First New Story In A While

A while ago I met a friend of mine to catch up. We used to room together when we were younger, but ended up going our separate ways when he moved back in with his father to take care of him in his waning years. His father had a rough life by his own hand, if you understand what I mean. He was never really a good dad, or even a good person, but my friend decided he didn’t want to leave him alone or in the care of strangers. There was no love between them, more of a determined obligation on both their parts.
We met up and went to a park because my friend was an avid nature lover and never felt more at home than when he was amongst the trees. We chose a long path and began with the normal pleasantries, talking about jobs and hobbies and what all of our old acquaintances were up to. When we stopped at a particularly appealing tree, my friend jumped up to a low branch and began to climb, only a few dozen feet, and I tried to follow.
About the time I reached him he had settled onto a branch and before he could pull his shirt back down, I saw a large scar running from his navel to his mid back across his side. It was a gnarly scar, not one that had received immediate proper attention. He saw me notice and I finished to climb to sit beside him right as he began to speak again. A warm summer breeze blew through the park and ruffled the leaves all around us. “I’m sure you want to know what happened. Get comfortable, I’ve wanted to tell this to someone for a while.” He face grew pained as he started his story.
“Around the time I went back to keep track of my dad, he’d started getting worse than ever. Not just his health, he’d been losing his mind. I’m ashamed to say this, but it never hurt me to see him like that. We both knew he was closing in on the end of his life. I was, honestly, relieved. I’d hoped for this as a kid, before I knew what it meant. After I’d even thought about making it happen, after everything he put my mom and I through. Maybe I never had the courage to follow through, or thought better of it at the time, I don’t know. But eventually we both escaped him and I put it out of my head. Still, the day I went back and saw him for the first time in all those years, it was like he knew what I had thought, what I was thinking.”
“He gruffly told me to get out, he would die when he was ready, but I just replied that mom and asked me to come here since she couldn’t stand to be near him. He turned away after that and we barely spoke. I put my stuff in his extra bedroom and made dinner. We’d eat silently, I’d head out to be somewhere besides there, and I’d come home to him asleep. In the morning I’d make us both breakfast and head to work before he got up. That’s how most days went, over and over again. He’s always greet me the same way. After a month or so he got delusional. I had to stay home to keep him from hurting himself. One day he started trying to peel the wallpaper off of the living room walls. He swore there were people under it who were spying on us. I asked for him to give me the knife back that he was using. When he refused I tried to take it, and he slashed with it and cut me right across my side. I hit the ground screaming. I couldn’t get to a phone because I couldn’t stand.”
“When I tried to crawl away, he came after me. He reached down for me but I’d scream and punch at him as hard as I could muster. It seemed to take forever for me to blackout as I inched towards the door. I decided that if I was going to die, if he was going to kill me, he’d hear exactly how much I hated him. I only got a few sentences out before he hit me in the head and knocked me out. When I woke up, I was sure I couldn’t be alive. But there I was, surrounded by blood, mind foggy with his morphine pills, my gut stitched together with sewing thread and dripping with his whiskey. I don’t know how long I stayed on the floor, but when I lifted my head, he was there in his armchair, drinking from his bottle. ‘Those were some terrible things you said son.’ He was slurring more than usual. ‘Now you don’t say I never did nothin’ for ya.’ I murmured more insults as best as I could. I still wasn’t sure I would live. When I was out of profanity, I tried to wiggle myself towards the door again. ‘Don’t go no where, the medics won’t find ya.’ I saw that he had my cellphone right before I passed out again. I woke up once to a medic yelling for another stretcher before I finally work up in the hospital.”
“If it hadn’t been for the fact that I couldn’t even shift my weight in bed without feeling like I would rip open my wound again, I would have sworn it was all a bad dream. The nurses said I’d been there for just over a day. I didn’t say anything, just stayed lying in bed for another day. I never asked if anyone was checking on my dad. After I told the staff that I didn’t want any visitors at all, I tried to just put him out of my mind. Figured he was in a jail cell somewhere. On the third day, when the doctor came in to check on me, he said he had some bad news. ‘Of course,’ I thought, ‘I got tetanus from the knife or some crazy infection or something.’ But that wasn’t it. They’d redone the stitches when I arrived and filled me with antibiotics and vaccines. No, it was my dad. When the medics had arrived, he’d been shot in the chest. They figured it was suicide, but they couldn’t be sure. I froze. My dad was dead.”
“I didn’t think it’d bother me at all, but I cried. I cried for hours. Maybe it was relief. Maybe it’s just instinctual. I still haven’t figured it out. But despite how horrible he was, I felt a little empty inside. What really got me, though, was that I felt free now. Safe. And I could go and live my life. My own life for me. And I beat myself up for liking like that for a while, until I realized that that was exactly why my dad did what he did. Could be just about the only good thing he did for me other than be a warning, and show me what not to be when I grew up. He set me free from himself during a brief fit of lucidity. I’ve gotta tell you, I still don’t quite know how to feel about that.”
I was stunned into silence. Even now, my friend’s eyes were cloudy with tears, and neither of us had anything to say that could appropriately fill that moment. So we let it fill with silence, and the sound of trees and wind. That moment stretched on eternally. The sun didn’t move any closer to the horizon and no one walked past that tree for as long as we sat there in silence. I finally reached over and grabbed his hand, and he seemed to appreciate the gesture. It’s hard to say, because I couldn’t begin to know how he felt. All of the sudden he leapt forward and wrapped his arms around a branch, swung back and forth a bit, and dropped to another, making his way down. I climbed down carefully, back the way I’d come, and met him back on the park path. We started walking again and I asked “So, what are you going to do now?”
He responded, with a smile, “I have no idea.”

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First New Story In A While