by Nicholas Kish
Hardest punches I ever took were from my dad. Christ—if I close my eyes I can still feel them. And that was fuckin’ decades ago. When he drank a ton he’d go blind. Not blind drunk but blind. Like his blood pressure used to skyrocket and affect his eyesight. It’d piss him off, and he needed to take it out on somebody. Since I was the only one around, that somebody was me. I don’t talk about it much. Everybody’s got there shit to deal with. Carry it around with them like luggage. But I don’t run from it either. You can’t deal with the shit inside you just by running away from it.
Only time I saw him go to town on someone other than me was in this bar. It was about ten years ago so he would’ve been fifty or so and I was maybe twenty-three or four. We’d been drinking tequila and beer with a friend of his named Kezdy. It was past midnight. Place was packed. We were shooting the shit about the Steelers and the government and work. Kezdy decided to go off-topic a bit.
“You know…Henry David Thoreau was a pussy. You know that right? Even when he lived on Walden Pond he was never more than a mile away from his mommy. She baked him pies and did his fuckin’ laundry. He once said I am a diseased bundle of nerves standing between time and eternity like a withered leaf. What kind of pussy says something like that?”
I doubt my father knew who Thoreau was or where Walden Pond is or why Kezdy’s statement might be offensive to some. I never saw my dad read a book if it wasn’t about football or war. But after Kezdy said his piece, my dad’s face flushed red. Balled his fist up and knocked Kezdy out cold. Leveled him. Kezdy fell to the floor where he lay on his back. His beer gut rose and fell with each unconscious breath.
It was that time of night when every idea seems like a good one. Like sticking around to finish your beer even though the bartender said they’d dialed 911 and the cops were on their way. I didn’t care. My dad didn’t care. Kezdy was out cold so he didn’t care. Cops came. Threw me in the back of one car and my dad in the back of another. Drove us to the station.
Halfway there the squad car with my dad in it makes a right instead of the left that would’ve taken him to the station. Cop driving me gets on his radio. Asks his little piggy buddy where he was taking the old man. Cop comes back saying that the old man wasn’t breathing. Face was purple and his tongue was hanging out of his mouth. I sit up. Put my face against the barrier between the front seat and back seat. Cop throws an elbow against the barrier. I catch a bit of it on the mouth but the metal mesh absorbed most of it. I turned and watched out the back window as the cop car carried my dad down a side street. We continued on to the station.
“You’re not taking me to the hospital with him?”
“Fuck no. I’m going throw your drunk ass in a cell then go eat some McDonald’s.”
I woke up in a cell the next morning. Mystery bruise on my forehead. Blood under my fingernails. No idea how either the bruise or the blood got there. A different cop than the one who had arrested me came by, opened the cell door. Told me I could go. And that my father was dead. I asked what hospital or funeral home was holding his body. The cop stared at me. Told me to hang on, wait in the police station lobby. He’d make a call. A few minutes passed. Cop came over to me with a cup of coffee. Told me my father was still at the UPMC hospital on the South Side. Being kept in the basement until the next of kin, me, could be located.
I drank the coffee on the bus while thinking about my dad. Arrived at the hospital and told a desk attendant why I was there. Showed her my ID. She took me to the basement of the hospital and into a room where only half the overhead lights were turned on, shining down on linoleum and plaster and metal. Another attendant came in and slid my dad’s body out of a metal locker. He was covered up to his chest in a blanket, naked underneath I assumed. His arms lay alongside his body, uncovered by the thin blanket.
I looked at his hands. The gnarled hands that used to pummel me when I was a kid. I remember being confused by it all. Confused because I was in pain but didn’t mind it. In a strange way, when he was beating up on me like that, there was no place I would rather have been. Isn’t that heaven? To want to be nowhere else in the world but where you are at a particular moment?
My dad ‘s body was laid out on a metal shelf. I looked at his face. I looked at his hands. Remembered those moments of great intensity and confusion when he went blind and it was just me and him. Father and son.
My father was a great man.