Withdrawal Symptoms

By GreyHairJerry

Unedited, Unfinished and Unnamed.

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Flight number 803, gate A14. I focused on the numbers, the logistics, the sensory details of my trip. The orange juice in the small plastic cup, the peanuts, the map on the back of the napkin. The magazines tucked into the seat back pocket in front of me. The perfume of the cute brunette two seats up. The businessman’s slacks that revealed his argyle socks when he sat. The lacing pattern of the skater’s shoes to my left. The plots of ground far beneath, like a massive puzzle. Anything to keep my mind off where I was going, and why, but it was inescapable. L.A. loomed closer, waiting for me, and Oregon in its green sedateness faded. I had with me a backpack full of clothes—two pairs of boxers, four pairs of socks, two t-shirts, one white button-up, and the Armani suit that my father had passed down to me—and a suitcase with my computer, a flask, a few books, a half empty bottle of Vicodin, and three or four cigarettes rolling around in the bottom.

My aunt, Jane, picked me up from the airport, but with only two of my three cousins on that side of the family. “Thank you for talking to your dad,” she said five minutes into the drive. “That was such a sticky situation.” I told her it was nothing. Two days previous, I’d had to try and arrange my father a flight from Idaho. He and my aunt were no longer on speaking terms, so I served as the mediator. He wanted Jane to buy him a ticket with my grandmother’s life insurance payoff, and she thought he ought to buy it himself. I finally persuaded her to, but by then there were no tickets left. So it was my father was going to miss his mother’s service tomorrow. He should have been sadder, but his tone suggested only frustration with Jane, no remorse—which was only replaced by anger covering guilt when I told him this.

“Jack, you don’t know a goddamn thing about how I feel about this,” he had said through what sounded like closed teeth. “I don’t give a rat’s ass if you think she was closest with you, she’s my mother.”

“Your mother,” I repeated, “that lived how many blocks away from you?”

“A few.”

“A few too many, apparently, to walk every once in a while.”

“Jack, I swear to God, you’re lucky that I know it’s grief making you talk like this. I’m your father, your damn father, hear me? And you will not speak to me like this.”

“No,” I said, “I suppose I won’t. Sorry you couldn’t make it to the service. I tried to make it work. I’ll call you and let you know how it went and everything. Bye now.”

“Yeah, bye.”

I felt mildly guilty afterward for saying I was sorry he wasn’t going to make it. I really have been making an effort the last few years to be more honest with him. The problem with it, though, was it sometimes led to conversations like that.

Jane explained to me that the missing cousin was at church, and we had to go pick her up. Some sort of choir thing. I was really hoping to be able to stay in the car while the after-concert coffee and pie social finished up, but still somehow ended up standing at the edge of the room waiting. The missing cousin, Geraldine, introduced me to several of her giggling 17-year-old friends, who seemingly found my boots amusing.

Written by greyhairjerry Edit

May 22, 2009 at 4:58 am

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An Older Story Called ‘Withdrawal Symptoms’

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The plane shudders and jerks, jumping down the runway and gaining momentum. The old woman next to me smells like thrift shop, hands mottled with age and heirloom rings winking in the light from the window. The grey airport runs backwards, and the moment it’s out of sight, the plane’s vibration eases to a hum and the wings take the weight off the wheels.

The flight is short, Portland to Spokane, but as I’m waiting for my dad it feels like I left home days ago. Half an hour late, my dad’s green Saturn pulls up outside the airport. I left rain behind and traded it for snow, and it crunches underfoot as I walk to his car. It’s been since last Christmas since we saw each other. On the drive to the hospital, he lights up one of his Camel Light Wides and asks if the smell bothers me. Considering it for a second, I tell him I took up smoking just like he always warned me not to. Without saying anything, he offers me one. As we smoke down the highway together, silence clouds the car.

The long hallway of the ninth floor stretches in a huge square around the hospital’s tower. The window in front of me looks down at the crumbling brick buildings of Spokane, juxtaposed against shining shopping malls and Starbucks signs. My hands shake, sending circular ripples in on themselves across the surface of cheap coffee from the waiting room. My ears still haven’t recovered from the plane ride, no matter how I work my jaw or how many times I swallow, sounds are underwater. Footsteps come up behind me as I’m standing there looking at the dark city–my dad, not picking up his feet entirely and eyes half-closed.

“We can go in to see her now, bub.” As we’re walking down the hall, a strange kind of adrenaline is gushing through my body and the underwater sounds fade to vague murmurs, background noise. All I can think about is, it’s snowing outside.

The smell of sterile is everywhere in my grandma’s room. An endless river of clear tubes connect her to machines, connect her to life. Her head is shaved back and inch from where the hairline used to be. In that field of stubble, a cut runs ear to ear with metal staples keeping it closed every quarter inch, steel teeth on a jagged upside-down smile. Her eyes are closed, drugged into rest. She’s only just turned sixty, but she looks ten years older than that. More wrinkles fold her face, and her chin is disappearing. I always forget how small her eyes are without her usual thick prescription lenses. Years ago, I used to steal them when I lived with her, run into the bathroom and look in the mirror to see my eyes three times too big. I was so small and weak when I lived with her then, small and weak like she is now.

I can’t control my expression, can’t stop my eyebrows from pulling together or my mouth from contorting. This shouldn’t be real. She should be at home, making coffee and watching CSI like normal. We should be sitting in her kitchen. I should be unwrapping the one present she lets me open before Christmas day. This shouldn’t be real. My dad is pulling at me, but she won’t let me walk away. We shouldn’t be leaving. We should be here with her –conscious or not, what the hell does it matter–we should be here because she shouldn’t. After a while, he gives up and we stand in the same silence that filled the car. He hands me a tissue and I throw it in the garbage. I’m not ashamed.

Three hours later, we’re in our two-bed hotel room. My dad is watching the Fox Movie Channel, sometimes I think that he would get worse withdrawal symptoms if you took away his TV than if you took away his cigarettes. The smell of our Christmas Eve dinner, Carls Jr., is omniscient in the room. Looking up from the commercial break-free airing of Scrooged, he says “Merry Christmas, buddy.” Bill Murray starts laughing.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Created: May 25, 2010


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