My father is a charlatan, a charmer, all glamor and shine. He lives and speaks in the subjunctive – intent without the ability to follow through. Should have. Would have. Could have. An entire life that’s been one irrealis mood after the next. In small doses, it is so very easy to believe in him.
On June 24, 2010, I drove two hours south to a crumbling Victorian perched on a sliding hillside. My father purchased it three years prior using money from his new wife’s dead husband’s pension. On the drive, I did the math. 2010-1958 = fifty-two; my father was turning fifty-two and this would be the first birthday I’d celebrated with him in almost a decade. It would also be the last.
Throughout my childhood, his subjunctive living often meant his dreams were put in front of the wellbeing of my family. In any given season, we went without food and heat or clothes for winter or shoes for school or lunch for mama or treats or luxury items like books. Our lives were constructed around his fleeting desire to chase his celebrity, which ultimately never materialized. True to his subjective nature, an excuse always at the ready. His most often and most familiar refrain:
If it weren’t for my kids, I would have made it.
I heard this as often as I heard his garage rock band growing up, as often as I heard from him the only way to make it is to work hard and follow through, as often as I heard he would accept nothing but excellence. Coupled with this was his belt, his hand, his and punishments.
After pulling up the steep grade of a driveway I found him out back, tinkering with junk, his eyes bloodshot and dry, stoned from his midmorning bowl.
“I miss you, Jess,” he said as if I weren’t standing right in front of him.
His new wife, A, older by ten years, sat in the corner of the living room, smoking and nodding but not saying anything. That is her way, to contribute a presence but not an opinion.
I perched on the edge of a small sofa, arranged my face into something that looked attentive and wondered how long it would be before my siblings arrived. I wondered if I could even make it that long. My father immediately launched into a sermon on the end of the world and what I ought to do about it.
He told me I should have a three month supply of water, that it could be helpful if I had a shipping container, asked if I was planning on buying gold, and then told me he would have money if it weren’t for everything else going on.
While he spoke, puffing on a stinky cigar, a cane leaned against his chair. He caught my eye, made a big show of standing up, now with a limp that hadn’t been present when I arrived. He shuffled into the kitchen, offered to fix me a drink at eleven in the morning, and returned with one for himself. Then launched into health concerns and maladies, inventions of his mind sure to kill him, one day.
When he took a breath to reset his clauses, I took that as my sign. I’d planned to spend the day with him, to suffer through his suggestions and unsolicited advice but I realized it was impossible.
“If it weren’t for you all, I would have been able to focus on my music more,” he said over a sip of imitation Kaluha and coffee.
I breathed in deep, measuring my own emotional reserves against whether or not I could explore this particular line of subjunctive loss. There’s too much pressure in trying to compare the past as he remembered it against the reality of what happened.
“Guess I need to get going,” I told him instead of answering, making a show of pulling out my phone.
“It’s a long drive back and there’s a lot to do before the wedding.” I drop that one little bit, giving him a branch, a chance, a choice. He didn’t oblige. Formed his lips into a thin line, forgetting to remember to lean on his cane as he stood up. He took a long drink of his booze.
“I sure do wish you would just move home,” he said to me. As if his home or life has ever produced the kind of home I’m seeking.
“Supposed that you were to try it, just for a few months?”
Quick fire, a salesman’s tactic, but I don’t answer.
“Try to imagine if you were here,” he added.
Six years later, I’ll call to tell him I’m moving again, this time out to the prairie. When his voice gets the same milky resonance that precedes his familiar refrain, I accidentally drop the call.
His voice cuts off, “If it weren’t for my kids..."
Jessica Evans is a Cincinnati native who practices uprooting and restarting her life. Recently she lived in a Bavarian forest and now she’s back on US soil. Evans has work forthcoming in Lily Poetry Review and mac(ro)mic. Previous work has appeared in Tiny Molecules, Lunate, Ellipsis, X-R-A-Y Lit, and elsewhere.
She serves as a mentor for Veteran’s Writing Project and is the flash fiction editor for Mineral Lit.
Find her in the afternoons drinking licorice tea. Connect on Twitter @jesssica__evans.
Jessica encourages you to check out the National Association of Black Veterans,