by Brock Kingsley
I first met my father when he was born the oldest child to two alcoholics. Both of whom would leave him. His father left the family for a woman with a southern drawl; and his mother would disappear for days leaving my father to care for his two sisters. He would feed them, clothe them, make their lunches and then drive them to school.
I first met my father in his teenage years when he would escape the house and head to the golf course. He would hit ball after ball as hard as he could. Flying them farther and farther.
I first met my father in his old wedding photos. In a brown tuxedo and with bushy hair. He looked thin and happy. His skin wasn’t red and puffy from drink yet. He and my mother linked together, smiling, laughing, dancing. The wedding photos were full of people—also laughing and dancing—the same people who were there when my father died after ten days in the ICU. No one took pictures then.
I first met my father when the doctors pulled me screaming and crying and sucking for air from my mother. He was there in blue scrubs, just like the doctors, with his camera and tears in his eyes. His oldest of five. His first born son. The one who would inherit his depression and his alcoholism. Named me Richard Brockton, after himself. But he gave me more than that.
I first met my father when he would pick me up from school in his dark blue Buick. In my memory it’s always winter and I am still an only child. And in the pocket of the driver-side door he has a paper bag that he occasionally lifts to his mouth to drink from the bottle of Dark Eyes. I remember he would sigh after a swig. The same satisfying sigh I would come to imitate.
I first met my father the night he didn’t come home. The night my mother told me your father has a problem.
I first met my father when I took my first drink. A stolen Budweiser that I sucked down behind some bushes. Stolen after I was told that alcoholism ran in the family. Stolen after you should never drink . . . ever.
I first met my father when he called me a fucking loser during my junior year of high school. He was drunk and angry and wanted someone to take it out on. Someone who might fight back, someone who was such a fuck up . . . a disappointment.
I first met my father when I bloodied his nose. He stole money from the pocket of my jeans and walked the two blocks to the liquor store. I watched him sway down the street and throw the bottle into the bushes. You asshole I said. And when he lurched towards me, I punched him. And when he fell and got back up, I punched him. And when he said stop! I punched him.
I first met my father when I stopped drinking. When he told me I made him proud.
I first met my father after the ICU machines that kept him alive for ten days were unplugged. His breathing became labored and after eleven hours he finally died and his skin turned yellow then gray and the nurse confirmed what we all knew. I let myself cry finally and patted his hand and told him goodbye and told him I would miss him.
If I were to let myself close my eyes, I would see him.
I would see him in a photograph, asleep on the couch, a newborn in the crook of his arm. The two of us, meeting for the first time, together, content.