The subject of the essay was to be “My Hero”, and I already knew who I was going to write it about. My dad.
You see I didn’t have a lot of heroes, I wasn’t quite sure what hero meant, so when you asked me who my hero was I would instead respond with whoever I had the most raw mathematical respect for. And by that rubric there was absolutely no question who I had the most respect for at the time. Oakland Athletics left fielder and every pitcher’s nightmare baserunner Rickey Henderson, whose career now is of course one of legend, MLB hall of famer, ten years after this essay was due he would be voted into the Fan-selected MLB All Star All 20th Century team. He (along with Jose Canseco and Mark McGuire) was in the middle of taking the Athletics to their first (and last at time of this writing) World Series championship since 1974. You didn’t want to pitch against him so you walked him and as soon as you gave him a base he’d take one and a half more on average so you were basically letting him walk to shortstop and wait for one of your infielders to goof up so he could bring it home. He played hard offense, he played hard defense, climbing walls and snaggin balls with the best of them. Everyone knew he was great but he was my American League West hero, the same way Cal Ripken Jr. was my American League East hero. Players who made the difference for their teams in raw statistical, provable ways. But I knew that on the off chance my dad decided to look at my school work and saw an essay I wrote that was titled “My hero” and the subject wasn’t him, there was a very real chance he’d come home from work and sleep, from the minute he could lay down on the bed, until dinner was ready, and then generally slump around the house for the next week, waking in various stages of rage each time you had to rouse him from his slumber. That was just how things seemed to go with him. Something inexplicable would hurt his feelings and he’d just go to sleep around that hurt. Sometimes it was something that happened at work and you couldn’t account for those one or fix them, but you can certainly avoid the hero-essay problem, dummy. So get to writing.
Sorry if I’m just being morose around here after months of inexplicable absence. Basically, for the past year I’ve been thinking about the stories I’ve told here recently, turning them over in my head. Wondering what it means to know this. To have known it so young and to have not rebelled until so old. Pathetic. Where were teenaged Aarons stones. What was his problem. Why couldn’t he just call that fat sack of shit out on his bullshit, or my mother – who would depend upon me to be a one-way confessional about her problems with my father, but whenever I asked her to also keep some problem “between us” would instantly and almost gleefully turn him loose on me — to mewl and wonder why I didn’t want him to know, demanding to know what else I was keeping from him, to slake his insecurity. I know that there were no stones involved. I loved him, I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. Bad shit happened when Dad had hurt feelings, the household becomes unbalanced and tense, communications shut down entirely. It’s terrifying to see your mother sad and alone while your father glowers on the couch, and when you can’t even comprehend coming up with hundreds of dollars in rent EVERY MONTH much less caring for and feeding yourself, avoiding this situation becomes your full time job, until the excuse of “going to college” finally let me leave tender emotion-baby dad for mom to take care of by herself.
But then I moved back into his house again and I was 25 and I still didn’t stand up to him? That’s on me. I just let myself pretend the rules didn’t apply to me. That I didn’t have to grow up, I didn’t have to address things. I didn’t have to confront anyone. I didn’t have to do anything but wait for my chronically overweight rageoholic father to die so we can have a family meal that doesn’t revolve around fantasizing about bigger, fattier meals. And that is what I was waiting for now, I can acknowledge that. I relished every time I went over there and watched him eat himself sick on foods no human was ever meant to consume simultaneously. To hear him describe his inconstant bowel or his frequently-prognosticated adult onset diabetes. To show his waddle fat neck and compare it to photographs of his passed mother, who in her own late-starting way ate herself to death. I loved it because it proved everything I felt about him and that focus, that gleeful schadenfreude-demon and copious alcohol would let me excuse everything my mother and sister were doing to enable him, and each other. It let me pin the tail on my dad and ignore all the other jackasses in the room, myself included.
Maybe this is my midlife crisis.
It’s OK. That’s a big deal.
Most of my life stuff was not OK. It was “superfantastic” or “exceptional” and occasionally “awesome”. I’d reply with those things and people always laughed it was a good joke. People really loved superfantastic. What it meant was “I spent the whole walk from the front door to the back door analyzing stacks of wooden pallets, counting them up and trying to figure out who I could send out to the front to pick them up. At the same time I was imagining what it would be like if I were just on fire. This is important to me for some reason I must always feel as though I am right on the edge of disaster. I must prepare. When anybody got closer to me than ten feet, I imagined what I would need to do to defend myself against them, what parts of the surrounding store fixtures I would use to kill them. Who I would go for second. My heart racing and my eyes laser focused.”
“Exceptional” meant the same. “Awesome” meant all I could think about was death. The finality and hugeness of it. In its enormity I found awe. It’s little tricks you use to pretend like you’re doing OK. Sometimes I really meant it. My brain had accidentally given me all kinds of good chemicals and I really felt like nothing could touch me. I could be at the edge of chattering teeth or I could be at the edge of panicked worry. I wasn’t always sad but I was always crazy.
I wasn’t always actively crazy but at the same time… I was always crazy. Even when I occasionally relaxed and was honest and real with people, there was crazy hide-the-coffee-cans-of-money-and-burn-your-journals Aaron ready to jump out. I’m still crazy. I still hide the coffee cans and even at 35 when you tally it all up there’s more burned journalwords than saved ones. But I know I’m crazy. And I have people who will tell me when I’m acting crazy. I have people who love me enough to be honest with me all the time.
I am still crazy. But I am blessed.