I Met My Father
I met my father the day I moved in. While I was unpacking, he was outside drinking Coors Light and talking about what a bitch his ex-wife was. I found out later that Luca spent a lot of time outside drinking Coors Light and talking about what a bitch his ex-wife was.
I didn’t talk to him often. When I was outside, he would tell me about his ex-wife, or about how doctors don’t know anything. Sometimes he hollered at girls walking down the street. My attention level varied depending on how drunk and comprehensible he was. He spent between two and four decades in food service, depending on the day. He rattled off girls he’d dated, jobs he’d worked and places he’d been, but he usually had a case of Coors and a pizza open to anyone who would listen.
Swede Vick, my neighbor downstairs, talked to him more than I did. When I would get frustrated, Swede Vick would have advice. Several times I went outside in the middle of the night to hear him explaining his plan for Luca to talk to his son: “Just get the kid one of those prepaid phones, put your number into it and mail it to him.”
Luca always stopped to him. “I’ve got to explain to him that his mom is being a bitch. He needs to know that his father loves him, and that I won’t let that bitch keep me from him. Why won’t she just let me talk to him?”
“Luca, it’s because you keep saying shit like that.”
Luca’s ex-wife had a restraining order against him. She lived with their son two states away and he hadn’t seen either of them in four years. Luca was worried his son would forget him. Once, at three in the morning, when you could smell him from a block away, Luca admitted he was forgetting his son. He said he would get his wife for that. If you tried to follow what he was looking at when he said it, you would find there was nothing at all. When he sat at a certain angle, you could see the tumors creep up his arm.
I have three memories of interactions with my father – my real father, not the avatar I met in Iowa. The first is from when I was four. He took me outside to teach me not to be afraid of lightning. In Virginia, in August, the night sky lights up brighter than noon.
Luca had been shuffled across the Midwest trying to find a hospital that would take him even if he refused to quit drinking. He had been going to teaching hospitals, where the students didn’t know what to do and the teachers didn’t have time to explain. A case like Luca’s – tumors, both benign and malignant, vertigo, something like hemophilia, plus alcoholism – wouldn’t be on the final exam. I joked that he was just going to the doctor for the morphine, and Swede Vick didn’t laugh or disagree.
Luca fell in the apartment’s driveway three times when I knew him. Once they called an ambulance because no one knew how long he had been lying on the ground. When he got back from the hospital he had a black eye and his nose was shifted noticeably to the right side of the face. He said he lost a fight to a chair. He had gotten out of the hospital hours earlier – I still don’t know when he found time to get a six pack.
“You lost that fight because you were drunk,” Swede Vick told him.
“I can barely walk when I’m sober, Vick. Those doctors don’t know anything. They’re just kids. They can’t even grow beards.”
“You don’t know what you can do when you’re sober, because you’re never sober.”
“I’m an adult. If I want a drink, I’ll have one.”
“What do you think ‘getting better’ means?”
The next day, Luca retold this conversation to me, even though I had seen it the night before. He asked me if I could believe it. But I had seen him downtown – he was deaf in his right ear and blind in his left eye, and he moved slowly but never carefully. He had no awareness when I called out to him on the street. He was hit by a car once, but that was after the last time I saw him.
The second memory is from when I was six. My father had convinced the cops to let him say goodbye to his children. He told me he loved me and gave me a twenty dollar bill. At the time, I thought he was a cheap bastard.
Luca was from New York, where he presumably started working at restaurants when he was 14. When he was 25, he said he started his own restaurant. He bounced around between starting restaurants and working in other people’s kitchens. He said that was the way it works in New York, but it taught him to cook anything. One time I asked him for a good fried chicken recipe and he asked how I was doing it now. When I told him, he said it sounded like I was already doing fine. I asked him if he ever cooked fried chicken, and he said he cooked everything.
When he got married, he bought houses in Colorado and Oklahoma. His ex-wife lived in the Colorado house, but he planned to move back to the Oklahoma house with his brother. His brother could take care of him better than the doctors. Besides, it’s warmer down there, and that’s where he had all of his cars. He believed that things would be better when he left, and maybe they would.
Swede Vick told him not to bother, that Tulsa was no closer to Boulder than Iowa City, that he couldn’t drive wherever he was and he probably didn’t even have a house in Oklahoma. His brother wouldn’t want to take care of him. But Luca’s brother was coming to help him move at the end of December, the end of January, the middle of February.
There was a snow in the middle of February, and Luca was lying in the middle of it. At first I thought he was a bag of trash. When I realized it was Luca I called out to him, but he couldn’t hear me. His leg jerked when I kicked it. I lit a cigarette while I tried to figure out what to do. I don’t know what I would have done if his neighbor hadn’t come outside and showed me the special way to pick him up, by putting her knee into his back somehow. There was a splotch of slushy blood where his breath had melted the snow.
The last memory is from when I was 12. My father had shown up at our house for some reason. I was watching Star Wars on TNT because I had never seen it but the kids at school were talking about it, and my mom told me I had a visitor. I didn’t know who it was until she told me it was my dad. I asked him how he was doing. When he left a few hours later he gave me a bag of mushrooms. I threw them away because I didn’t have any use for either kind.
One day in March, Swede Vick asked me if I knew “that little Italian guy that runs around here.”
“That dumb bastard Luca? Did he ever move?”
“Sort of, man. Luca died.”
“Yeah, fell down in his apartment, hit his head, bled all over the damn place. It was four days before I found him.”
“Wow. Should we have a moment of silence or something?”
“For that dumb bastard? Yeah right.”
I looked up towards Luca’s building before I went back inside, but I didn’t know what apartment was his.