February 26th, 2016
“Where have you been living?” Tim asked me. I hadn’t had lunch and our food wouldn’t be arriving for some time. I was determined to be nice, give Dad the happy family he wanted to believe we were, but Tim’s voice. Oh my god… I was still waiting for the server to come by so I could order another beer. Tim’s question felt like an attempt to embarrass me.
“A cul-de-sac in Ocean Beach,” I said flatly. “Not too far from the water, no homes. No one really comes through other than a few bums. No one seems to give a shit that I’m there.”
“Language,” Tim said.
Fuck off, was the response I bit down on. I was determined to be a good son.
“It doesn’t really sound safe, son,” Dad said.
“It doesn’t sound…” Jesus Christ, it’s not safe but I can’t live with you. I scratched that response. Oh, my god, it’s safer than people trying to take bites out of me. Though it had been a week or two since that had happened so I kept it to myself rather than temp fate.
I was working on a third response when Dad continued, “We want you to come live with us. At least until you can get your own place.” I looked at Tim. Tim didn’t seem at all welcoming, but he didn’t seem against the idea, either. There was a crawling sensation in the back of my neck, something pulling my face back. “Look, the truth is, the doctor says I’m really responding well to my therapy. He says there’s less risk of me of me catching something I can’t shake.”
“Until now, I felt it was best to minimize your father’s exposure to other people, to anything they might not realize they were carrying. Now that he’s getting stronger, we agree it’s for the best to bring you in out of the cold. Like your dad says, just until you’re not sleeping in your old Bronco anymore.”
There wasn’t any response ready for that. I sat there, uncertain what they expected me to say, hoping that each moment they didn’t say anything meant it was more likely they never would. “So how ‘bout it?” Dad said. “Do you want to come by after work Friday and move in whatever you keep in there into the living room? We don’t have a lot of space but it’s better than sleeping in your car.”
“No…” I began. “I can’t then. Actually, it’s really no problem. I’ll be out of the car soon enough.”
“Do you have a place yet?” Dad asked. No. “How much money do you have saved?”
“Seven hundred,” and my words got caught as I wished I hadn’t been honest about it.
“Son, it’ll be weeks before you have enough to get out of the Bronco. Why don’t you just stay with us?”
Normally I’m smarter than this, faster with my words. I’m good at evasion. Now I felt sincerely trapped. “I’ve moved around a lot,” I said. “The last couple months have been really turbulent for me but I’ve found a spot I like and I don’t want to give it up. I just… I want some consistency.”
“I want you to have consistency. I want you to have consistency some place where I know you’re safe, where there aren’t bums wandering around outside looking at you through the window.”
I want that, too! I couldn’t figure out what my problem was. “There’s a cat that comes and stays with me. She’s a stray but she comes and sleeps on the center console next to me sometimes.”
“So bring the cat.”
“I can’t just bring the cat! It lives around there. What if it belongs to someone?”
Tim leaned in, driving his pointer finger into the table, “Andersen, when are you going to accept your father for who he is?”
“Tim, how many times am I going to have to tell you to shut the fuck up?”
“Stop!” my father shouted. I couldn’t bring myself to look, but I knew the other tables were turning to us. Even the manager across the floor had stopped what he was doing and was assessing the situation.
I wasn’t sure what to do or say. Knowing everyone was looking at me, my face started to burn. I couldn’t bring myself to meet my father’s eyes.
I just stood, said I was sorry and left.
On the plus side: My dad loves me better than I know how to be loved, I guess. I don’t really know what the plus side is to this.