your place. Two men who had built a world centered around you, and without you they don’t even know what should happen next. I can’t imagine what it must feel like to know that, not one but, two people’s lives are completely and cripplingly attached to your own. Of course I’m not immature enough, or even stupid enough, to believe that you had any control over when you left us but I still can’t help but feeling angry that you left at all. You left us both in pieces, and right now we’re both struggling to pick those pieces up off the floor and put them back together into something resembling what we once were. As much as we called ourselves a family, I see now that it was really one amazing person with two others lucky enough to have been included.
Whether you can hear, read, or sense what I’m writing to you is completely unknown. Can you see what’s happening today? Are you here somehow? Are you anywhere? If so, then I guess we’ll find out together how this story ends. What becomes of these two shattered men. What becomes of any man who truly did give his heart away? I gave you mine, he gave you his, and I don’t think either of us would ever want them back. Without you, they just seem like useless organs, beating in our chests. Maybe I can give this heart a new purpose. We will see.