“Those who can’t do, teach,” he said. His hand wrapped around the steering wheel, while the free one reached up to wipe the condensation from his forehead. He stared at the road ahead and was likely referencing my mother’s new career. He was the one who left, but was insecure about her becoming a competent, independent woman. He’s always been mean like that, threatened by the success of anyone; he was threatened by the smallest things.
He had a double chin, chestnut hair, and high cheek bones. Most of my life, he was pudgy and the rest of the time, he was a "two-ton Sally," although he'd never admit it for long. None of us in the family won the genetic lottery when it came to metabolism, as all my relatives struggled with weight. My grandparents were large, my aunt was both tall and rotund, my extended family too, all were old and quite big. I was the fattest kid in my kindergarten class, and stayed hefty as the years progressed.
When they were married, things were one way. When they split, things were the same, but amplified.
My mother ate pan-seared ground beef with pepper and ketchup. She also made dry, oven-baked chicken. I'd watch her from the door frame, my hands held on to the white molding, and I'd do my best to hide my body in the darkness of the dinning room. She cooked in disposable, foil pans, and sprinkled on pepper from the shaker from atop the stove. Then, she'd set the oven, turn her back to me, and walk into another room.
really do meals. Sometimes we had dinner, other times she'd eat once a day, and on others,
nothing at all. It all caught up to her eventually. She didn't do well living on her own.
At first, my father left and I saw him drop pounds pretty quickly. During one car ride to his apartment, he bragged to me about his diet of one or two breath mints a day. He went on and on, electrified by the prospect, wondering out loud just how thin he could get.
He didn't make it very long. It was unsustainable. A year or less later, he got hooked on opiates from his back and spine doctor. This new bodily chemistry made his emotions take off like a roller coaster and his appetite increase. As the dependency took priority, his memory short circuited.
Obviously, I tried the breath mint diet too, but I was a bottomless pit. It didn't go well, nothing did. I guess eating to cope is just in the genes. It took a long time for me to understand that the extreme highs and lows of my father’s mood were likely due to his inconsistent diet, although I’m sure the pills, alcohol, and traits of narcissism didn’t help either.
Butler Road was an amazing stretch out in the country, smack between two small towns, just north of Baltimore. During the 90’s, it had open fields, large mansions surrounded by horse pastures, and a handful of historic, stone houses with dappled, garden walls made of the same brown and gray rock. There were old-growth trees and the land was flat, although much of Maryland is rich in rolling hills, or was at the time.
In the last few decades, much of farmland has been replaced by newly built houses, each cluster sat on a cul-de-sac, court, or small street. Part of me wonders when the entire state will succumb to one long, unbroken chain of housing developments. I often wonder if places like Butler Road still exist, or are as beautiful as they once appeared.
It was a cloudy day, one with thick, soupy, rain clouds padding the sky. During long car rides like this one, he took the opportunity to dump his chaotic advice and wandering ideas onto my fragile mind.
We had finished the days’ appraisal appointments, and were cutting across the state to return home. He didn’t work for any bank specifically, instead contracting for anyone who would have him, choosing the entire middle of Maryland as his territory. He appraised slums in the hood, houses where the walls moved from infestations of roaches, to houses that were so large and grandiose, that most of the population couldn’t fathom the square footage of living space equal to, or larger than, a multistory department store. Most of the time, he assessed average homes, those scattered and dotted within the state, belonging to families or credit unions, depending on circumstance, or life’s happenstance.
I didn’t understand much of that then. His job was nothing like any of my friend’s dads had. In totality and essence, he was nothing like any of them. His personality was a level of inconsistency that kept me timid, a fact he’d often read and criticize, when feeling so bold.
My lips were too big. My stomach was too fat. I was too soft. I was too stupid. I was too smart for my classmates. I really understood things. I was wise beyond my years. I was the most immature person he'd ever met. His criticism was followed by praise, and then followed criticism again, so I’d try to steer the conversation to anything other than myself, which would always lend itself to the “advice” he spewed like a fountain.
He was a man
who was erratic and hypocritical within his opinions and beliefs, and yet he
couldn't stand to be wrong. He'd twist any sentence to suit him and argued details far past the expiration of their significance.
The car in front of us was driving 35 miles per hour. The speed limit was probably 35, but it could have been 40. My father drifted forward, closing the gap. He got so close to the bumper ahead of us, I could see the white hairs on the back of the driver’s head.
Without so much as word, he jerked the wheel, narrowly missing the back corner of the other car, and accelerated. We darted parallel, into the lane for oncoming traffic.
The road was
freshly paved, with black asphalt and sporting a golden, double line. At first I turned to my window, trying to look at anything or anyone but him. I tried to look out past the other car, as the fields and barns, houses and trees.
beside us did the same, zapping me back to reality, as I watched his car door stay next to us and linger ever closer.
Panic hit me. My father chirped like a sparrow, "You want a race, motherfucker?"
He truly beamed. His red-faced smile gave way to laughter, and I recoiled from the sharp, high pitched sounds that erupted from his throat. I found myself glancing at the dashboard.
The speedometer reached 50, then 60, and then 65, but the other man matched us at every interval. The white sedan wasn’t fazed at all by this race, kept pace and stayed beside us, and both vehicles rapidly approached the stop sign at the end of the stretch. My father's words noodled out of him in spectacular fashion, many new combinations of curse words and threats, were yelled in my direction, at the other car just beyond me.
He grimaced, red-lined past 80, and got in front of the other car. It was just in time to decrease to around 40 miles per hour and make an unstopping, left turn onto another road. We missed the ditch, but it was close.
Both of his hands were wrapped tight and his knuckles were white. Sweat swamped his forehead and down his cheeks. One side of his mouth still smiled.
He then set his sights on me. He cussed me out, just as he did that old man, his vitriol and malice dripping from every word. He spat my name in the anger at the end of every threat.
I had yelled and pleaded for him to stop, at around the 65 MPH mark, interrupting his diatribe, yelling over his laughter, and ruining his fun.
After his rant ended, he followed with some guilt, and then a complex explanation that amounted to nothing. He then gave me the silent treatment the rest of the way home. It was both a burden and a relief wrapped into one.