March 5th, 2012 - Brandon Flammang
My father died shoveling mulch out of the back of his truck. I think officially he died from a clot that split open his jugular. Ultimately he died from intensity.
"Answer your fucking telephone" landed on my screen. I could see my brother’s face. Red and taut. Texts don’t convey tone well, but I felt that thing you feel when it’s awful. I called him back. "Dad fell out of the truck and hit his head." They were in the ambulance. I asked if he was conscious. There were pauses between each shaky statement.
“Hey guys? Are you getting anything? Nothing Brandon.”
My father believed in natural consequences. He also believed in volume and cussing, but the natural consequences actually taught me things. I jumped out of the shower one morning in high school and my towel was gone. I scampered to the hall closet. Empty. Parent's bedroom. Nothing. Was the rapture real? Why did everyone need a towel? I dried myself off with clean clothes. My father pestered and pleaded with me for years to stop leaving wet towels on my bed. I can see him smiling still. Front seat of his red Ford Ranger stacked with towels. Pushing over on to him as he drove.
I didn’t get invited to parties in high school. I was in band and choir and wore glasses with purple tint at the top of the lenses. I also feathered my hair. My friends were slick and cool. They wore Vans and looked like kids from The Lost Boys or The Goonies. A friend that worked for my dad drug me along one nite. We were supposed to be at work by 6 the next morning. I overslept. He woke me up. “Hey, your dad’s here.”
I don’t know if this was the first time I woke up drunk or my first hangover, but the confusion was similar to the towel day. My father didn’t say a word. He drove us to the church we cleaned on Saturday mornings. He motioned for us to follow him in rather than pull the vacuums out of the back of his truck. He summoned us to the basement and turned up the heat all the way. He poured two five gallon buckets of wax stripper on the floor, handed me a stiff squeegee and took my friend to breakfast.
I flung open the front door one spring high school afternoon. I still remember the reflection of the dogwood in the front door glass. My father stood next to the dining room table. Why wasn't he at work?
“Your report cards showed up.”
He shuffled the pink half pages.
“We haven’t gotten a report card for you since we moved here. Why now?”
“They changed the policy.”
“The library book policy.”
The vein in his forehead started to pulsate. The same eye twitch and glasses futzing I now embody.
“If you have an overdue library book, they don’t send out your report cards.”
More twitch. More vein.
“I checked out library books and kept them late on purpose. Been doing it since 8th grade. They changed the policy.”
He didn’t do silent well, but he stood for a bit.
“Did you read them?”
"And they changed the entire policy because of you?"
"I think so."
He chuckled. He knew what I’d done was deviant. He also knew it was clever.
I teach high school kids who are disenfranchised and live tough lives. My father called me the day before Christmas break about 15 months before he died. He needed help. I picked two students up the next morning. They moved black metal office desks and unwieldy partitions all day. He fed them lunch and paid them well. He also insisted that he ride with me to take them home. When the first kid hopped out, his royal blue Dodgers jersey bobbing on his still energetic back, my father hollered to him and they jogged to meet each other. My dad reached in his pocket, handed him more money, and said Merry Christmas. They shook hands and both of them gleamed. The remaining kid lived in a converted storage shed. It sat on concrete blocks, and they used the bathroom in the corner market next door. My father gave him everything that he had in his pockets. Cash, change, a gift card someone had given him for Christmas. He jumped back in the car. "You're doing right by these kids."
My brother still maintains the property where my dad died. The owners installed a bench in his honor. Polished grey stone. His name, birthday, death day, and a quote. For years it made me angry. My therapist told me I don't self-soothe well. My brother weed eats around that bench. Unable to wipe the sweat from his eyes because his hands are oil and gas coated. All while the two stroke engine sings my dad a fucked up song. Last summer I worked for my brother at the same building lopping tree branches. The ones that had grown too heavy to support themselves. Volunteering to sacrifice for the others. A pond adorned with water lilies supporting dinner plate sized leaves and pink blooms rests across from the bench. I'd never paid much attention before. I was too bitter about the bench. Ten years after he died I finally sat down on the bench and took a breath.
I stood next to my father's body in the hospital and tested his skin for warmth 4 or 5 times. The getting cold part is a discomfort I'm unable to describe. I pulled out my multi-tool and cut out a small section of his navy blue t-shirt. I dabbed the blood pooled in his ear with the soft dark cotton. It's still in a plastic bag next to a portion of his ashes in my dresser. My mom took a long inhale and between sobs said, "What are we going to do?" I didn't hesitate. "He taught me to work hard and be good to people. I'm gonna keep doing that."
My Father's Senior Picture
Brandon teaches kids most people have given up on. He loves what he does for a vocation and is good at it. He has a scant list of publications but a growing list of almost twenty students who are published. His students published in Polyphony Lit, Teen Ink, and Hypernova Lit. Brandon wishes you'd met his father.