Song: “I Wish I Felt Nothing” by The Wallflowers from Bringing Down the Horse
(Picture from http://www.123rf.com)
His father was a private man. Always had been. Isolated almost, certainly from others, if not himself as well.
That’s how it had always seemed to Grant, growing up in that rambling Colonial at the top of Main Street. They were provided for and not just in that “Well, at least we’ve got a roof,” way either. There were bikes and computers and basketball hoops and video game systems and cars and clothes with names of the label you’d recognize. They went to bed full of good food and woke up to a fully stocked cabinets. Grant had an ideal household.
Except his father.
Which was unfair, Grant hastened to remind himself. For one, his father just died, three days before, and it was rude to so quickly speak ill of the dead. For another, his father wasn’t bad, per se. He went to all the games, recitals, and plays. He never hit them or yelled for that matter, and when he did punish them, the sanctions were reasonable and related to the crimes. He worked hard, he was never much of a drinker, and he was quick to edit a paper for class without complaint.
But he wasn’t warm. He wasn’t friendly. He didn’t say “I love you” or offer hugs. He never told you he understood after someone broke your heart and he certainly didn’t have time to talk about what life was all about. “Father” was as much an occupation for him as “actuarial” was and he went about with the same efficiency. Get in, do the steps, get out.
Which is why it was such a surprise to Grant and his siblings to find their father kept a journal. That in and of itself was a shock. A journal for the man who would’ve relied on one word sentences for his entire life if the English language could’ve allowed him writing a journal? Daily? For most of his life? Surely the will was mistaken.
Grant’s sister Shirley joked the entries would read things like “January 22. Woke up on time. Went to work. Performed job. Came home. Ate. Watched TV. Made love to Karen as it is Tuesday and I am her husband. Went to sleep by 11:15.”
And they laughed when she said it, in the way people laugh at jokes that are true and funny and told at a funeral. Desperate to chuckle but nervous not to be disrespectful while doing it.
But now, with the journal in his lap, Grant felt sick about the joke. Scared that it would prove true. That his father’s last gift to him, besides the money and the lake house, would be nothing more than an endless recitation of minute details of his love. Somehow that would’ve been worse than nothing at all.
The book was heavy in his lap. Heavy and thick and pretty perfect, it seemed to grant. Dark green leather as the jacket, pages trimmed in gold. Of course his father would’ve had such a specimen for his journal. Of course. Anything else would’ve been silly, frivolous.
On impulse, Grant opened the book with a loud flop and flipped through the pages looking for the year he was born. In short order, he located August 25, 1979, five months after he’d been born. Forcing himself, he read the page:
“Karen had to go out today. She had to…she said she wanted to stay but I was afraid she very well might literally lose her mind if I let her do that. So she left and I stayed with Grant. He was sleeping upstairs and I sat in the rocking chair and watched him, his little chest rising and falling, his hands in tiny fists at his sides. So rigid. I imagine that’s how I must sleep at night too. It’s probably a Mueller family trait.
In watching him, I slipped off to a nap myself until a loud bang roused me. The crib, the rock solid crib I had been assured of by Karen’s parents, had finally apart with my son inside. And he had fallen with it. Tangled in the broken pieces, a bruise already visible on his cheek, he wailed at me. And wailed and wailed. I freed him, I pulled him to me but I could not seem to bring him comfort. I’m not surprised, I suppose, but I still hated every moment of it. Every moment of being helpless to aid my own flesh and blood.
Karen returned shortly after. It couldn’t have been more than ten minutes that I stood there, Grant’s screaming into my chest as I rocked, cooed, and sung to him fruitlessly. But as she took him and he eventually took her breast and his screaming finally fell to nothing more than the occasional wet sniffle, I shook. I couldn’t stop. I shook and I thought my heart might explode.
I can’t be this kind of dad. I’m no good to anyone like this. I have to be better. For my boy. For my Grant. I just hope he can understand.”