Places I Went with My Dad
1. To sleep, in the crook of his arm on the sofa late into the night for the first six months of my life, a child plagued with colic, allergic to the homemade formula common in that day, some combination of evaporated milk and Karo syrup boiled on the stove.
2. Friday night poker games where he sat around a table with friends playing cards while I played with the small black dog who lived there, happy I was allowed to be up late, listening to the flutter of cards being shuffled and the quiet clink of red, white, and blue plastic chips being stacked.
3. The Piggly Wiggly where he bought noodles and cheese, ground beef and tomatoes on sale and turned it into something special.
4. His office at the Army Reserve, where I sat behind his gray metal army issue desk pretending I was the boss and drawing pictures with green and red and black pencils that peeled with a string.
5. The State Fair, where he paid extra for the helicopter ride and I started crying because the helicopter didn’t have doors and even though we were belted in and I was in the middle seat, I was worried my dad was going to fall out. Where he spent a small fortune playing rigged games until he won the big stuffed orange pig with green ears and a pink tail that everyone wanted that year.
6. The cabin he built and meticulously furnished, situated by a pond several miles off a country road in the middle of the woods, which was broken into and robbed not once but two times in the years that followed; he just as carefully replaced every item that was stolen or ruined with exact replicas, even down to the black fake fur double lounge chair that was everyone’s favorite place to sit.
7. A motel on a North Carolina beach, with two best friends and our own adjoining hotel room, which we snuck out of at 3 a.m. while my dad slept, to swim against the rules in the pool, buy Tahitian Treat soda from the machine, and stumble upon a motel room door open six inches with a hand lying motionless on the floor inside, door chain on; my dad woke up without complaint and called the motel office because we were certain there had been a murder and the perpetrator was still in that motel room around the corner from ours.
8. The vet, when our orange tabby Peter got hit by a car and ran into our basement, and my dad was so upset he couldn’t go in after him, so I did, and when the vet explained what would have to be done to save him, jaw rewired, surgery on broken leg, stabilization with many meds, and my dad asked how much it would cost, I interrupted and said “the cost is no object” and my dad just looked at me and then nodded.
9. Road trip, from my apartment in Austin, Texas to Los Gatos, California, to begin my final clinical internship for grad school.
- The side of an empty highway in the middle of the night in desolate west Texas, where we had to stay because I forgot to put gas in the car and we ran out, and when I insisted on letting my two cats out of their carriers to use the bathroom in their litter box, and they pooped, and I wouldn’t let him open the windows in the car lest they escape, he let out one long-winded gooooooddddddammmm and then let it go to tell stories until dawn.
- To Korea, and a site speckled with tents and piles of dead bodies, my much younger dad standing for a photograph while shaving, small white towel draped around his neck, by way of an old black and white photograph and the dark Texas night and the story he had never told me about his time in the Army, where he fought alongside the two best friends he’d met in basic training, Lank and Daley, his best friends until he died in his bed in his home many years later, after a telephone call in which Lank’s wife held the phone up to his ear while my mom held the phone up to my dad’s ear, and they breathed to one another and were tearful and suddenly calm.
- Motel room in Needles, California, with the two cats; a place that inserted itself into a novel I wrote many years later.
- Gilroy, California, where the garlic festival caused logjam traffic and he complained, and I told him his negativity was not okay, that this was an important journey in my life, and he listened and suggested we stop for a good dinner until the traffic cleared.
- Los Gatos motel, where we sat by the pool at night with beers and kept telling stories, and stayed for a week looking for the just right apartment for me and my two cats and their litter boxes to live in.
10. To the play room of my firstborn, once a week for the first year of his life, when my dad came by to have lunch with us and visit for a few hours. I watched him lift my son up high, my dad’s bald head looking so much like my son’s, their matching smiles of joy as the sun came in the window and made puddles on the floor beside them.
11. To a place I’m not sure how to name, when before he died, in the same bed, he told me that Lank and Daley were up in the corner of the room, near the ceiling, ready for a poker game, telling him to hurry up and join them.
12. Back in time, to an older house he’d lived in with my mom, when he told me after the hospice nurse left that we were in the first house he’d built, the one for he and my mom after they were married, that he didn’t understand why we hadn’t told him that’s where we were, if he’d known he was in that first house he’d have been happier being stuck in his bed. We didn’t know, I told him. But I’m glad it’s a good thing and that you know now.
13. To a place created by his eyes and the shine of a nearly-full moon, one late night before his death, when I sat in the bedroom with him and he wanted the lights off. There were no words spoken but in some liminal way what passed between us then was more than I had ever heard him say, more than I have ever said to anyone.
Billie Hinton is a writer and psychotherapist who lives on a small horse farm in North Carolina. She reviews literary fiction for LitChat, teaches writing via small group workshops, and offers Jungian-based sandplay therapy to clients and artists of all kinds. Recent publications include Literary Mama, Not One Of Us, Manifest-Station, Riverteeth Anthology, and Streetlight Mag. Follow her on Twitter, @novemberhill.