Sunder Aaron




I always got two versions of my parents' meeting. My mother's version was told offhand: their meeting was happenstance. Not an epic tale. But my father's version was intense and momentous. As my dad remembered --and I can see his face shining from bourbon as he told me this-- it was...

"An early day in autumn. Autumn is the best season in Manhattan, and Central Park is the best part of the city. It was a workday and I skipped work. Something in the air told me to, son, something mortal about the leaves and the pond. The creases on the pond. The water was cold already, and it was a sad day, like an island in between days I knew nothing about. I was cold through and through. Kimball, I saw the most lovely creature. Did you know the first I ever saw of your Mother? I saw her reflection! YES! I was, sitting, staring at the water and I looked slow from the center of the pond all the way across to the water lapping the other shore. It's a small pond on the east side of the park. I'll take you there sometime, Kimball." He would look at me, all promises, and I'd say, "I've been there Dad." He'd taken me, sober and drunk.

"And I stared at the reflection in the water for a long time. It was an image, but I didn't want to look up, look away. I didn't want to look straight at her. She was the loveliest, Kimball. The prettiest. She was beautiful and tragic. I was turned to stone. We were the only two around that pond, and I wondered why she was there. I fought fear and looked at her. Straight at her I looked at her. She never moved. And she was breathtaking. When she looked back at me Kimball, I went warm all over. I got up from the bench, and before I knew what I was doing, I walked over the water to her and was holding her hands. I was burning then. Hands burning hot." His story wound around familiar trails and changed a little from time to time, depending on how well soused he was. But it always ended with his hands burning hot. The old man was a poet.

It's not a stretch to say my father loved my mom more than she loved him. People want to foolishly believe -- especially when it comes to marriage -- that love works out equal. It doesn't, and I don't think it can. In my own limited experience, when I see the most beautiful woman in the world, it's only a matter of time before I find another even more beautiful. There's always someone better. How does the saying go? "There's too many fish in the sea." Hell, the only constant woman in a man's life is his mother. No one can displace her. There's nothing Freudian about it: I love my mom very much, and she happens to be very beautiful. She could even be the most beautiful woman in the world, if there is such a creature.

Yet, I didn't realize how much other men found my mother attractive from any of my father's stories. Those were something separate. It was at dinner parties in our home, when I would set the table and serve drinks, that I first saw men -- friends of my father -- look at my mom in a way I didn't at first understand. Eventually, I was a cunning enough little bastard to catch the furtive ends and beginnings of their remarks about mom: snippets of admiration and lust which they would deftly swallow with vodka and crackers upon my approach. I suppose that's when the troubles started. Dad in a corner sipping more whiskey than wine. If it's possible, I pitied him at an early age. Imagine that! A child feeling sorry for his father. She didn't love him anymore. She didn't love him at all. Maybe she was never in love with him. It's a terrible thought, but I've had it.

Dad wasn't much of a company man. He had a degree in business something or other; a master of this or that; and he worked for a large advertising agency somewhere in the middle of New York City. I never visited his office: he wasn't very proud of his job. I don't think he wrote the ads. But then I don't know what anyone does in an ad agency. Dad must have pulled down good money: mom didn't work, and we lived well in an upper west side apartment. It wasn't big, but I never felt cramped there. New Yorkers know how to make the best of space, since it comes at a premium. I remember (barely) my mother wanting to work. Talking to my father about the possibility. He didn't like the idea much. Why, I wonder. He adored her, and he indulged her. But not this time. They argued over it. That was strange. Neither of my parents was very open. I'd call them closed-off. Each living his and her private life under a ring of union. Funny my parents in that way. Screwed up. I wonder if it was different before I came along. Were they closer? Were they intimate? Maybe I ruined everything. They weren't married long when I arrived. Perhaps I destroyed their wedded bliss. I'm just speculating here.

By the time I understood what was happening to my parents' marriage, they had stopped sleeping in the same bed. Even in the same room. We had a small den that doubled as a guest room, and now tripled as my father's bedroom. Nobody bothered to explain it to me. Throughout, it was clear that it affected my father more than my mother. Dad wasn't resentful, but it disturbed him. Deep. He visibly sank. Mom went about her day routinely: nothing was changed for her. Nothing better, nothing worse.

I wish they had divorced. I don't know why they didn't. Dad was fearful of it, I'm sure. Maybe mom pitied him. Pitied him for his Old Yeller commitment to her. Pathetic, the two of them. Dad believed it would all get better. She didn't. Was she willing to stay with him for the years that threatened to come? She must have been mad. Old Yeller. Rabid, and still hard to shoot.

Very quietly, he did it himself. A new package I saw as he walked in the door. Hello to me. Hello to her. Into his room. Nothing. Dad came out from his bedroom. Sat down. Looked at me softly. Looked at her. What's that line? "It is a far better thing I do than I've ever done." He had that kind of look on his face. I think I remember that he smiled. And his eyes were cracked glass marbles. Swollen, nearly weeping.

"What's wrong papa?"

I never asked. He looked at her longer than seemed right. Blinked very slowly. Rose from his chair and retired to his room.

It wasn't a bang. It wasn't a pop. How may I describe gunshot? Like a large, sealed empty box that was crushed quickly, or a plastic bag filled with air and exploded. That sound. Loud. I jumped. She jumped. She ran in. I tried to see but she pushed me out of the room, held me tight by the wrist like I'd done something wrong, and ran to the phone. Paramedics. Police. Neighbors. Even firemen. Why firemen? Strangers. Blur. I didn't have the sense to cry. I think, I remember mom days later, slumped in a corner, holding me. She was weeping. Or was she crying? I believe in gun control. I believe in gun control now. If Dad weren't able to go out and buy a pistol on a whim, he might be alive today. I'm speculating again. But then there's the bastard NRA. Moses. God damned Moses. Sure they'd say if Dad wanted to snuff it, he would have found a way. Some less dramatic way. Less profound. Less a mess.

Mom and I stayed in a hotel until she found a suitable apartment for us to live in. The old place was too expensive for us to manage. Besides, my Father's blood screamed in every room. Now we had to move, mom had to get a job, and I was to forget about my father. Put it behind me. That's what she said: that I was very young and should try not to think about what happened.

I went into his bedroom for the last time when mom was helping the moving men downstairs. I hadn't been in there since the day of his death. The room was disheveled but clean. The bed was spread. There were slight wrinkles in a spot at the foot of the bed. I wondered if that was where he snuffed it; where he last sat and left behind an impression in the sheets as evidence that he was once here. Once warm. Experts had been in shortly after to clean the place. There weren't any blood stains anywhere: the floor was hardwood. The wall painted light blue. Sky blue. It seemed as though nothing had happened in this room. This very quiet room. Maybe nothing had happened. After all, I had never cried. Indeed, Mom and I were carrying on very well. Friends had remarked over coffee how impressed they were with my condition. Our conditions. Very helpful friends. Some friend got my mother a job.

Friends. My father had no friends. I thought about it, and realized I didn't have any friends to speak of. But my mother had plenty of friends. Mother. I knew if she caught me in his room, she'd pull me out of there with excessive force, excessive emotion. I then understood that I had gone into the room to find something of his. A piece of him to keep. I don't know what. His books were moved, his clothes donated to charities. There were a few odds and ends left that would be abandoned: his bed, his desk and a random mess of papers.

Is mom coming? Quick. Kimball. Quick be think. Kim jump over the candlestick. Looking around without thought, senselessly. A search without logic, a room without order, a father gone mad, and a whole world gone berserk. Then I saw on the wall a patch that was cleaner than the rest of the room. Light blue, lighter blue. Washed out a bit. Faded more than any other area. Cleaners did a super job. I thought I heard mom approaching in the hall. Don't forget dad. Peeking from below the spread bed was the brown paper of a package. I yanked it fast from the floor. Empty shell of a package I see. Only package paper. Brown, folded, with "DON'S GUNS" printed on it boldly in black. As I looked, and held, a receipt fell from my hands. I snatched it. Kicked the paper back under the bed and left the room. Forever.

I've got to hand it to my mom. She was strong through the whole ordeal. Like a frontier woman. A statue of a frontier woman. I saw one somewhere out west. My mom's got backbone like that bronze figure. But I was upset with her. Felt betrayed by her. Maybe abandoned. And somewhere along the way, I started to understand my father: not his mechanism, not his method, only his feelings. I knew what hurt him, although I never understood his reaction. I had all of Dad's feelings for him. He was too dead to have them for himself.

Mom had something to do with it. She didn't pull the trigger; she just did what she had to do. She had no love for my father and she let him know it. No compromise. When he dropped us flat, she picked up the ball and kept running. Strong woman. She must have seen it as a goddamn challenge, and I suppose that makes her a woman of substance. Sometimes I hope I take after her. Cold and strong.





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 "My Father's Madness" © 1998 by Sunder Aaron

Original Graphic © 1998 by Jim Davis Rosenthal