some friday morning during the winter of 1999 i got to work and melissa wasn’t there. it was unusual since she hardly ever missed work, but i didn’t give too much thought to her not showing up for work since people didn’t show up all the time for all kinds of reasons. and melissa wasn’t on my team, so it’s not like it was a problem for me. after work dave asked if i wanted to go to the sunset for drinks but i told him no. fridays i always went to meda’s on franklin street near my apartment.
melissa was sitting by herself in a corner booth when i walked in. i didn’t notice it was her at first, but after i got my beer i glanced in her direction and she made a timid little wave. i walked over and sat down across from her. she had an ugly purple shiner on her right eye that she was trying to hide by having her hair hang down over it. her eye was swollen almost all the way shut. he let her have it pretty good. i told her that i was gonna ask her why she missed work today, but now i have a pretty good idea why. “was it him?” i asked her.
“just drop it,” she told me. “you’ll get yourself in all kinds of trouble, so just drop it.” she flipped her hair back to give me a good look at her bad eye, and shot me a good long glare. “please?”
i drank down my glass of beer. “i’m not the one in all kinds of trouble—you are,” i told her. “but you’re not the only one.” i stood up from the booth and walked out of meda’s.
i must have blacked-out or something during the drive from meda’s to dad’s because i don’t have any specific recall of the trip. i just remember a real general feeling of hostility, an overwhelming desire, or even a need, to do violence to him. in my mind i kept looking into that swollen purple eye. i came out of it after i pulled in to his driveway. i got out of my truck and walked into the house and there he sat in the living room of his little house watching the redskins. i never liked football, probably because i never liked him. he turned off the tv when he saw me standing there. “what are you doing here, boy?” he asked like he had no fucking clue.
“saw melissa at meda’s just now,” i said.
“oh yeah? what’d you two talk about?”
“oh, little of this, little of that.” he reached out for his can of beer he had sitting on the table next to his chair and before he got a hold of it i hauled off and punched him in the jaw. nearly knocked him out of the chair. i let him have another one and busted his lip. he held the back of his hand to his mouth and got up out of the chair and muttered about what a cocksucker i was. he drew back and punched me in the side of the head. i stood there feeling the sting of it for a second, then punched him in the side of the head and spun him halfway around.
i grabbed him by the back of his shirt and ran him head-first into his living room wall. i turned him around and punched him in the gut up against the wall and he slid down the wall onto his drunk ass. i let him have another one across the side of his head, this time with my left hand. he sat bleeding on the floor and started to cry. pathetic, whimpery crying, like he just then realized every shitty thing anyone ever said about him was true, only it was too late to do anything about it. he said something that i couldn’t make out in between the whimpers and the tears. i squatted down in front of him.
“i’m sorry i wasn’t there,” he repeated.
“sorry you wasn’t where?”
“i was in the navy, i couldn’t get back here in time.”
i looked at him and shook my head. “dad, what the hell are you talking about?”
he wiped his nose with the back of his hand and the snot mixed in with the blood from his lip and made a red stripe up his forearm. “you were already two weeks old by the time i got to hold you. i’m sorry.” he squeezed his eyes shut and started blubbering again. “i’m sorry i wasn’t there . . . i didn’t mean to be away, goddammit . . .”
“jesus christ, dad,” i said. “look, you can’t hit melissa anymore, all right?” he sobbed at me and nodded his head. “because if you do, she’s gonna call the cops and they’re gonna lock you up. and before the cops get here, i’m gonna beat the shit outta you so bad it’ll make this seem like a father’s day present or something. okay?” he made another nod.
i stood back up. i wished he hadn’t been so drunk already because he looked so sad and pathetic sitting there crying, i almost wanted to take him out for a beer.
when i got back to the apartment there was a message on my machine calling me back into work that night. someone from overnight called off and they needed me to run a forklift. about halfway through the shift i took a turn too sharp and dropped a skid of boxes full of copy paper on top of andy and broke one of his legs. i only mention it because that’s the only time i ever had an accident on a forklift like that. i was usually pretty good on them things.