It was one of the last things my father ever said to me. I never want to see the bridge again, it feels ghoulish, you know? And what would it achieve? Closure? Ha! That’s something teenagers crave when they see their sweetheart with the tongue down the throat of another. I don’t want closure. I hated the man and had since the top of my head was barely above his knee.
I can’t say it was alcohol that made him that way. He was an out and out bastard when sober. In some ways the alcohol made things better, calmed him down, made him drowsy. Before I left home at the tender age of 15 I remember asking my mother why she had stayed with him. Her answer… “she didn’t know.” Does that make her worse? I don’t know either, maybe it runs in the family. I flitted from shitty job to shitty job, flipping burgers, pushing supermarket trolley carts, even shredding paper in an office. I’ve done it all. Mum helped me out where she could, Dad seemed pleased I’d gone, one less problem for him to think about. I tried therapy, it didn’t help. Five years, on and off I went, I noticed “Dr. Trying-to-help”‘s car would improve every year so at least one of us was getting some benefit.
Meeting Jack turned my life around. Finally I could be me. I could be free of who I had to pretend to be. It was like removing a mask or a badly fitting costume. No longer would I have to put on my robotic smile every morning, shoehorning myself into a persona I barely recognized, trying to look at the world like everyone else seemed to. Jack made everything better, like sunshine burning away the storm clouds, he made me feel like the world wasn’t full of malevolent demons all trying to drag me down into their personal hells. He was everything my father wasn’t. Tender, caring, loving, gentle, funny, intelligent, god I sound like a Valentine’s card. But more importantly he understood me and he was exactly what I needed.
I don’t know why I took Jack to meet my parents. I suppose I wanted approval, or perhaps I wanted to show that despite my father’s best efforts I had found someone to love and someone who would love me.
Initially it went well but Dad started drinking during dinner and by the end he was just as loud and obnoxious as I painfully remembered. My father had an annoying habit of swearing at the television, as if there were little people inside who would listen to his demented ramblings. But it was when he turned to Jack and barked “What sort of girl’s name is Jack then?” that my heart and soul nearly fell through the floor.
Jack stood his ground, “I’m not a girl,” he’d said through clenched teeth.
“Well you look like a fucking girl,” boomed my father, “are you some sort of fucking gender bender?”
I jumped up from the table and announced that we were leaving. I’m not sure the drunken old bastard even noticed us going, he just went back to cursing about “them immigrants” on the news. At the door Mum apologised to Jack and thanked us for coming. I could barely speak and just glowered at her.
For the next year Mum and I only spoke on the phone. I refused to visit and wasn’t going to put Jack through hell again despite his protestations that it was “ok”. It wasn’t fucking ok and Jack’s insistence that I had to accept who my father was put a strain on our relationship for a while. Did I really have to accept that my father was a foul-mouthed bigot who didn’t have a good word to say about anyone? Jack suggested I try therapy again. I didn’t bother, it hadn’t helped the first time and nothing had changed.
Two weeks before Christmas I get a phone call from Mum. Dad has been in therapy for the past six months and has changed, he was even on a program to help with his drinking. He wants me to come to dinner for Christmas. For the first time I can remember, Dad wants to see me. I was stunned and between sobs I mumbled yes I would go.
Jack insisted on going. In many ways I was pleased. I’d spent so long wanting Dad’s approval, for who and what I was. I couldn’t help being born this way, no one gave me a form and somehow I’d just managed to crosses in the wrong boxes while waiting in line. Perhaps, finally, he could be the father I had always wanted him to be.
Things started well enough, Dad seemed happy, he was laughing and making bad jokes, mostly at the expense of himself. Maybe he had finally conquered his demons. It wasn’t until we started eating that I noticed something change. He kept going into the kitchen and by the time Mum brought out dessert it was clear that my Father was drunk, again. Even then it was a while before things took a turn for the worse and he appeared from the kitchen with a half full bottle of whisky. To my surprise it was Mum who challenged him.
“Henry,” she said, and her tone was sterner than I’d heard in years, “you’re not supposed to be drinking, remember the plan.”
“Fuck the plan,” he snarled, “I can have a drink if I want.” As if to prove his point he took a long drag from the bottle. Mum rushed forward and grabbed it from him, spilling whisky across them both. Enraged, he roared and smashed the back of his hand across her face. It wasn’t the shock that I remember the most, it was the sound of Mum’s frightened whimper and I realised in that moment that she had been hiding his violence from me for years. The rest of the night was a blur. I remember trying to get Mum to leave but she refused no matter what I said. I threatened to call the police and Dad shouted that it was his house and he could do what he liked. I think Jack got us home, there was a taxi and I remember getting on the plane, I slept most of the way.
I rang Mum a few times after that, but whenever I tried to bring up what happened she would just burst into tears and tell me that he was “getting more help”, whatever that meant. The time between my calls got longer, it wasn’t deliberate, it just happened. And then, two days ago I get a call from Dad. He’s never rung me in the fourteen years since I left home. He tells me he wants to meet, that’s he’s changed and that he wants to explain about everything wants to say sorry. I tell him I’ll think about it but he starts crying and begging me to come right away. I’ve never heard him be that way. Eventually I take pity on him and agree. He promises me to not tell Mum I’m coming, that it would be better if she didn’t know and that she’s been through enough. I agree. When my flight gets in, I should ring him and he’ll tell me a place to meet. Jack is at some design trade show in Tokyo so I leave him a message and get the first flight the following day. Two thoughts fill my mind on the flight, “Has he really changed?” and “Do I care?”
He doesn’t ring when I arrive, but I get a text message. He wants to meet at Brigenham Bridge of all places. Why I don’t know, I’ve stopped caring. I arrive by cab and find him stood by the railings.
First thing he says is “I’m dying, it’s cancer.” I said nothing, I honestly didn’t know what to say. “It’s my liver,” he went on, as if I wasn’t really there, “I’ve got three months, maybe six if I’m lucky.”
Still I stayed silent, what was I supposed to say? Did he want sympathy? Did he want me to care?
“I’m sorry Josh,” he says, I think it’s the first time he’s used my real name, then before I can do anything he climbs up and over the railing. He starts talking, rambling really but I barely listen, all I can think about is Mum on the floor at Christmas, the frightened look on her face and the rage I felt.
“Is there anything else you want to add?” I’m broken from my silence by the soft but stern voice of the large policemen sitting across the interview table. I study his face, the strong jaw, the broad cheekbones and high forehead sitting below perfectly styled brown hair. He could have been a model in another life. The soft constant whirr of the tape deck recording every word marks the slow passage of time. How long had I talked for? Did it matter? It was good to finally tell someone my story, tell it my way.
“Yes,” I said, “I pushed him off that bridge and I don’t regret it, as my father said, ‘I’m tired of trying to see the good in people.'”
From the Author,
Thank you for reading “Seeing the Good in People”, I hope you enjoyed it, if you did please feel free to share it and tell others about it.