Darkness and Fog
The darkness and fog are palpable like a viscid sweat crawling all over the body, and my eyes cannot be trusted. Keen concentration is not all it’s made out to be. These dumb-ass images keep popping up all over the space in front, sides, and back of me…and, okay, I admit it – I’m a big boy scared. ‘There’s no moon in the sky – stormy weather’ (ring a bell?). I mean, there is no way this world can be this dark and foggy.
“Why,” Someone might ask, “are you so stupid to be standing where you’re standing?”
The reason is really simple but I’m going to make it as complicated for you as I can.
When I was a little boy, my crippled cousin had to have the light on during his bedtime dark hours. Now, I didn’t tease him about that but if I just mentioned it he chased me up one country road and another. If I didn’t have a pretty good lead he’d catch me. Then, we would end up wrestling until one of us said ‘Uncle’ – usually me! We were best pals and I loved my club-footed cousin-buddy, but he got madder than a frigging copperhead on LSD if anyone brought up sleeping with lights on.
That’s really not part of the complicated story, at least, not in a major way. This darkness and fog just made me think of him. He turned out to be a scratch golfer. He’s gone now, died too damned early in his life. His damned cheating wife was screwing the next door neighbor, and my cousin beat the shit out of the neighbor and threw all her clothes – and her – out of the house. He was club footed but he was no yellow-belly. Nobody gave him any crap, that’s for sure.
Well, again, that’s not part of the complicated story either – but I won’t lead you on any further.
It all starts with my sister, Sarah Lou. She’s fourteen going on twenty-four, if you get my drift, built like a brick shit-house, big boobs, long silky brown hair, great figure, really pretty, and she reckons she’s the ‘cat’s meow’. It seems she knows early on she wants to taste some parts of life she is no way ready to taste.
I’m convinced Sarah Lou is the genuine product of her – and, my – dad. He gets madder than hell and beats up on her…and, Mom.
Dad has this fiery temper, and it’s his way or the highway, so to speak. This is when he’s visiting us. He and Mom are divorced, and Dad seems to have these demons inside him that make for crazy flip-outs at any moment. I’ve noticed his behavior changes when Mom mentions her side of the family – they don’t like him and he doesn’t like them. Of course, the corn whiskey could have something to do with it. He likes his hooch! He’s also tall, good-looking, and has a thing for the ladies. How can I know that? Well, that’s a whole different story.
Well, anyhow, the genes running through Sarah Lou have got to be identical to Dad’s.
Moving the story along, Sarah Lou turns sixteen and elopes with an army corporal, runs off to another state when the corporal gets transferred. Mom is heart-sick and scared because she knows she’s got to tell Dad the news.
Mom and I, my now older club-footed Cousin and his big sister (on my Dad’s side of the family) go to the hotel where my Dad is now living to tell him about Sarah Lou’s elopement. In his hotel room, my Cousin and his sister take the two chairs in the room and I sit under a window on an old radiator…you know, those ugly heavy metal rods all in a row as one unit. Now, the heat isn’t on during this visit, but those units are a might uncomfortable to sit on. I just keep alternating my butt cheeks and somehow manage.
Now, Dad knows right away that something is up, and, he knows it isn’t good news – guess our faces and body language give us away.
When Dad hears the news about Sarah Lou, he stomps around the room in a fury, and, abruptly stops in front of Mom who is sitting on the bed. My sweet hard-working, lovely Mom sits there very still with her hands clasped on her lap with a blanched and pitiful look on her face.
My tainted-gene Dad gives Mom a hard looping open-hand slap to the face, so damned hard it knocks her over. My immediate fear is that he’s knocked something loose in her brain or upper body…and he’s getting ready to do more hitting.
I’m petrified and watching it all from this hotel room radiator and l reckon something snaps inside me. I’ve watched this kind of madness too many times before as a younger kid. Now, I’m not a lot bigger now but I rush him and tackle him onto the bed. Crying and mumbling something stupid, like, ‘I’ve seen you do that to my Mom too many times’. I’ll never forget – he’s got this look on his face like a slight smile and surprise all at the same time.
I grab a bedside table lamp and begin hitting him with it. Pretty soon, he’s not moving. I must have connected with a vulnerable spot on his head. It’s like he just turns his head over to the side and goes to sleep.
Only seconds pass and I tell our little group we likely should leave. So, we hustle out of Dad’s room and loudly close the door.
Mom cries all the way down the elevator, and we go unnoticed out a side entrance in the lobby. I drive my Cousin and his sister home, and, except for the sound of the car engine, no one makes a sound. Only tears flow down our faces. We all hug and kiss each other.
Next, I drive Mom to her folks’ place some forty miles away.
We give Grandma and Grandpa all the news about our visit with Dad, and they’re madder than hornets in a wild wind, ‘Is he dead?’ ‘Is he alive?’ I make Mom promise me that she’ll stay with the grandparents until she hears from me. There’s no way Dad, assuming I didn’t kill him, would go around Grandpa because the latter gave Dad a whipping some months back.
After a few more tears are shed, I take off. Mom insists I take the car when she can’t talk me out of leaving.
My blond head is churning with thoughts as I drive back to the hotel. The closer I get, the more tense I become. There’s this need to know about my Dad, whether he’s okay or dead. I’m a sturdy young man now, 175 pounds, playing quarterback as a freshman at Garden View University. It’s difficult to calculate how hard I hit my Dad with that lamp – I feel like a part of me was holding back.
There is no way to forget what happened, and just go back to my grandparent’s house. I have to know, one way or the other about my Dad, Is he alive? Is he dead?
I park Mom’s car down the street from the hotel and walk to the side entrance of the lobby.
The elevator is on the lobby level as if waiting for me. On Dad’s floor, the elevator doors open and my heart jumps into my mouth!
My Dad is standing in front of me, his eyes blinking like he is trying to clear his head.
“You coming out, young fellow?” Dad asks in an impatient and impersonal tone.
He notices the apparent surprise on my face. “You alright, boy?”
“Dad, it’s me!”
He did a fast look behind him like I was talking to someone else.
Dad blinks some more. “You’re mixed up, boy, I don’t have a son. Now, stay in the elevator or get out. I fell and cracked my head…have to get it taken care of.”
“But, Dad, I hit you on the head with a lamp because you hurt Mom. Let me help you!”
Dad grabs my arm and pulls me out of the elevator onto the hallway carpeting. “Told you, boy, I’ve got no son.” He pushes the lobby button and is gone.
I can’t say how long I stand rooted to that spot in front of the elevator. I am aware enough to know that other people enter and exit the elevator while I’m standing there.
Finally, I take the stairs down seven floors and walk out the side lobby entrance. My befuddled mind is on automatic pilot and leads me down the street to Mom’s car.
When I pull away from the curb, confused and frightened, I drive aimlessly, turning here, turning there, my mind going over and over the events of the day.
I drive for miles not mindful of where I’m going. Tears flow until my eyes get all watery. Finally, my brain tells me to pull off the road.
I’m out in the ‘boonies’ somewhere. There is an old rutted country road, and I turn onto the dirt and gravel, drive a quarter mile and notice that suddenly I can’t see.
The weather changes suddenly and I take the time to think, ‘What the hell am I doing? Out here in nowhere land?’ The reality of the situation makes me ease to the right off the old road, feeling my way as the darkness and fog come together – seemingly all at once.
I get out of the car, touching the metal, holding on to the only reality given me at the moment.
My Dad’s face is flashing at me in the darkness and fog…along with snakes, dinosaurs, crocodiles, and other beasts of the world.
There comes some recalls of life with my Dad in it, not long after the divorce.
Much of those times are rough, but there are tender moments as well – farther back in youth, when he bought me a little boy’s grey suit with a bibbed hat, took pictures of me with a cigarette dangling from my lips, train rides, car rides to visit his folks and grandmother.
His grandmother was almost blind and sat on an old wooden porch in a rocking chair, frail and beautiful like a picture in sepia tone, with a corn cob pipe in the corner of her mouth. She was in her nineties, and Dad had to get within inches of her face before she recognized him and got a sweet smile on her face and hugged him. She made over me as well, and I felt a sense of history – the events, all the things she had seen in her lifetime. Her time was almost up, but she was going to keep rocking and smoking her corn cob pipe for a while yet.
A few happy times flashed by, those times when we played at being a family, without the tempestuous flares of raw emotions: the Saturday movie matinees; Mom and Dad smiling happily when my sister and I danced, when I attempted to write a poem; the endless questions I asked of them both – the insatiable curiosity of a little boy’s mind.
I love them both so much, and, now, my father has no son.
The tears do not stop until the mind reminds me of where I am, in the middle of proverbial nowhere with only the scary flashes coming from too much eye concentration and the memories that are both keepers and throwaways.
So, the world can be dark and foggy, and, maybe, reasons for standing in the darkness and fog are not so simple.
With measured steps I walk a few paces, pivot, return to the car, get in the back seat, and lock the doors.
Assuming a fetus position on the backseat, I try desperately not to think anymore. I can wait out the darkness and the fog.
Tomorrow will come, and the sun will replace the dismal thoughts with hope.
I love my Mom and Dad.
Perhaps I still have both of them.
Billy Ray Chitwood – 8/28/16
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