excerpt from Smashing yams

2007. Collateral Damage         

            My father sits at a bar in one of those corporate purgatories for the rank and file.  It’s a Chili’s, but the place matters less than what it represents—homogenized monotony, bland predictability, really, he could be anywhere. He’s been here since noon. It’s desolate now, but waves of customers will come at the allotted times, lunch rush, dinner rush.  Twelve to one. Five to six.  She doesn’t ask, just sets another 23oz Miller Lite in front of him and smiles, because this is his local haunt and everyone knows what he drinks. 

He barely notices. His eyes are fixated on his phone. Who to call? It’s one of those moments where a phone full of numbers presents itself with no one to call. He sets the phone back down and watches the game. People filter in and out of the bar, but he doesn’t speak. He does that thing he often does where he just stares off into the distance, blank, but not blank. He drinks more, maybe he orders some wings, maybe a friend from General Motor’s comes by to try and console him. It would have to be one of the obnoxious salesman types from the finance division who would not judge how much he’d had to drink, but join him, slap his back and make crude jokes.

At 10 p.m. he finally leaves.

            He stumbles to his car. Or maybe he doesn’t. He’s drunk, but he’s not drunk. He’s numb, but he’s awake. The decision doesn’t seem like a decision; it seems like a fact. Or maybe it’s not a decision at all, it’s just an idea in his head. I’m worth more dead than alive, like a mantra on repeat. I’m worth more dead than alive.

            The car is one of those mid-life crisis cars, which would say something about him if he didn’t have to get a new one every year. He’s just trying it out. He just turned fifty after all, no fifty-one. Is he really fifty-one? Where did it all go? Where did the time go? He’s been through this already. Two years of it already. He’s paid for his kid’s college, taken on their debt. There’s the mortgage and his wife’s mother. What will his wife think? This is not what mid-life was meant to be. This is not what his life was meant to be. This is not who he is, he is great. He was going to be great. Maybe if he had just tried harder. Maybe if he had just worked harder. All he does is work. This is his fault.  This is my fault.

The car is the one thing that makes him feel alive, relevant, if only for a moment, driving fast, with the top down. I’m worth more dead than alive. There is no music. Just the wind whipping through his hair, because he still has a thick head of hair, and this thought. He’s alone with this thought as he races down the lonely Texas road. There’s not a car in sight. I’m worth more dead than alive.  I’m worth more dead