This is a story I had to get out of my head onto paper purely for healing. It’s still hard, though, and I may not be getting it right – best I can do for now. A name has been changed, but otherwise this is the way I can remember it.
This seemed to happen at first without sound, as if I were watching a silent film with the words blown up on screens.
My brother and my father had their fights – I was used to those. But this was different. I had been in my room upstairs and started down when I heard the heavy shut of the solid oak front door. That meant my father had just come in, and usually I could count off the seconds before the clash between them began. There would be a cautious, almost polite questioning in my father’s baritone, a hoarse, tuneless challenge from my mother, then my brother’s raging tenor. That twisted music of a family fight had begun.
As I came downstairs this time, though, I heard no voices. But then at the foot of the stairs I stood completely still as I looked dumbly into the small foyer at the front door. Dad and my brother stood face to face, but I could hardly see them as my eyes fixed on the 16 gauge shotgun in my brother’s hands. It was aiming right at my father’s chest, the end of the barrel no more than a foot away.
I could almost hear a switch flipping off. I felt and heard nothing but just floated there in my own distance. Anything could have happened.
There were the two determined, tense faces, barely concealing the rage and hurt that each felt, the man and his teenage son locked in combat but perfectly still except for threatening words that finally rolled around me. I remember my mother, as usual, trying to be in between them, and me, not moving, gritting out some words to Tom about having to put the gun down. I was somewhere beyond fear, and realized that my words did not reach into the foyer.
My dad had not yet taken off his fedora and overcoat, and he stood with his hands on his lapels as if he had just been about to take off the coat but held his hands there, clenching them into the heavy woolen cloth.
“Don’t point that at me. You think I’m afraid of a gun?”
“Just get out of here.” Tom in his uncertain fury was barely audible. “Go back where you belong!”
“This is my house. What the Hell do you mean telling me I can’t come into my own house!” His normally resonant voice was clenching like his hands, and mingled fear and rage cut into it. I thought he would lose his speech and be left with nothing but a scrambled tongue and his fists.
“Tom, put the gun down, now!” My mother was ordering him the way she ordered the dog – do this, you bad thing, come here, now! But I could see the fear kept the command out of her voice, and it was only hoarse and irrelevant to the male rage she was witnessing. I could see fear surrounding them all.
“Go back to your goddamn girl friends and your card games at your goddamn club!” Tom planted his feet squarely apart as he kept the gun pointed right at Dad’s chest. He looked like the defender of all good that he felt himself to be, but I knew he was scared too. He was seventeen and needed his father but hated him too much even to think that. The power of his rage destroyed all thinking.
“Tom, you have to put it down.” I said this, thinking I was pushing a new force of reason into the scene, that Tom would listen to me, but it seemed no one even heard my voice. I realized then, as I watched them through the frame of the doorway, that I hadn’t moved one inch from the foot of the stairs. I was standing at least ten feet from where they were, and that seemed such a huge distance to cover with legs that didn’t want to move. But I forced myself to step slowly into the dark of their tension, into the small space of that foyer. So there we were, the four of us, far closer together than usual, in a room the size of a big closet. Only the words made a move.
“Tom!” I forced the sound out loudly at last, right at him, but felt it bounce off the isolating shell of determination he had steeled himself in. “He’s your father – whatever else – he’s your father!” I was staring at Tom but saw my mother’s grim face sharpen in my direction.
“You don’t belong here!” He raged again at Dad.
“How can you say that I don’t belong in my…MY house?” My father was stuck on that theme – he couldn’t get beyond it because he knew he was in the wrong. Yes, he had girlfriends, he gambled at cards, he paraded about his country club like a bachelor. I had taken a call once from a club friend of his whose deep voice laughed out loud when he realized his poker partner had a family. Who would have thought? Sorry to bother you.
Then the most incriminating evidence of all had come to “MY house,” a card from a girlfriend, a woman who was famous as a pop astrologist at the time. It was an open picture postcard with something about a new nightgown she had bought with him in mind. My brother had seen it, torn it in pieces, then taped them back together and left the ripped card for Dad to find. He had taken it away without a word. So here he stood, knowing he wasn’t really a family man, caught between his pride and his shame, and all he could sputter out was his disbelief that his own son was demanding that he leave the house.
“Stop, Tom, – NOW – this is not the way to do it.” Her voice was still hoarse and full of her depthless hurt as she fought back the tears she would never let show. This time she had caught Tom’s attention – I could see wavering in his eyes. It was getting through to him that there were better ways to get the man than this. She hated that man as much as Tom did, and she was supporting him in his hate, just criticizing his tactics. That made him think. He relaxed his grip on the gun just a bit. I breathed.
I heard myself talking again. “Come on, Tom,” appealing to whatever bond of common sense we shared, “Come on, give me that thing.”
And he backed off, his eyes still fixed on Dad, lowered the shotgun, and let me take it from him. I turned my back on them to replace it in the wall-rack and felt drawn for a moment to its polished oak stock and well-oiled gun-blue barrel. My brother took such great care of it.
Dad didn’t move, not quite having any fight left, realizing that all he faced here in his own house was humiliation, at least for this night. He pulled his lapels together and stared blankly at my brother and mother as they left the room together, glaring back at Dad with accusing, reddened eyes.
Mom brushed past me, as I was still staring at Dad, and I heard one word – Traitor! – hissed in my ear.