|brian douglas skinner|
Dad and the chili bowl
Dad is standing in the dining room. The dining room of the house he owns. His home. Heís holding a bowl of chili, which heís just gotten for himself from his wifeís kitchen. The dining room is handsome. Itís a good-sized room in a solidly built, brick colonial home. They've chosen the furnishings well. Attractive, sturdy colonial wooden pieces that match one another. The decor is stately. Blue and white, carefully executed. Wallpaper and wall hangings faithful to the colonial American theme. The room is tidy and clean.
Dad is not tidy and clean. Heís unshaven and unshowered. A little pudgy in the belly. His hair is mussed. The bathrobe, a good brown wool one, has not been tied properly at the waist. He was drunk when he tied it. Heís still drunk. He shouldnít be drunk. He should be at work. Earlier this morning mom called in sick for him. She left him in bed and went out on errands. But he got up by himself and now heís standing in the dining room with a bowl of chili.
Heís standing just inside the dining room, in the doorway to the kitchen. One hand leaning on the door frame to give him balance. The bowl of chili is in the other hand. A glass bowl. On the kitchen floor lie shards of glass and globs of chili where he dropped his first helping. Heís on his way, slowly, toward the dining room table. My brother and I are in the dining room watching. I stand still and say nothing. My brother is twelve, a couple years older than I am. Heís arguing with Dad, from a good distance. He wants Dad to put down the bowl of chili. Heís been asking for the bowl for a while now. Dadís replies are garbled. Unintelligible. By action itís clear that he wants to keep his chili. I want to leave. Leave the room. Leave Dad. But my brother tells me to stay. Heís scared. Heís afraid that Dad will fall on his way to the table. Heís afraid that the glass bowl will break when Dad falls, and that itíll cut up Dadís hand or face.
Finally Dad tries to take a step forward. He falls. He doesnít crumple to the floor; he falls straight, like a tree chopped at the base. He lands with a dull thud. The bowl breaks on the colonial woven rug leaving a blast pattern of glass and chili fanning out from point of impact. Dad is unhurt. He sleeps there quietly for hours until mom gets home.
Dad and the staircase
My brother and I are in the living room watching TV. Dadís upstairs asleep. Momís working in the basement. At the commercial break my brother goes to the kitchen to get a drink. He gets as far as the front hall and then he shouts for me. I come to the front hall. My brother is standing at the bottom of the stairs looking up at Dad. Dad is standing at the top of the stairs looking down at my brother. Dadís just woken up. Heís wearing his brown wool bathrobe. Heís drunk, unstable on his feet, holding the banister for support. Heís considering trying to go down the stairs. He wants to be at the bottom, but thereís a good chance heíll fall, and he could get really hurt. My brother is considering trying to go up the stairs to try to get Dad back to bed. He wants to be at the top, but thereís a good chance Dad will fall, and my brother could get really hurt. For now itís a silent standoff. My brother tells me to go get mom.
I run to the basement and get mom and we rush back to the hall. Dad is winning the arms race. Heís about halfway down the stairs and my brother is still at the bottom. I canít imagine how Dad could have made it halfway down the stairs, especially so fast and without any help. But heís not moving now. Just standing unsteadily, leaning on the handrail, looking down at the commotion.
Mom says ďBob!Ē sharply, without thinking about it. It has no visible affect on Dad. Mom takes half a second to assess the situation and then starts rushing to the stairs to help Dad. Just as mom starts up the stairs, Dad takes a step forward. He fumbles and falls, rolling improbably down the stairs like some kind of over-sized sack of potatoes. Mom steps nimbly out of the way and manages to put her hands out and help break his fall a little as he hits the floor.
Mom is panicked and kneels down to tend to Dad, but Dad is somehow unhurt and he clumsily, violently brushes her away. She backs away and he manages to stand on his own. Mom oversees his slow progress to the kitchen. My brother and I return to the TV.
Dad and the other driver
In the past year Dad has begun going camping a lot. Sometimes we go on family trips, but more often he goes out alone. This spring heís been going more and more often, hiking different portions of the Appalachian Trail.
Dad has also been drinking more and more. Heís been having car accidents too. Some around town and some on camping trips. This weekend he had another accident on the way back from his camping trip. This one was more serious. He was barely hurt, but he crippled another driver. Mom explained it to us yesterday using magnets on the side of the refrigerator. Dad was asleep at the wheel on a two-lane highway. He may have been drunk or may have just been tired from hiking. He drifted into the oncoming lane. The driver of the oncoming car slowed and tried to swerve to avoid him but it didnít work. They hit nearly head on with a combined speed of probably 60 or 70 miles per hour. Both cars were totaled, but Dadís car was a little less damaged because it was larger and heavier, a fairly new blue Dodge Dart with plastic bench seats and an AM radio. Dad was asleep, limp, and he was almost completely unhurt. The driver of the oncoming car lived, but he suffered a serious spinal injury and itís not clear whether heíll ever have full control of his lower body again.
Dad is driving a rental car this week. This weekend weíll get a new car to replace the old one ó a brand new, almost identical blue Dodge Dart with plastic bench seats and an AM radio. That car will outlive him by 10 years, but within two months heíll have smashed up the front of it too, so that even after repairs nothing is ever again quite correctly aligned or calibrated as long as we own the car.
Dad and the ambulance
Dad died today. I had gone over to Mikeís house right after school, and Mike and I had been playing. I wasnít supposed to leave until 5:30, when I needed to go home for dinner, but at a quarter to five Mikeís mom came and told me that my mom had called and that I needed to go home. She didnít explain why, but you could kinda tell something serious had happened.
As I walked the five blocks home I tried to figure out what was up. I donít know why, but I had an intuition that maybe Dad was dead. Maybe that made sense from the situation. Something serious had happened. Something that required me to come straight home, but not some urgent emergency that required Mikeís mom to drive me to the hospital or drive me home right away.
Our house is just two doors down from the end of the block. As I turn the corner onto our block I can see the police cars and the ambulance parked in front of our house. For a moment Iím nervous about dealing with the police. Iím afraid they wonít want to let me near my own house, and Iíll have to convince them that I live there. But then I realize that theyíll probably know who I am right away. And they do. As soon as I get near one of them comes over and says hello. He knows my name. He walks with me toward the door as mom comes out of the house. Mom meets me on the front step and explains that Dad died this afternoon. I suppose I should be surprised or upset or something, but Iím not. Instead I just sort of wonder about what will happen next. Why thereís an ambulance outside if heís already dead. What will be done with his body.
Mom takes me inside. There are a few police and ambulance men inside. Theyíre sort of milling around, using the phone, talking quietly to my brother, laying out a stretcher near Dadís body. Dad is sort of lying in the doorway between the kitchen and dining room. The ambulance men leave discreetly as we enter the dining room. Dad is lying very near the spot where he fell with the bowl of chili six months ago. He looks normal. Unshaven and wearing his brown wool bathrobe. He looks just like heís drunk or asleep, only heís not breathing. Mom says he probably died in his sleep. I ask what happens now. Mom says that when weíre ready the ambulance men will take Dadís body to the coronerís office. She says we can take as long as we want. She says itís okay to touch him if I want to. I donít want to touch him ó I didnít like touching him even before he was dead. I tell mom that Iím ready whenever she and my brother are. Mom suggests that my brother and I go up the street to the Engelsí house for an hour while she sees off the police and makes phone calls and stuff. Mom calls the Engels to tell them weíre coming.
My brother and I walk up the street to the Engelsí. My brother is upset, nearly crying. Mrs. Engel meets us at the door and gives us her condolences. Andrewís not home yet, but we go upstairs to see Jonathan. We sit down and talk for a minute and then my brother starts crying and leaves the room. Jonathan is dumbfounded. He watches my brother go and then turns to me and asks why my brother is crying. I tell him that Dad is dead. He doesnít know whether to believe me, so I tell him that Dad died this afternoon, and I tell him about the police and the ambulance and all. Later my brother comes back. And then Andrew comes home. And then Mom comes and walks us back home for dinner and everything is pretty much normal again.
We talked about it a little last night, and mom decided that it would be best if my brother and I went back to school today, even though Dad just died yesterday. There wasnít really much point in staying home, and Mom needed us out of her hair so she could call Dadís relatives and arrange a funeral service and do all that stuff.
Before we got to school mom called and told the office that Dad had died, and they told our teachers. At each class, each of my teachers came and discreetly gave me their condolences, which was a little awkward. It was like they were following a script, just saying what they were supposed to. They kept saying ďIím sorry.Ē I didnít know what I was supposed to say to that. I said ďItís okayĒ a lot, which was true, but seeme da little cold or a little dismissive or something. Eventually I learned to just say ďThank You.Ē That was more comfortable, although it seemed stupid to be thanking them for feeling sorry.
Anyway, by recess the kids had found out, maybe from my brother or maybe from Jonathan or Andrew Engel, or maybe from a teacher. A few kids had come and told me they were sorry, but it was all pretty low-key. Towards the end of recess Rachael came over to where I was and she said, ďI overheard someone say that your dog died. But I didn't think you had a dog?Ē I wasnít sure what to say. I said, ďNo, my dad.Ē It should have been funny, I guess, but instead it was just sort of awkward. It took Rachael a few seconds to comprehend it and recover from the shock of it, and then she said, ďOh, Iím sorry.Ē I said, ďItís okay,Ē which didnít really clarify much.
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