Three StrikesScott Mitchel May
In the fall she went to school in Burlington, VT and I stayed in Brattleboro because that’s where I needed to be and we told each other we’d talk every day and she said she would drive down every other weekend.
The first weekend she was gone I didn’t leave the house I still shared with my mother and I drank tall cans of Heady Topper and ate Chicken Parm Sandwiches from West Brattleboro Pizza. The Chicken Parm comes with fries so greasy that it coats the fingers for hours and lingers even after washing with hot, soapy water. They don’t deliver so I had to send my mother out to get them, which she did. I think she thought I was sad.
I know she thought I was drunk.
I don’t think I was either.
I’ve always been able to drink without much effect and being sad isn’t something I do.
She called me three times over that weekend and the first time she called she told me about the people she was meeting in the dorms. They were mostly from VT, but some were from all over. There was a guy named Erick Rasmussen from Chico, CA and she said that he brought with him drugs from home.
She knows I love mushrooms.
My mom would set the food on the top of the stairs leading down to where my room was and I could collect it at my leisure. She shops at the Brattleboro Food Coop and would leave some fresh juice and sliced meat and vegetables too. The beer I had bought myself. I managed to secure a case. Enough to last until Monday.
In the basement, there are boxes filled with the life we once had.
My father’s things.
I don’t linger on them much.
But I did that weekend.
I opened the first box after she’d called the first time and told me she was going to eat mushrooms with Eric Rasmussen that night. Inside the box was another box. It wasn’t the only thing inside the box but was the first thing I pulled out. The box was wood, kind of flat, and had a glass top. It was more like a deep frame than a box. Inside was a cushioned and velvet-covered display surface. On that surface were dozens of medals pinned for viewing; bronze, gold, silver. Ribbons too; blue, white, red, green, purple. All the ribbons had the same gold lettering that told of the event they were earned in and what place they represented; first, second, third, and so on. I ran my hand over the glass and then shook the display box and it jingled.
The medals all looked old and dull.
It’s hard to place the feeling I have when viewing these sorts of things because I’d like to say they make me miss him, but they don’t. It’s more like they make me miss a version of him I wish he was. A version who cared to relate.
It makes me wish I was a version of myself that cared enough to force the issue.
A version of myself that cared enough to say to him, look, I know we don’t have much to talk about, or whatever, but we should form a bond and relationship now before it’s too late. But I never said anything like that and he was content in the interests that so completely occupied him. It’s for the best.
The next thing I pulled from that first box was a golf ball. My father saved it. It was from his only hole-in-one. He died shortly after.
If you drink three Heady Toppers back-to-back-to-back you will get drunk, but not me. I do feel it but I could drive if I wanted. Brattleboro, VT isn’t that populated and there are long stretches of rural road in all directions.
The second time she called me that weekend was Saturday night. She’d taken the mushrooms with Eric Rasmussen at what was supposed to be a welcome to the dorms party he was hosting but as it happened, no one showed up but her, which I told her was suspect but she said it wasn’t like that, that she’d heard him telling everyone about the party in his room. She said she was tripping pretty hard and had to go then and hung up. She told me she loved me and that she couldn’t wait to see me again and then she was gone. It was 11:07 at night and my mother was leaving to go to Greenfield, MA to visit her sister and my cousins and she liked driving at night because there were fewer people on the road. She was staying for five days even though it was only half an hour away. Said she liked hotels. Said she liked cable TV. I heard her leave more food at the top of my stairs. Beer, too.
I told her I had enough.
I’m not dependent.
I think she’s being passive-aggressive.
I hear her leave and the garage door shut behind her.
On Sunday I am awoken by the sounds of a lawn mower going past the basement window. It throws grass at the window too and it takes me a moment to realize where I am and what I am doing, what’s going on. My head hurts and aches and feels as if it has had just one hell of a night, though I don’t remember it having one hell of a night. It’s as if I can’t bear the weight of it. It’s as if I can’t stand the effort it takes to be. To do the thing I need to do. I feel it as I lie there and the mower comes back around, spraying grass at my window. Some pieces stick there and hang and the early morning sun shines through the blades and they look transparent like they aren’t real.
Maybe they are not.
There is another box and inside of it are all the little things my father kept on his desk at work. A nameplate. An old coffee mug. Another old coffee mug in which he kept his pens. A stress ball from a pharmaceutical company. The detritus of work life. A rubber band ball the size of a baseball. I hold these objects one by one and my head still feels done in. I never knew what he did and never really bothered to ask. At the bottom of that box is his watch. It was his father's before him and it never felt right to wear it myself. He never said it would be mine so it isn’t.
Mom doesn’t know it’s in there.
We’ve all forgotten so much about what daily life was like then.
I drink a Heady Topper to ease the pain and it works and I think to myself that when she calls, I am going to give her the business about how it made me feel that she would be doing my favorite drugs without me, tell her that it’s not about the guy, but rather the act of sharing in something with someone else which she knows I enjoy. It’s 11:09 in the morning and my phone hadn’t rung and I know she’ll call by mid-day. I remember deciding to leave my basement for the first time since Friday and at the top of the stairs is some food and beer. The food is bad now and I felt bad about that, but the beer just needed to be chilled. I cracked one of the warm cans open and drink another.
Outside on the front porch, the light hits me all wrong and I think about the boxes I’ve never opened, the ones that he wouldn’t want me to look through and I wonder why I give a shit. He wasn’t a father, not in the sense most have them, he was a ghost. A presence on the couch watching baseball. His Red Sox. I was a ghost too. A non-presence in a home in which hiding meant just staying out of the way and not interrupting others’ routines. Not changing the channel. Not requiring too much. He has boxes of baseball cards and memorabilia that he’d not want disturbed. I drink my beer and stare at the pavement of the street out front. He has a baseball signed by Big Papi. I think about getting it and getting his bat and maybe hitting it in the field by the school two blocks away.
It’s 12:09 in the afternoon and I text her and I say I’m hurt that she did what she did and that I would never hurt her in the way she’d hurt me and it’s shitty to not even be gone a week and already fucking around with some guy. But really, I text, it’s about respect.
She calls but the phone stops ringing before I can answer and when I call her back, she does not pick up, so I wait and call back and experience the same result.
I find and open and drink another warm beer.
My father died while driving to Boston to see a game at Fenway.
He was in a car accident just at the turn-off for Greenfield. I was not there. Neither was my mother. My father preferred to engage with his hobbies alone. He’d tried to share baseball with me but I was too fidgety to sit still for the games. They are long and they are boring. He took the exit that said Boston/Greenfield and lost control somehow and swiped a car while merging and just hit the median and his car flipped and he wasn’t wearing his seatbelt. It wasn’t anything special. No one was drunk. There was no one to blame or get mad at and there wasn’t really anything to be mad about anyway.
Sometimes it’s like that with fathers and sons.
She texted me that it was too hard to do the long-distance thing and that it was over and that she hoped I got my shit together and moved out and found my own way out of Brattleboro.
It was 3:05 PM.
I tried to think of something to text back but there was nothing.
Mom wouldn’t be home for four more days.
My father’s baseball cards were in a box marked baseball cards and were easy to find. I took the box outside and I set it in the backyard where the trees were overgrown and the shade was always and I sat down next to it and I lit a match and I threw it on the box dramatically but the box didn’t catch fire because that’s not how things work in the real world. If I wanted to get it done, I’d have to commit. I drank a third warm beer. I thought about it. If I got up, I could go to the garage and I could get some gasoline and I could burn the box and with it all the time and effort and space and love of his that that box represented. It could be gone. I could make it so. And somewhere he’d be hurt, deeply. I took out my phone and thought about texting her back. Thinking of something to say that would hurt and cut and sting, but I’d have to commit to that too.
I lit a match.
I texted the letter K and left it at that.
I threw the match and smoke began to rise.
Sometimes, Life is dramatic like that.