A familiar sight during my childhood: my old man in his shirtsleeves, slumped over the kitchen table at night, beer bottle in hand, complaining to Mom about his day, specifically about the employees at the department store he manages, about the customers who try to rob him blind, about how no one appreciates what he does, much less deserves it—complaining in that tone, equal parts grandiose and self-pitying, that makes me grind my teeth into nubs as I lie on the living-room carpet, in the adjoining room, watching TV. I’ve just turned twelve. Mom, of course, sits next to him, not saying a word. His performance goes on so long, I imagine visual clichés from those old movies she loves: hands twirling around on clocks, pages flying off the calendar.
Finally, the usual crescendo of his complaining arrives. He asserts he’s done everything he could, and what more can he do?
“Killing yourself would help,” I mutter, softly enough for my parents not to hear; otherwise, either of them, or both of them, would have leaped up, run into the living room, and commenced their usual disciplinary method of beating me in a whirlwind of slaps, punches, and kicks. I’ve never said anything like that about my old man before. For a few moments, I feel guilty. “Ha ha, how fuckin’ embarrassing, right?” I say seven years later when relating this anecdote to my fellow soldiers in the jungle in Vietnam, causing them to go into detail about the butt-kickings they’d endured as children. Laughs all around, drawing us closer together.
Copyright © 2021 by David V. Matthews