Dad liked to drink. It took about half a case of beer to do the trick. But on that night, the trick turned fatal. I knew drinking would do him in–I waited for that late-night call for years after my mom died. Any hope I had for his sobriety went down the tubes like all that drained ale.
Despite embalming himself for the better part of a decade, very little was preserved of my father after he hit that giant oak tree on Ferry Road. After claiming the body, my stepmother decided that a closed casket would be best. Dad’s head went through the windshield and the steering wheel caved in his chest, breaking all of his ribs.
I have little doubt that the accident was my father’s way of committing suicide. The accident may have fooled everyone else, but it didn’t fool me. And it didn’t fool Paige.
With weeks leading up to our wedding, Dad became increasingly wayward. He seemed to like Paige fine, but he didn’t express it one way or another. It didn’t bother me, but I noticed my fiancée’s uneasiness. “Something is very wrong with that man,” she said.
“No doubt,” I replied.
The crash occurred shortly after the wedding rehearsal dinner. Dad kept to himself at the bar. I went over to a neighboring stool and sat with him. “Why don’t you come join us, Pop?”
“I don’t want to get in the way, Rick.”
“You know tomorrow is a big day. Will you be all right?”
“Oh, yeah,” he said. “I’m sorry that I’ve been so off these last few weeks. I really am happy for you and Paige. I’ve just been thinking about your mother. Marie is a great woman, don’t get me wrong, but it wasn’t right for me to jump into another marriage so soon after Erin died.”
I agreed with him, but I didn’t say anything. A few months after Mom’s funeral, Dad met Marie at a neighborhood bar. She approached him from an adjacent table and struck up a conversation. I happened to be at the bar that night, but I left early under the assumption that they wanted to be alone. What should have been a one-night-stand for them turned into a nine-year marriage.
Despite the previous night’s tragedy, my wedding went off without a hitch. Sure, there were tears shed, but we had to make do with my father’s absence the best way we knew how. I loved Paige more than anything, and I was looking forward to spending our lives together.
The funeral was a different story. Marie, so silent and respectful at the wedding, collapsed under the weight of my father’s death. In the worst moments, her cries drowned out anything good the minister may have been saying about Dad.
Standing in the foyer, saying goodbye to the funeral attendees, Paige and I watched as Marie let all inhibition go. She prostrated herself on top of the casket, screaming, “Please don’t go! Please don’t go! We aren’t through, yet!”
Even with knowing how Marie was, I thought she was overdoing it. Paige, however, crumbled upon watching the scene. She couldn’t help thinking how she would react when one of her loved ones passed. I held her tightly, and we walked to the car. We drove on to the cemetery as rain trickled down.
The nightmares started as fragmented images, eventually developing into entire episodes. A day hasn’t gone by this month I have not dreamt that dream.
In it, my family and friends are celebrating my marriage at the reception hall. Unlike the actual reception, my father’s there. It is late in the evening, and most of the guests have left. The music plays softly. It is dark except for the dance floor and the hallway leading to the bar. I look over at the hallway, and everything turns half-speed. The music stops. Framing the hallway with light and shadow stands my father.
I stand up and move closer, realizing that Dad is wearing the suit he was buried in–the suit that no one had a chance to see. His face is bludgeoned, and blood is draining out of his eyes, nose, and mouth. He raises an index finger, motioning me to follow him.
We sit in the neon light of the bar. We are the only ones there. I am waiting for my father to say something. I’m afraid to break the silence. After what seems an eternity, his head turns. I see one eye leering at me. He speaks in a whisper, “Your mother didn’t have a heart attack.”
I lean closer, not believing what I heard. “What did you say, Pop?”
“Your mother didn’t have a heart attack. She found out about the affair. She was going to leave. I couldn’t allow that–neither could Marie.”
I stare ahead, trying to comprehend what was said. I can’t look at my father. Finally, I say, “You must be joking. We both met Marie that night at Joe’s, remember? That was way after Mom’s funeral.”
“You mean you met Marie that night,” my father slurs.
I pause for the longest time. Finally, I ask, “Why are you telling me this?”
“I don’t want you to make the same mistakes I’ve made.”
Suddenly, everything darkens like a movie fade-out. I awake in bed, the sheets soaked with sweat. Paige sleeps through it all. I sit up for about five minutes, morning light coming through the window–it is the start of another day. I don’t know what my father wants me to do with his warning, but I do know that Marie will pay.