Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013
Roll: 6,4. Result: Feelings, Muddle.
In the sixth grade, we had to give presentations on our role models, and for this I chose my father. Back then, he was untouchable; every word he spoke was true and his actions were driven by the purest moral justice. There was no problem he couldn’t solve, no situation that he didn’t handle with grace and confidence, no question he couldn’t answer. He was cool, whip-smart, and most importantly, my father. He was mine and no one else’s, and for this I felt so incredibly lucky.
When I told my parents about the presentation I had done, my mom smiled and my dad gave me a big hug, saying thank you and proceeding to try convincing me that Einstein, Ted Roosevelt, or Martin Luther King, Jr. would make better role models. I listened to his pitch, believing all the while that I couldn’t have made a better choice.
When I was sixteen, I came home from school one day and my father had gone. I found my mother crying in her bedroom, and she wouldn’t say what had happened, except that he was gone and he was never coming back. I was confused, and angry, and I demanded that she tell me where he went, but when she didn’t budge I ran into my own room, slamming the door and starting to cry myself.
Over the years the subject became taboo. I tried to get her to say anything, but she would always go silent and ignore me, or move into another room if she could. There was nothing in the papers, and none of my relatives knew either. They said that they would tell me if they could, but whatever had happened was locked away in my mom’s head.
I did start to wonder whether she had killed him, although they had always been very happy together and I saw no signs that it had come to that. When I did eventually ask her straight up, her eyes went wide and she looked like she wanted to cry, but she wouldn’t. She just kept saying no and hugging me, insisting that it was nothing like that, but she promised she would never tell.
When she died, I went through everything in the house. I opened every file and folder, reading through it all, looking for anything which might be a clue as to what happened. I found one handwritten letter in my father’s handwriting, but unmarked. It said, “I still love you. I think of you often. Tell Guppy I love him.” Guppy was one of my old nicknames. She had never told me.
I sold the house and moved to the city, where I met my wife. When she became pregnant, and I got the writing job, we decided to move back to my hometown, and my old house was up for sale. The price was right, so we bought it, and I set right to remodeling the thing; It was full of weird feelings.
One day I was painting the front of the house when the baby started crying. I called out to my wife, but heard nothing, so I went to check on him. As I was climbing down the ladder, a man’s voice called out from behind me. Just my name, as a question.
I turned around, expecting an old acquaintance of some kind, but I did not know the man. He was holding an envelope, which he held out to me, saying that my father wanted me to have it. I stared. I demanded to know where my father was, if he was alive, what he was doing, and a hundred other questions. The man turned to go, but I grabbed his shoulder. He sighed and told me that everything and anything I could want to know was in the envelope. He stepped away, climbed into his car, and drove off.
The envelope contained six two-sided pages of small print, evidently written by my father. It explained that, when I was younger, he had been a contract killer. When I was sixteen, he botched a big job, and had no choice but to move away under witness protection. He had taken extra precautions to ensure that the letter made its way to me safely, so that I would not be endangered.
I read the letter twenty times that night, sitting on the floor of the living room in my half-painted house.
55 men. My father had killed 55 men by the time I did my presentation on him.
And he was my father, and no one else’s.