To the Center
It wasn’t that I hated this car ride; it was the fact that I hate any car ride over fifteen minutes. Yet still, an argument ensued about why we have to go and what exactly we would be doing once we got there. Then my mother snapped back with a response about my father, and his “facility,” figuring once my brother and I got confused we would stop arguing with her. This was the first trip of many and it was the longest. We left the house late because my mother had to toggle getting my brother and I ready. It was too early, especially for a day when I didn’t have school.
It was Saturday, the day for families to visit the patients: we only ever visited on Saturdays. To my surprise, the facility wasn’t a huge brick building with a nice silver and granite sign adorned with a palm tree. Instead it looked like a residential community center, like the one I used to visit my great-great-grandma in when she was on hospice. There were two small buildings; one was full of offices, comfy chairs, and motivational posters. The other was where the patients lived. It was a small building that made a U-shape around an ornate garden. There was a sizeable waterfall in the center, surrounded by bright green shrubbery that always looked the same. The rooms were all dull shades of blue, the stable color palette used for the facility.
My mom parked in the gravel parking lot, and took my brother and I out of the minivan. Her light-brown hair got caught on her sunglasses as she slammed her door shut. She delicately pulled them from her face and untangled her hair, while she shuffled through the gravel kicking it around then complaining there were rocks in her sandals. We huddled into concourse of the center where we heard the low, monotone beginnings of a prayer. In a drab unison, “In the name of the Father, Son, Holy Spirit” echoed out of the small rear door to the gathering room.
“Goddamit. We’re fucking late,” snapped my mother as we crept through the white paneled door. In the large square room, we saw an array of other children who were all seated on the floor in front of their parents. Everyone else sat in chairs that lined the walls. We found our seats next to my father who was relieved to see us after our delay led him to believe we weren’t going to come.
He stood up to hug us, his tall and lanky stature towering over my brother and I. He wasn’t shaving in rehab so his kisses were scruffy. His stomach protruded his waist in a hard, solid bubble, but it contrasted his skinny silhouette. He had the same “beer belly” all my uncles had, protruding only forward and not out toward the sides. His hands were thick, unproportional to the rest of his body. They were the hands that built the tire swing in our yard, the hands that fixed boats and cut meat, the hands that held ours when we crossed a street. His hands were somewhat unsteady, along with the rest of his being. It wasn’t a shock, or a shake, but a shiver. His body trembled in small jolts of muscle tension as we sat throughout the meeting.
He was always happy to see us, because it was those Saturdays that we were able to see him for a few hours every week. It was those Saturdays that kept him going through the 3-month process. The gathering consisted of men and women discussing their triumphs, and downfalls. They shared the best techniques of overcoming the battle, and told of ways to persevere through the challenges of withdrawal. Sometimes the family members spoke alongside their loved ones and sometimes even the leader of the center would join in the conversation. This was the solemn melancholy that began every Saturday and it remained stagnant throughout the duration of my father’s rehabilitation program.
My father’s roommate, Mike, sat with my brother and I while my parents sat in a small room in the other building. He told me how he plays his small guitar a lot when he’s bored, or when he needs to take his mind off things. The same “things” everyone was trying to keep his or her mind off of. My brother sat and toggled with a leapfrog toy as we waited for the return of my parents. My parents sat through a half-hour-long initial therapy session, while I plucked the strings of the guitar. They met with the director of the program and then the special counselor who would specialize in my father’s therapy sessions. He would meet the personal counselor shortly after the director finished his speech on the benefits of the program, the success rates, and the payment plans.
We stayed in the room most of the time. If it were ever nice outside, we would spend time in the grass yard. As the first month passed, my father’s wall became decorated with postcards, letters, and photos exchanged with the members of his family. This mural of memories served to keep his thoughts positive and unwavering. Throughout the three-month program, he became humble and vulnerable. He wasn’t as stern as I once knew him as. A stern where muscles would tense, but his arms wouldn’t swing. Where the authority came up from his throat, like a vomit of demand and muted aggression. His progress to transformation began to impress me. Not enough to transform my opinion, but enough to make me question how I now felt about him. This place, where he remained for three months, had changed my father. It stripped him of his firm shell and diluted the heroic vision of my father that always clouded my mind. My father was not a villain, because although his actions might project otherwise, he was truly ordinary. He made a mistake; he was conflicted, and in constant war with an affliction deemed hereditary. This place had taken my father from his demons and reinvented him. For a while he was actually unrecognizable.
The center was where my father learned the twelve steps to a better life. There he learned the prayer to combat his desire for toxic sips from green glass bottles. It was there my father learned how to control his temptations and comprehend the consequences of his actions. This center was where I first saw my father cry. It was where I first understood what had happened the night a couple weeks ago when my brother and I were taken across the street to stay with the neighbor for the night. We carried over our blankets and pillows, laid on the couch, and listened to my mom yelling. She was angry, upset, and distraught. She stood on the front stoop while my father lurked in the garage. He rummaged through his crafts and tools, not to avoid my mother, but to hide his embarrassment. My eyes welled from severe allergies to the cats my neighbor bred, and I sat up watching the red and blue lights reflect around the room. Rhythmically they danced against the wall till I heard three doors slam and the lights descend back into the darkness they came from.
And there I was, in my father’s 3-month crypt, grasping the fact that the incident was a drunken mistake. I had experienced the fourth step of my father’s drunkard progress, drunk and riotous. He was not the man that taught me how to ride a bike, to catch a fish, or to throw a ball to the dogs. He was his own father; repetitive in the nature of DNA. Repeating the steps that sparked the cancer in my grandfather’s liver; the cancer that killed him just before I was born. It was an addiction to malts, liquors, booze, and brews; little glass bottles of dissatisfaction. A battle I too may have to come to terms with in my future. That’s where, unknowingly, our relationship changed; that’s when my father and I lost our bond.
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