I'd never seen my father helpless before, dependent on doctors and nurses for everything. Clark's illness equalized us, aligning him with my own past deficiencies. I also had an ongoing failure. I called it FutureIntense because the drumbeat consequence of that failure was inevitable. I'd never been under such a siege before. Clark's imminent death gave me no sense of justice. But his new status, a living sufferer, meant he joined rest of humanity. He long denied this as a thorough-going American Midwesterner who saw himself unique among the human species.
Standing near Clark's bone-thrusted body, the tubes, needles, monitors, oxygen, and intubation intermeshed with a once proud and sovereign man, I felt comforted, knowing now we were both FutureIntense. The future maimed and killed.
I told them at the upscale hopspital's desk I wished to visit my father. I flew from the West Coast to see my father in the heartland. You rotted my drreams, heartland.
"Fine. He's in room 527." I walked slowly, thinking if I killed time, he'd die before I arrived. Or maybe I was plain scared of him, postponing unpleasant business.
I conferred with the doctor about Clark's prognosis.
"Maybe a week or two, even a month, but not much longer," the doctor said.
"Is he conscious? Can he speak?" I couldn't tell whether I wished Clark to talk or not. I might enjoy denouncing him as he lay silent. A virtual soliloquy, that rant.
"I can take the suction tube draining fluid from his lungs for a while, and then he can speak intermittently."
"What does he say?" I asked. I had visions of Clark reiterating all my disappointing life and shortcomings, how I had all the advantages but failed my auspicious beginnings. He wanted me to be a sportswriter, for shit sake. Reading too much, graduating as an English major, he probably feared my literary aspirations, writing about my suburban upbringing, exposing him as fraudulent, abusive and, worse, a Dad who failed to die as I had intended.
"Sometimes about your mother. He's on pain medication, which causes hallucinations, so it's mostly incomprehensible."
"Can he hear?" I asked.
"Yes, if you talk loud and slowly."
Oh, great, I thought, now we can swap drug tales. I can tell Clark about my acid trips, about the vibrating mandalas from world cultures I'd seen while sky-high. Or maybe the time I shot crystal and crashed, almost hanging myself afterwards: That might entertain him. Or about that time, high on cocaine and acid with a woman also tripping, a loaded .357 magnum in my hand, wanting to shoot the early morning garbage collectors because their crashing noises on the street below interfered with my cosmic handjob she was giving me. Earlier that day, she'd worn a big, floppy hat with a hen atop. I asked about
that. "It's because I'm always getting laid," she said, introducing herself as we met in a thrift store, both of us buying dresses. I wanted to wear mine seated in front of the computer monitor watching hardcore movie clips.
I sat as close as possible, and spoke directly into his ear.
"Dad, it's me, Bobby, can you hear me?" He showed me nothing but a Tibetan Bardo state, but I couldn't remember whether Bardo represented sequences after death or the condition just prior to death. How many times in suburbia with Clark I shouted at him that he was a walking dead man, I couldn't count. Perhaps the definition of Bardo was amorphous, but my narcissistic intellect insisted that Bardo mattered.
I repeated this sentence over and over, until it lost meaning and context. I walked away, going to the cafeteria for coffee, hoping espresso would be served, needing four shots. I settled for Earl Grey, though I understood Starbucks had at last come to this city. I saw The New Yorker, People, Harper's on a table: The world had opened up since life with Clark ended thirty years ago when I entered college. I never returned. After caffeine, my West Coast brain downloaded, and I clicked swiftly to Clark's room.
A nurse walked in the room.
"I saw your father raise his arm," she said. I saw him attempt to raise it again.
"Must take lots of effort," I said.
"Stay with it, he'll come around," she said, and left.
"Dad, can you hear me?" He lifted his arm slowly, touching my forehead and hair.
The silence, his hand, no distractions interceded blunting its physical gesture.
"Old age, not for sissies," he murmured. I knew that to be a cliché by now, yet coming from him it sounded like imaginative thought he never had, his profoundest insight.
"Right, Dad. Life itself isn't for sissies either." I placed my hand on his, patting it. Physical contact like this had always been an unspoken, implicit taboo before. Then I removed it, favoring a soft handshake, something we'd done nearly every night before going to bed.
"How you doing back there?" he asked. Was "West Coast" too foreign a word for him to pronounce?
"OK. I own a second-hand bookstore, sell books on the internet now," I said. "I could make good money on a auction coming up, too."
"Own a house?" A suburban home, his first: He photographed that house from a hundred different perspectives, trying to define success and glory.
"No, I rent. It's an old Victorian fixer-upper," I said. "You should see it." Either I meant he should get well enough to travel and sit in the living room or I'd tell others that Clark should have seen the Vic, but died before he witnessed my own success. I couldn't be certain what I meant.
"Nothing old about our ranch-style house," he said.
"I hated the linoleum floors, that narrow hallway, the fucking patio, that chintzy out- door furniture in the family room, what hell I lived in." The high-tech medical equipment blasted like thrash metal from vids shot by soldiers in Iraq. I wouldn't live behind the wire, Clark water-boarding me into submission anymore. Take yourself to Falluja, it's about time for you getting out of that suburban green zone, I screamed into my brain.
"Your way never worked," he said.
"I have a B.A. degree, I own a business, I have girlfriends," I said. And lots of porn these past two years. I must have 300,000 images and mpegs stored on my drive now.
"Married. Should be married by now," he said.
"I'm strictly a free market individualist, your kind of guy." Yeah, I'm into solo sex, checking out babes and older tramps, living in darkness in front of the screen, sort of an investment capitalist, waiting for the right moment to blow my wad.
"Anyone serious you might marry?" he asked, breathing getting faster, harder.
"You remember those high school math courses, the ones you said I should take?"
"Yes." He couldn't turn his head. It was impossible to look directly into my eyes. I. only saw one side of his face.
"On the back of all those blank sheets, ones you helped me with, I wrote dirty scenes about me having sex with Mary Tyler Moore and Faye Dunaway.
"People in town thought you were perverted, a Communist," he said. Suspicion fell upon solitaires. But I never made it into the Hall of Shame, where quiet loners shot as many as possible before killing themselves.
The doctor and nurse entered. They checked Clark's vital signs.
"Fifteen minutes. You can be here the same time tomorrow if you like," the nurse said.
"Fine. I've got to go back home tonight because of business." Couldn't they tell Clark and I were two businessmen reliving our success stories? My paranoid eyes told no.
I stepped close to Clark. Green slime drooled from one corner of his mouth. I wiped it away with Kleenex found on the bed.
"You're not in trouble, taking out loans and such?" he asked.
"No. I bought a hundred books at an estate sale," I said. "I'll clean up at the auction next month."
But, yeah, I was troubled with trouble, the kind where men's lives stop, where shame and scape-goating dominate their lives, terminating the pleasures of fantasy. Every vehicle had a driver on a mobile, every time I traveled to another town or city, men and women stared at me through tinted car and truck windows, then started their engines, moving down the street. Law enforcement, all kinds, seemed to lurk around, cruising ultra-slow past me, stopping regularly outside my store.
Once, the owner of two porn stores in town showed up, picking a trade edition of John Updike, turning pages as he sharply watched me. Had guys like him ever read Updike? Another fucking spy, trying to impress the FBI that he wouldn't ever sell underage magazines again.
The minutiae smaller than pixel events, presented themselves as I lay in bed. I kept a night watch on shards of paranoia, often sleeping fully clothed, waiting for the shattering of the door, SWAT guys with guns aiming guns at me, my bloodshot eyes under a high-beamed flashlight.
People loved to unload their innermost secrets on those they weren't close to, marginal folks. It happened to me many times. I couldn't inflict this on even Clark, my "marginal." Detailing my apparent crimes would kill him, I was certain of that. The energy he had left would get sucked up in the vortex of my addiction. He ordered the shrink to give me
anti-psychotics after I nearly killed him when I was sixteen. The police and local psychiatrist wanted me placed in the state mental hospital, but Clark prevailed. He got the right authorities to place me on probation under his care.
He and mother argued fiercely about the pressure he put on me to succeed. The issue was math.
"Bobby could do it if he bore down and applied himself," he yelled at her that night.
"Please, can't you see you're killing his soul," she said. A devout Methodist ( an oxymoron? ), she pleaded my cause until he slapped her around. Too many Bourbons for Clark that night. I hated him drunk. I hated him beating her up.
From my bedroom closet, I pulled out the .16 gauge shotgun he gave me for my sixteenth birthday, put two shells in, ran down the hall, and aimed at his heart. He swatted the barrel away, and I fired into the ceiling.
It wasn't about math at all, not from my viewpoint. It was all about success. Whenever I wrote a particularly hot sex scene, jerking gobs on the sheet Clark had penciled the the solution, I succeeded. I should have gone into fluid mechanics, a double entendre, common for guys like me who found pornography the sweetest hobby.
For two years, until I left Clark forever, I sat at his left side, mother and my brother onlookers. On Thorazine and Stelazine, I, felon, sat inches from Clark, dead man only in my fantasy life. The drugs blunted all emotion and tension then soaking up the air, felt by the others but not me.
"That sex stuff, on those sheet, why'd you do that?"
"I wanted self-sufficiency. I hated and feared competition. I demanded my fantasies be a monopoloy. Don't all capitalists want to destroy their competitors?"
Before answering, he lifted his hands over his head, pushing upward, reaching as high as his arms allowed. His face registered no pain. I buzzed emergency.
Two nurses quickly entered.
"What's he doing, poking up in the air like that? Tell me," I said, alarmed at Clark's sudden physicality.
They went to the bedside, one placing her hand on his forehead, apparently to steady him, the other nurse pushed her hand gently on his chest.
"Just to comfort him when he does this. Watch and listen," a nurse said.
He kept thrusting his hands high, forcing them to a place he clearly saw.
"Can't you see the glass? Can't you see the hole in the glass?" Clark's hands targeted one grid above his head, rhythmically pushing his hands through that spot above. The nurses watched him, and they observed me watching him. I stood dazed with awe.
"Bobby, can you see the hole in the glass? Can you?" he said, looking upward.
"Yes, Clark, I can," I said.
I took of my shirt, standing in a sleeveless undershirt. I bent down, the back of my head touching his heart, grasped his hands in mine, and together we put our hands through the hole in the glass.
"He's hallucinating from pain medication," a nurse said.
"It's common. The hallucinations, that is. I haven't seen anything like this, though."
"The vividness makes this one unique," the other said. "A rare one, your father."
Clark and I pushed through that hole a while longer, then visiting time was over.
They told me to come back tomorrow. I could have stayed another day. The store would manage another day without me. Nothing more could be communicated. I left.
Two weeks later my brother phoned. Clark had just died. I told him he died during
my visit. I failed to mention the hole through the glass. He said the usual: I should have been committed. Clark must've been as crazy as I was for letting me stay at home after the attempted murder.. I told him I'd book a flight for the funeral. I lied.
For some reason, I no longer was under surveillance, by law enforcement or county vigilantes. I continued watching online porn. FutureIntense, where failure and repercussion convened, disappeared.
I began writing eroticism. One day it turned into the first poem I ever wrote. I published a few online, then wrote a short story which eventually got published. I decided that, I, too, could do a "memoir." It was about my life with Clark. I began the first draft with the line, "Putting his hands through the hole in the glass."
THE ENDGeorge Sparling E-mail
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