When I saw my father in handcuffs on the news, it felt like I was the last person to know. It fit perfectly with his way of being. Even though he had never broken any serious laws, the image made him seem automatically guilty. Perfectly believable. Through the shock came a sense of vindication. Truth will out. See what bullshit I’ve been putting up with everybody? And now he’d have to answer for his behavior. Then I found out what he did.
Artifact daddy. Old Bunker Head. Bartholomew Schtizolini. Not made for this era. Great Depression scars. “Never trust a bank” attitude. Always acted like a criminal even though he never was one. A guilty conscience for no reason. American tough guy syndrome. Trust nobody. Go it alone. Don’t reveal anything you don’t have to. Guard your privacy. Protect your property. See something? Look the other way.
Bunker head would talk to me as if we were going to commit a crime someday. If you ever have to do something, never tell anybody about it. That’s how you get caught. Do what you have to do and then get the hell out. Prohibition era mafia fantasies.
Maybe all this imagined crime made the metaphors easier to remember. Brighter colors and more contrast for him to follow. The paranoia baked in.
I have tried in my own way to be free. But no matter how hard I try to forget what sticks, it keeps coming back. No matter how many times I black out, the memories resurface. All the therapy. All the reevaluating. None of it erases them. No drug works.
Waiting for decades, the childhood memories do not naturally disintegrate. It’s disheartening to see the crude images constructed by a child’s mind rematerializing as if it were the absolute truth. How these Play-Doh memories lie when they say they encompass me or tell me who I am. It’s ridiculous that an adult has to fall into this trap. Looking through that child’s eyes – the formations lacking the context of what the adult knows now.
The things I cannot forget have already been forgotten by my father. Sometimes I prefer to think he didn’t know what he was doing. Unaware of how he scared a child shitless. And for no purpose that benefits me now. As an adult, I can imagine that he acted out against his own bad memories. That the ones that stick haunted him too.
Listen, through the wall, to Bunker Head blasting war movies in the next room. Not the obligatory ones about how shameful war is. Not the ones about the most powerful militaries that are useless against those who know how to run and hide. Hitting soft targets when possible. Showing them what they want to see. Saying what they want to hear. Waiting them out until they tire. Until the machine overextends itself in other quagmires. No country has unlimited resources. Time wins every time.
Blowing shit up. Those action movies. The ones that make shoot’em up governors and even a president. The ones that get good little boys and girls to enlist. The underdog fantasies. Amidst the mindless drones, the trooper as hero in disguise. Even while burning a village to the ground. Eliminate the right threats. Omitting the innocent killed irl, of course. Forgetting the friendly fire, naturally. Inebriated on war fantasies where humanity will be saved by the superior violence of technology.
Omitting the fact that technology is and will be used against us. The bomb returned to us as a “dirty” thing. Our real guns, in the hands of kids. The drones redirected to attack us. And the nukes we’ve all forgotten about to return someday. Kill or be killed morphs into sooner or later suicide. The survivors will blame the other. We can never say we brought the destructive idiocy on ourselves. The evil is always out there because we always do what we could. How desperate we are to believe in our innocence. Our purity. It protects us from feeling guilty over our short-sightedness. We cannot accept it. We refuse to acknowledge that to be human is to not see what’s right around the corner. That any war is self-destructive.
Maybe the action movies blanked dad’s memory. He talks of his childhood. But never mine. He doesn’t remember that he made his child hate himself. That the child stupidly tried to take control over what could never be controlled. That his problems became his child’s guilt. My suffering was always insignificant compared to his. I had no right to complain. That Old Bunker Head had given me everything, in his eyes. Spoiled rotten by disturbing, desperate acts of violence. He always said he had no regrets.
But that was then, and now he’s just an old feeble man. In cuffs on the news. He had broken into homes and sledgehammered fireplaces. Demolishing them into cavities. The images of those smashed holes were somehow sad. Why the hell was he doing this? In typical news fashion, none of the reporters could say why. Instead they played naive and just said it was crazy.
I fought with myself to hold off contacting him. He should call me. But weeks passed and nothing. It was normal for us not to be in regular contact. But this left me wondering if Old Bunker Head was planning on it blowing over or just doing the time without letting me know. For weeks, my mind fixated on those caved in fireplaces. I saw him in my mind’s eye frantically wailing away with the sledgehammer. Putting holes in the hearths perfectly fit as an image encapsulating his entire life.
By not reaching out, it wasn’t anything I hadn’t felt before. I knew where he was coming from. Old Bunker Head was also the king of compartmentalization. A royal lockbox. If kept separated, the error goes, mental conflicts magically just go away. It’s called discipline. Train the mind by practicing the discipline of appearances. That is what puts boots on the road to victory. Dirty boots signify a cluttered mind. Wrinkled pants and untucked shirts means that there are multiple toilet paper rolls in use at one given time and the toothpaste tubes have not been rolled up and some lights have been left on in the house. Insanity. Any soldier worth his salt must know this. Any real father knows he must be a drill sergeant to his kid. Any mother, a general at war. Consistency wins the battle, tactics the war. What war is irrelevant. What fruits, a vague afterthought.
When I couldn’t stand waiting for dad’s phone call anymore, I drove to visit him. Right off the bat, he asked why I had bothered to come and see him that way. He said he was finished with his life. It felt like I was in a confessional box emptied of its religious promises. His appearance had changed. His body was caving in on itself. His eyes receded far back into his head. Sourly he spoke about his step-father as if he were still alive. The cheap husband. He knew he had the money just not exactly where. Then I remembered that his step-father, long dead, had a severe mistrust of banks and hid his cash in all sorts of places in his house. And when he died, my dad went to the house and in fact found the money in the fireplace. Old senile Bunker Head had completely forgotten that. And here he was in jail utterly confused.
This near innocence pissed me off. I didn’t come here to feel sorry for this tight wad but the whole thing started to smell of our long rotted sad life. It would be too easy for me to say he did it to himself. Too cruel even if it were true. And maybe that was what I thought I wanted. The meaning of what he had done seemed overblown. He had only destroyed some bricks. And in the befuddlement of old age. It’s not like he hit the gas instead of a brake and plowed into a farmer’s market. If he had done that, I could abandon him. But this was hardly an unforgivable crime.
It was a long drive back home. I couldn’t justify or figure out how to post bail. It was a ridiculous sum commensurate with murder. Besides, Old Bunker Head had said suicidal things as long as I could remember. He had this weird insistence on the hypothetical hospital scenario where I would have to pull the plug rather than let him become a vegetable. He also said over and over that he’d pull the trigger on himself before he got too old and lost his marbles. But now that the mind-marbles were scattered, he had already gone past that point. What if I managed to post bail and he killed himself? Would I get a refund?
He left me teetering between self-preservation and heartlessness. The bitterness of his no mercy attitude somehow begged for mercy even though he always ran from the stench of his own futility. And look at him now. Too old to remember. Too old to care. His parents didn’t understand him. Neither do I. Clearly.
Worse, it was always me who apologized to him. And how I apologized in earnest to him until the day I realized in middle age that he just didn’t seem to care. That everything had slipped away from him long ago and he had no way of getting it back.
Since I cannot forget him, I have distanced myself. Avoided his desperate confusion. The kind of real American family rotted to the core by an abusive stupidity. Traumatizing each and every good little boy and girl. Scaring them shitless into a subservient guilt-ridden worker, ready for orders. Aimed at simulating movement only forgetting affords and fabricating wombs that always turn rancid. To hide in some work one is supposed to love more than family. He better tell himself he doesn’t really work a day in his life. Use the job to steer clear of the shitstorm of the memory called home. Consume more to forget. Focus on possessions when the shit inside starts to come out.
And here I am wanting to forget by hitting the road. Driving anywhere. Up the coast. Wherever the road leads. Away from prison. Away from Old Bunker Head. A sign reads Old Rosebud Palace ahead. Where tourists go to forget the point of Citizen Kane. Alongside a ragged fence somewhere, a pack of zebras gallop. Flashing the black and white zig-zag at the side of my eye like a strange memory approaching from out of the blue. The memory of something I had never done flashing between the memories I believe. The rest of the trip a blur. The road an instrument of forgetting. Each and every marker blurred except for the zebra interruption. Flashing a schism.
I pull over. A stupid “No Trespassing” sign dangles from a nail on a broken fence. I kick the dumb post. It loosens. I kick it again. Grab the sign. Yank it off. The post won’t budge when I try to pull it out of the ground. I slump with my back against it and see that the damn sign scratched my car when I threw it.
A warped template was my dad’s true gift. A sanctified illusion convincing enough to give me the wherewithal to play with what sticks since it insists on being remembered. So what if he has forgotten my childhood? It was never me anyways who he saw in his head. That was his idea of me.
My child-mind sculpted forms automatically from a material that still surpasses my comprehension of it. Transmitting its bullshit diorama to the adult-self decades later. Laughing at the meaninglessness of it all. The little trickster baby fools this sad old child stumbling toward a terrain he fears for what its surface will remember to forget and forget to remember. Will I get stuck like a broken record on whatever the little shit decides to send my way?
On the side of the road, I’m back in the empty confessional not knowing who it is that I hope hears me. Forgive me for not letting go. Forgive my bullshit. If I can forgive my confusion, why not his? Forgive me for what I remember. Forgive that child for what he thought he saw. Forgive me for what I forgot. Forgive me blotting out the good memories with the bad. Forgive me for carving out my own hearth without knowing what I was doing. Forgive the confused and troubled baby that must be anchored inside him too. Forgive me for succumbing to this fragmented senselessness.