Sunday, August 29, 2010

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Looking Away

During my high school years, I watched Dad wash down opiates with Blue Ribbon Beer and inhale smoke. Over time his face cracked like old lumber and his cheekbones rose to hills leaving his face with valleys and dry riverbeds. Weight whittled from his body and his skin grew tough and ropy as an old gray hound. Sometimes he leaned against the backyard fence, struck by a deep, raspy, rolling gravel hack. The panels creaked as moist air and mucus burst from his gaping mouth. And I realized that I could predict my father’s death.

When he stepped from the shower, skin stretched across his ribs like a wet bed sheet draped over a washing board, I should have commented on the clothes hanger bow of his protruding collarbone, or on the door knob nature of his knees. Perhaps I could have said, Dad, you’re dying. I should have fought for his life. Slapped the cheap Blue Ribbon Beer from his hand, washed the thousands of pills, (Oxycontin, Lortab, Vicodin, Xanax …) that lined our bathroom counter down the drain, watched them spiral like little white sheep caught in a tornado. Crushed his cigarettes with the strength of my palm so the small flakes of tobacco could flutter to the floor like the devils ferry dust. But instead I gazed at his heavy leather work boots rather than focus on his yellow and dying teeth. When he slurred his speech and mumbled incoherently, I covered my ears, and when his hands trembled I closed my eyes. And slowly each year brought him closer to December 5, 2001.

But like how a solder crouches down to the gut wrenching hum of a mortar, or like how the rim of a wheel silently predicts the unintelligible torque of the driveshaft; or like how a child covers their ears after a flash of lightning, or before the lit fuse reaches the bottle rocket; or like how the voiceless dark predicts the outcome of a blind plunge. I stood silent: knowing of, and looking away from, his demise.

Now, nine years after his death, I go through two corrugated boxes of old photos sent by my aunt. Some of the photos are old enough to show him in clean white t-shirts, sporting a smile full of white teeth, and carrying plump love handles. Other, more recent photos, reveal the moist chalky tone of extended illness; his skull pushing forward through the mask of skin and sparse hair like a stone near the surface of a river. And once again, I look away. I separate the images of the chubby healthy Dad into one box, and the beaten, drug addicted, and weary one into the other. I label one box “Memories: Dad,” and leave the other blank.


Holly said...

That's so touching and sad. You gift for imagery and emotion-connection spanning miles and internet cable has yet to escape you. Excellent.