Sunday, August 26, 2012
Saturday, August 18, 2012
Sometime around 2:00 a.m., I woke to the sound of Chips barking and growling outside my open window. I sat up quickly as my heart shot straight up and striking my head like a bell in a carnival iron man game. My 14-year-old ears strained desperately to hear what our sweet little black and white Cockapoo was barking at.
But in between her growls and barks all I could imagine hearing was the quiet buzz of June bug wings. My bladder full and forehead sweaty, I did not dare go to the bathroom for fear whatever evil lurked outside the door would get me. The hot summer night clung to me like a coat. It was at least 85 degrees outside and my rotating white fan circulated only thick hot air from corner to corner and back again. There was no moon, only darkness outside. The house behind ours sat dark and quiet and the streetlamp in between was out. It usually spilled faint yellow light into the shallow end of our swimming pool, but now there was only still black water.
I was paralyzed, now bathed in sweat and fear. I closed my eyes and held my breath.
Chips kept up the barking, but she seemed to be moving past my window towards the first set of sliding glass doors that led to our living room. All the doors and windows were open that night, something we always did in the summertime to save on air conditioning costs. Thankfully the screen doors were locked. I almost laughed, wondering just for a few seconds about the genius who invented locking screen doors. Another Chips growl wiped the smile away. My hearing deceived me as I realized Chips wasn’t moving forward along the backside of our house.
She was moving backward.
Oh God, please.
Obviously I couldn’t see her, but I could feel her moving backward while someone (or something) was forcing her backward. Somehow I had actually inched to the edge of my bed, wearing only faded red gym shorts and a soaked gray tank top, my entire body now useless, my breathing a steady, shallow beat of a metronome. I listened desperately for anyone else stirring who might have heard Chips barking: my sister, Mom or Dad. Nothing. No one.
Then someone (or something) kicked some of the rocks that filled the space between the pool decking and our house. Chips’ bark intensified -- her growling became a violent storm bashing the side of the house. Boards creaked with human weight along the deck that led to the locked screen door.
Why doesn’t Dad wake up?
I didn’t move. My hands and butt were fused to the bed, my head cocked unnaturally towards the window. My eyes opened even wider. They felt like hot glass plates. I actually moved, a little, but each muscle resisted painfully. I couldn’t believe that Dad or anyone in my family hadn’t heard, and the fact that my sister's bedroom shared the same backyard facing direction. I made it to my window and peaked my head slowly to the left to look for any movement.
There was none.
Then I heard a brief metallic screech and the screen door clicked and slid open. Someone (or something) stepped inside our house. Chips now growled and barked from inside the living room. Again I couldn’t move. Didn’t want to move. Only wanted somebody else to move first. My throat completely dried up. All the water in my body seemed to escaping from every pore as well as filling my bladder beyond its normal capacity.
I moved two feet towards my bedroom door and froze again. I heard a hollow thud sound. Chips yelped.
The bastard kicked my dog.
The yelp faded into a whimper. After that, nothing. A gurgling sound bubbled up from the pool. The pool sweep had come on. I looked back at my clock on the side of my bed. Less than five minutes had passed all together.
I finally moved, anger trumping fear for just a second. I reached my door and felt for the doorknob. I heard rustling sounds like someone frantically searching for something. Then whispering. My heart pounded nails into every nerve ending. I grabbed the doorknob and turned.
Someone (or something) was out in our hallway. I could’ve reached through the door and been able to touch him or her (or it). My lips were so dry that I could feel them splitting. I tried to lick them; it was like running a hot towel fresh from the dryer over them. I turned the doorknob slowly.
Another bedroom door burst open in the hallway beyond my own.
I jumped, maybe even let loose a little shriek, surprised I didn't let loose my bladder. I heard someone yell, maybe Dad, but I wasn’t sure. Heavy footsteps from multiple people pounded down the hallway. It sounded like a stampede. The front door opened and slammed against the inside entryway wall, and it was almost as if I could see through the walls, my adrenalin flooding my body with super human powers. Too bad I couldn't move.
Chips barked again and sounded like she ran out into the front yard.
That was Mom.
That was my sister.
I finally opened my bedroom door.
The hallway ended here and emptied into three rooms: Mom and Dad's, my sister’s and mine. Mom stood there wearing only underwear and a white t-shirt. Her hair wet and matted along her forehead and ears.
My sister hadn’t opened her door yet. “What’s wrong?” she called from behind it.
"Everything’s fine, sweetie," Mom answered nervously. Something large, shiny and metallic rested firmly in her right hand.
Dad's .357 magnum. Holy crap.
Mom spoke again, her voice clear and calm. "Son, listen to me. Someone broke into our house and your father ran after him. I need you to go and take him his gun right now. Hurry."
You’ve got to be kidding me. Everything's fine?
She held the gun out to me, shaking it a little as if I hadn’t seen it.
"Son, you have to take Dad his gun right now. Go!"
There was an edge to her voice I understood all too well. This wasn’t a simple favor she was asking of me: it was an order. She lowered her hand and I knew she was going herself. I took the massive handgun from her. It was very heavy in my hand and it pulled my right arm down like I had an oversized bowling ball.
"The safety is off, so be careful. Now go!"
The safety is off?
I ran down the hallway and out the front door.
Chips barked randomly from the front porch. Dad was nowhere to be seen and neither was the intruder. The huge pine in our front yard leaned towards the house as if wanting to shield it. I ran down the stone pathway around the tree and out to the street. At the same time, someone was running back towards our house from up the street. The streetlight bathed the man in eerie yellow light as he came up on me. He wore nothing but his underwear. Tighty whiteys as they're more commonly known.
It was Dad. I couldn't help but to squeak out a little laugh. At that moment I thought of his professional nickname -- Tricky Dick. It originated from his fellow officers commenting on his use of so-called unorthodox procedures on the street.
I held the gun up by its handle, away from my body, as if I was holding up a dead rat by the tail. Dad caught up to me and doubled over, hands on his knees, gasping for air.
"Thanks -- son -- he got -- away. I - think -- down the -- street. I have -- to call -- downtown. Hold -- the -- gun -- would you?"
Holy crap. Again?
"I already called Sandy downtown, Dick," Mom said from behind me. I jumped.
"Sorry, honey." Mom rubbed my back. "Anyway, officers are on their way. Are you all right, Dick? Did you get him?"
My dad could only shake his head no. Even though the hair on his head was thinning, the rest of his body was covered with curly and coarse graying hair. He spooked me; he might as well have been shape-shifting into a werewolf.
"Was he big?" I asked, not knowing what else to say. My right hand felt like it burned holding that gun. I hated guns. They were awkward and uncomfortable and killed people.
Tricky Dick stood up straight again. He finally caught his breath.
"I think so," he said. "He looked pretty damn tall to me. Fast too. Sonofabitch jumped somebody’s fence up the street and then ran into something pretty damn hard. Could’ve been the side of the house. Whatever it was, I heard the ever lovin’ air get knocked out of him, but then the bastard jumped over the back fence and was gone. Nothin’ but dogs barkin’ and lights goin’ on. Stupid sonofabitch."
"What would you have done if you’d caught him?" I asked him, scanning the street, worried that the intruder might return. Mom had already gone back to the house to quiet down Chips and to check on my sister.
Dad shrugged, then forced a smile. "Good question, son. I have no earthly idea."
He thought about this for a moment, then added, "Sometimes you just have to figure things out when you get there."
That’s it Tricky Dick? That's the unorthodox procedure?
I was surprised. To think that there was this indecisive parameter that existed in brave men like my Dad. They usually had it all figured out, didn’t they? I expected more, but that night there was only a balding middle-aged man in his underwear standing in the street with his sissy son holding a gun like a dead animal. Tricky Dick and the gunslinger, ready to save the day.
I wanted to hug him then, but didn’t. I wanted to cry, but didn’t. I heard sirens. Red and blue flashing lights washed the yellow streetlight away. I handed Dad his gun.
"Thank you, son."
"You’re welcome, Dad."
We stood there together on the sidewalk as four police cars screeched to a halt in front of our house.
"Can we turn the air conditioner on now?"
He smiled. It was a warm and loving smile.
Head down, I shuffled back into the house. I gave Chips a little pat and let her lick my face. Screen doors that lock, I thought. Yeah, right.
Saturday, August 11, 2012
He never opened the e-mail; the birthday e-card was never picked up. Granted it was silly -- an animated e-card of a Tyrannosaurus rex with an English accent wearing a tiny birthday hat and sharing a funny yet offensive joke about a guy peeing all over a bar to win a bet. Just the kind of humor a veteran cop of 32 years would want to read on his 80th birthday.
But he never opened it. I only stare at the notification verifying this fact. I never open up the auto-responder either, marking it read to remove the blue dot next to the e-mail in my Apple mail. I just visit it from time to time in the list of opened e-mails as if it were a reminder of something lost, the blue dot exposing the space where the sadness seeps in.
And it's only been 21 days since I sent it to him, 17 days since I went to see him, and 9 days since he died.
Dad's lucidity intact when I sent it, there were bigger things on his mind on his 80th birthday. The fact that he and Mom could no longer take care of each other weighed heavily on them both, especially Dad. Mom's chronic illness came to a head again and my sister and I had to come help them both.
No more chemo, hospice in place, advanced directive decisions made all in a matter of a few days. Laughing, talking and then slipping away quickly, aware but unable to articulate any kind of verbal response, these haunting hiccups had started as his body began to shut down, as if his life were a worn record album with the needle jumping in the same place…
He hated my music. Maybe hate's a strong word, but when you hear "turn that crap down" or "turn that crap off" or "close your bedroom door when you listen to that crap" it leaves little room to wonder. Never a rock and roll fan in the first place, when the family tree of rock branched into grittier, harder more explicit and progressive directions, then Dad along with many others of his generation threw up their collective hands and then hung their heads in bitter silence, right before they shouted "turn that crap off."
Mom's the one who turned me on to music -- rhythm and blues, soul, light jazz, pop and of course my favorite, rock (and roll). And they both were actually supportive when I joined the Columbia Record Club and bought 13 records for 1 cent, which really turned out to be more like $46.01 in shipping and handling. But they both weren't really happy when they found out I still had to buy three more albums over two years at full overpriced Columbia Record Club prices. However, those first 13 albums where like precious metals -- Kiss, Kansas, Journey, Boston, Queen, Aerosmith and more (becoming a Rush fan would come later for me).
Shortly thereafter it was my 13th birthday and Mom and Dad took me to Sears to buy my very first bonafide home stereo for my room. My anticipation and impatience was palatable. Until that point I had played all my 45's on a Playskool record player. Really. How cool was that.
There was a budget of course as we walked up and down the electronics section of Sears. The choices were mind boggling. Every one I looked at I wanted and I knew I wanted the AM/FM radio, the record player and the 8-track player that recorded tapes as well. I practically peed my pants trying to decide which one.
"Son, you really should get the one with the cassette player, not the 8-track player," said Dad. This coming from a man whose favorite tunes were from the musical "South Pacific," on reel-to-reel tapes he purchased, ironically enough, in the South Pacific.
"No, I want the 8-track player," I said, defiant and quite sure of myself. I did already have a few 8-tracks and knew I'd be buying more of them and records with future allowance money.
Dad shook his head and smiled. "I'm telling you, son. 8-track tapes won't be around much longer. Cassettes are going to be the way to go."
No matter how many times he tried to convince me, with Mom concurring, I refused. I went home with an 8-track home stereo system and turned my crap up really, really loud. One week later, every 8-track tape still on the market was gathered up quietly from record store shelves and mail order services and shipped to an underground vault in Iowa, never to be seen again.
Dad was always insightful that way. Whether it was chasing people across paper when he managed forgeries and frauds on the force; or investing much of his retirement years on family research and genealogy, delving back generations and uncovering fascinating family stories over four family lines while smashing the stereotype that older folk don't know how to use computers and the Internet; or knowing how my music would last better over time (considering 8-tracks only lasted about a week until the tracks started playing over one another).
This is how we remember: the needle jumps around the record giving us snatches of our favorite riffs, choruses, melodies, guitar solos, drum solos, intros and outros. My girls won't understand the record player metaphor unless I explain to them, and explain it to them I will. I'll want them to hear the stories of my youth, of my Mom and Dad, of my family, of music metaphors and the sadness that sometimes seeps in.
The blue dot winks and I smile. I will miss you, Dad.