"Hello," the boy said into his phone after seeing 'Mom & Dad' illuminate on its face with a burst of distorted sound.
"Hey, bud," his father replied, his voice heavy with a fatigue the boy has never known. And so goes each generation of man: The more I carry, the less you have to.
"Hey, Dad. What's up?" the boy said into the phone, handing the bowl back to his roommate, taking the phone away from his ear for a second to exhale largely. He motioned for his friends to carry on without him, saying: "It's my dad. I'm gonna go change." And - leaving his friends laughing and talking excitedly behind him - started towards his room, climbing the stairs slowly, trying his best to extinguish his buzz just a little so as to remain stoic and attentive with his father.
"Oh, you know . . . same old shit. How've you been? How're the funds?" By now the man had learned to stop regretting having spoiled his son and had come to accept the fact that he'll always have two financial burdens to worry about - the boy's mother being the other, and far heavier weight.
"Everything's cool. I'm actually just getting changed to go tailgaiting right now. I just walked in . . . I was at my girlfriend's house," the boy started over, boastfully. "And I walked in the door and everyone was in jerseys and we're like: 'Come on, man! We're going to the game!' And so now I'm getting changed and going to the game."
"When's it start?"
"I don't know, actually."
"Who're they playin'?" The man asked his son. He'd always preferred books to sports, but, in the interest of appearing to be the protean male figure in the boy's life, over the years he'd adopted the roles of a football fan, a motorcycle enthusiast, a fly-fisherman, an archer, a treehouse carpenter, a mechanic, and, somewhat apprehensively, a sex ed teacher. The boy replied - feeling slightly foolish in his ignorance: "I don't know that either. I was told to change and that's what I'm doing now. I'm standing in my room in my underwear." The man heard his wife's intonations in his son's voice and asked him if he'd gotten a winter coat yet. The man had put some money into his son's bank account two weeks earlier after finding out that his son didn't have a winter coat anymore.
"That boy won't ever stop growin', bud. You mark my words," the man remembered his father saying into his ear almost twenty years ago at the boy's 4th birthday party.
"Nah, I didn't get one yet," the boy said apologetically.
"Ah, you fucker!" the boy's father said affably; the role of "the cool friend" proving to be a more difficult one than he'd ever imagined.
"But I didn't need a winter coat, anyway. I have a winter coat. I needed a fall coat. But my friend left his jacket here and he's about the same size as me so I just wore his jacket whenever I'd go out and shit." The man sensed his wife's machinations in his son's voice.
"Okay. Well, that's cool then. When're you comin' home next?" the man feared his loneliness was seeping through his voice and stifled it quickly: "I need someone to help me clean out the basement and shit, ya know?"
"I don't know, Dad. I mean . . . I got no way down there, ya know? I can't drive the van; that'd be so environmentally irresponsible of me, ya know?" The boy said, his attention seeming to drift away from the conversation. His father had no idea when he'd started using phrases like "environmentally irresponsible," but he felt a slight sense of ambivalence towards it all. He admired his son's conscientiousness and his many -isms, but he felt his own plight was somewhat unsung. He lived an austere life so his son didn't have to; such is the role of the father - or so he'd always thought, and had been brought up to think.
"Why on earth would you ever not want to eat ice cream, Everette?" the man remembered asking his son very gravely about a year ago when the boy had told him was turning vegan. He'd never heard of such a thing in his life, but ultimately he saw it as nothing more than a mostly harmless phase in the boy's life and stood by his side through out; buying him all kinds of vegan and vegetarian food whenever he would visit - which was becoming more seldom as the boy got older, and as the man's relationship with his wife deteriorated.
Furtively, the man lighted a joint, held the phone away from his ear for a second to take a long, hearty drag and then - exhaling quietly - let it all out: "Your mom wants me to move into Gram and Bup's house."
"Oh, man. . . . Shit. . . . Really?" the boy asked unsteadily into the phone. His father immediately regretted having put this weight on the boy, but couldn't help himself from relaxing a little, feeling his cracked ribs expand, splashing his lungs with cold relief.
What was it Mom used to always say?, the man tried to remember. "It is in the virtue of others we wash our sins away," he said aloud without realizing it. He heard his son smile on the other end, somewhere hundreds of miles away and it all started pouring out of him then: "Yeah, bud, she wants me to move down there, but I don't know how I'll ever afford it. 'Cause you know I'll still have to pay for our house for your mom to live in and probably bring all kinds of men in there with her. And I'll probably still have to feed her fucking horse every morning before I go to work, too. I don't know how I'll ever do it, but, honestly, bud, I . . . I think I'd like to. It's better than what I'm living in now, ya know? This is killing me, Everette. It really is . . . I just can't -" the man stopped himself, feeling intoxicated with melodrama and not very keen on turning his son into the role of the sponge, or the callus bartender.
"Yeah, Dad, I don't blame you. Except . . . well, I don't know."
"'Cept what?" his father probed, but lightly.
"Except that . . . well, Gram and Bup's house is so nice, ya know? And I don't want it looking likes ours. I guess I have no say in it, really, but it does have a certain integrity to it, ya know? I'd like it to always look like that. I don't want the fights and the violence to ever stain those walls - what with the beat up door handles and the holes in the halls and the fucking . . . I don't know," the boy trailed off. His father again felt overcome with self-reproach for shattering the boy's placid, but greatly inaccurate image of his life back home.
"No, no. That won't happen. I won't let that happen. I don't give a shit about that cookie-cutter house you grew up in. I'm sorry to say that you, but you know exactly what I mean. That place," the man's voice becoming wet with sadness, "was never a home. Not for anyone save your mother and her goddamn cats. Gram and Bup's house is my home, ya know? It's where I grew up, bud. It's where my parents lived and died. Well, not Gram, I s'pose. She died in Braunwin's house, but her spirit in his back home with Bup. I's talkin' to your Aunt Constance and she said: 'Well, ya know, at least back home you won't be alone.' And I said: 'What d'you mean I won't be alone?' You know how she is, Ev. And she said: 'Gram and Bup will be there." Tears catching the man's voice like a cat pouncing on an unsuspecting mouse.
"Yeah . . ." the boy said in his most comforting way, trying his best to hide his cold skepticism. In his mind's eye the boy saw his breath hanging in front of his face as he and his father drove to the funeral home to attend the first of two viewings for his grandmother.
"She had a real heart of gold, Everette. She was strict, but - now in my later years - I see that she was more so dedicated, ya know?" the boy remembered his father saying. "I remember there were years of my life . . . I'm talkin' years where I'd see my father in the morning before school, he'd be puttin' his boots and just gettin' ready to leave, and then I'd see my mother at night whenever I came home from runnin' around, and she'd be too tired to do anything but lay on the couch and listen to all of us tell her about our respective days, and - other than the weekends - that was it. Ya know? And I'll tell ya, bud, me, your Aunt Lynn, Nan, and Aunt Connie would never leave their sides on the weekends. And now she's gone, Bup's gone, and it's just me and my sisters . . . But I'll see her again someday. I know I will. And I know you don't believe that, and that's perfectly fine, bud - I respect that. But, you know, Everette, I don't believe in God's Kingdom or any of that bullshit either. But there is an essence in the human consciousness and it transcends and goes somewhere, ya know? It goes somewhere."
"Do you think you can do it?" the boy asked his father. He felt ashamed that his father might suspect him of asking this due only to selfish reasons, but he also knew damn well that his father had every right to suspect such a thing. But how could he ever tell his father that he was a man divided in two? How could he tell his father that he sometimes wished he never existed because of the two polar forces raging inside of him? How could ever appear so weak before the immaculately strong posture of his father?
"I don't know, bud. I think I can, but I might need your help."