Although it isn’t always easy to talk about the tough times with dad, the material is vast. In fact, there are very few occasions with him that I can recall as being truly joyful. It isn’t that he was angry all the time, the moments listening to records with him or watching him play guitar were certainly good ones, but he was usually so red in the face drunk or stoned that it was difficult to find sincerity within the experiences. It was always a matter of time before dad didn’t start making much sense, or that his mood would make a sudden shift. But, there is one day that I do have. One day out of 19 years I had with him is still so clear to me as a good day, that it remains as vivid in my mind as though it happened just last week.
I was eleven. We were living in Michigan at the time in an adorable brick Cape Cod rental house. They were always rentals because of our many moves, but I particularly loved this house. The entire top floor was a big, expanse of a room with wood floors that covered the length of the home. The best part was that I could hardly believe my parents had decided that room should be mine when we first moved in. It was like paradise for me to have such a massive space to call my own. I would spend hours up there with my stereo, dancing around and playing DJ. I wanted to be like the popular DJs on the radio, so I would sit in front of the microphone trying to perfect the craft by recording voice overs between songs. I had a collection of cassette tapes of some of my ‘work’, but I was too embarrassed that someone might come across it, so unfortunately most of it ended up being recorded over. (The best part is that I found one of these tapes in my possession after I wrote this. More to come on that another time.) My room and music were always my escape, and this one was truly the ultimate. I needed that escape in those days, besides dad’s problems with the alcohol and drug use, it was one of the most difficult times in school that I had been through up until that point. I was at an age where being the shy, awkward new kid made me a prime target for bullying. I’ve never used that word in reference to myself before, but looking back now, the torment I went through is exactly what that was. I hated that school. In previous places, I could usually at least rely on a teacher when things were tough, but in this one I felt shunned even by them.
The trouble started the moment that I set foot on the school bus each day, when an older boy named Damon would plant himself next to me and terrorize me with his shocking requests to “suck his dick”. He would laugh when I would cower and become paralyzed, then he would lean in and whisper in my ear that if I ever told anyone – he would hurt me. I was constantly sick inside and terrified; as an eleven-year-old I had no clue how to handle myself in such a situation, so I just remained silent. I thought if I tried to ignore him he would eventually stop, but this went on every single day that he was on that bus. I can still feel his disgusting hot breath on my ear. From there, the day was usually filled with literal finger pointing and ridicule from my peers about how I was dressed or how funny-looking my hair was. I remember feeling pretty good about my thrift shop duds, until this particular year. If I didn’t have the latest trending stirrup pants or Jordache jeans, I was obviously a freak (I know, I know…but it was the 80s). I barely pushed through each day, keeping my eye on the clock for the time when I knew I could get home and escape to my quiet space where no one could bother me.
As I grew excited about that school year coming closer to an end, there was also a bit of light at home that suddenly popped up. Dad had decided to quit drinking. As memory serves me, it didn’t last more than a week, or maybe just a few days, but during that week there was one day that made the troubles at school and all of his past behaviors feel like they just melted away. It was a day that hiding in my bedroom wasn’t necessary for a change. It was a clear day, with perfect blue skies. The kind of skies that are so brilliant you want to lay back and stare up for hours. Leaves were finally starting to grow back on the trees and it had just turned warm enough for shorts. In Michigan, this probably meant it was somewhere around 55 degrees. I was wearing a white jumper with vertical pastel stripes that made me feel mildly stylish. Dad surprisingly announced that he would take me into town for my haircut instead of my mom. For once I was excited to jump into the car with him – I wasn’t in fear of my life because of a beer can in his hand. He waited patiently while my new, shorter cut was handled by the male stylist. I remember it was the first time a man had cut my hair and I was nervous but in complete awe of his work. I’m sure this was just a BoRics but to me it was like being in a grown-up spa, and I felt completely cute when he was done. I figured this was the highlight of my day, and that I would just head back to my stereo and my rockin’ DJ world with my fancy new haircut. But before heading home, dad steered the car towards a sporting goods store. At first I was confused about his intentions. A grocery store, I would’ve understood, because they sold beer there. But what on earth could dad want at a store filled with sporting goods? He had never been the athletic type. Baseball gloves, that’s what he was after. It turned out that dad had the sudden idea that he wanted to teach me how to catch and pitch a baseball, which was nothing short of a miracle. I had never spent time playing anything with my dad, and although my experience with baseball was limited to watching Chicago Cubs games with my grandfather, this was like a dream come true because of how fired up dad was about it. After finding a glove small enough for my tiny hand, we made the trip home and headed straight to the backyard where we would spend the rest of the afternoon tossing the ball around. It seemed like this went on for many hours. We ran, we laughed, and we kept the back and forth up until it was too dark to see the ball any longer. We finally relinquished ourselves to the darkness and trudged inside for dinner – both acting like a couple of kids.
Although that glove never made its way onto my hand again, it was one perfect day that I will forever be grateful for. One entire day where I saw who I think my dad really was and one day that pushed every other worry I had in the world completely aside. It’s also beautiful to think that this might have even been a similar experience for him. I now get the sense that neither of us wanted that day to ever end.
All these years later, I still get excited at the way a perfect catch of a baseball feels in a mitt.