Do you know how you’re going to say goodbye to someone? Is it going to be a loving embrace and a soft caress of their cheek before they go to the great beyond? Or, is it going to be heated words and a pistol stuck in their belly as they try to argue, or to plead with you, not to pull the trigger? Or is it simply a call in the night? A quick stop at the mortuary to look at a lump of flesh bloated with formaldehyde, because that’s the law? Or, will you, like me, wonder what happened when they just disappear? Here one day, and gone the next, and no clue where.
I remember, or think I do, the last time I saw Mom and Dad. They’d dropped me off at Uncle Soap’s apartment after packing the beat-up gold Ford Taurus for a camping trip. They often went camping alone at least twice a month, down in the Big Bend National Park. I remember him having on his red and black shirt he’d pulled the sleeves off. Mom always told him that was her favorite shirt of his. She’d wear it around the house sometimes to tease Dad. Not that they were all sweetness and love. More than once I heard them screaming back and forth about all sorts of things. Always it was mostly about drugs.
I didn’t understand then, but I think I do now. They argued the most just before they went camping, and were best together after they got back. As a child, I saw the change, and knew it had something to do with them going camping, but it really didn’t matter. Mom and Dad were happy. They paid attention to me, and bought me things like a new set of shoes, or a cool shirt. It’s funny that I remember the clothes but not their faces. I remember Dad always being skinny, and he had fuzz on his face. I don’t remember if it was a beard or mustache, both, or if he just didn’t shave every day. Mom was like Dad, skinny.
When they didn’t go camping, Dad stayed home nights with me while Mom went to work. She’d always dress up in baggy pants and a shirt, and carry lots of bright, flashy clothes that fit in a little carry bag to work. Dad would stay awake with me until I got tired, then I’d get tucked into bed on the couch at the far end of the trailer. I’d fall asleep listening to Dad watch television. Every so often, before I passed out, I’d watch him give himself a shot of ‘medicine’ in between his toes. I know he was shooting up now, but then I knew he was always more happy afterwards, so it seemed a good thing to me. I knew something was off, most four-year-olds can sense things. We’re not yet aware enough of how to lie to ourselves and avoid uncomfortable truths. Denial and delusion aren’t something that’s learned right away.