Dad decided to drink himself to death. See you at the funeral.
I recognized the juvenile handwriting of my younger brother Billy immediately. The note was scrawled on the letterhead of his plumbing company which had gone under just a few weeks before.
I crumpled up the note and tossed it into the pile of trash in the kitchen sink.
“Levi?” My dad’s voice croaked like a bullfrog from the living room.
“Yeah,” I stopped myself as soon as I walked into the living room, the sight of my dad too jarring to continue the sentence I started.
My dad already looked like an embalmed corpse. He looked like a photo of a guy of a guy who fell into an underground bees nest in Africa I saw on the Internet once. He looked like the Michelin man. Basically, he looked like hot shit baking on the sidewalk of some hot city sidewalk.
I recognized my dad’s lucky bottle of Potter’s Crown whiskey resting next to his bed right away, about a finger’s width of caramel liquid left in the bottom of the crimped glass. It was 1:47 p.m.
“Ah leave him out of it.”
“Is this for real?”
I kicked over his bottle of Potter Crown’s, the last precious contents spilled out onto the stained carpet.
“What the hell Travelin Man?”
My dad took up calling me Travelin Man when I was in my 20s because I actually left our little one-road Tennessee town and he always loved the guitar solo in the Allman Brothers song.
“Oh don’t act like you don’t have five more bottles in the cupboard.”
“I do but it doesn’t mean you can disrespect the bottle.”
One of my dad’s MANY quirks was he had a lucky drinking bottle. He had been drinking out of the same handle of Potter’s Crown since the late-70s. He would just refill it whenever he got a fresh bottle from the store. It had something to do with a friend from Vietnam named Iverson. He never seemed to be too generous with the exact details and I never cared enough to ask for the full explanation. At least we could compromise on one thing.
The county made the grave mistake of employing my dad long enough as a janitor to where he could retire at the earliest date possible and combine his pension there with his military pension so he could drink full-time. He had been doing this for the past five years and seemed to get worse every time I saw him. I finally couldn’t take it anymore when I came to see him a little less than a year ago and saw he had moved his bed into the living room so he could lie down closer to the liquor cabinet and the TV.
That sad, pathetic sight led me to decide to no longer go see him. I was just going to let him fade away without me in the audience until I received a call from him in the middle of the night a few days ago where he couldn’t make out a single word, just sobs. I booked the first flight to Memphis I could find for a reasonable rate so I could make the trek out to the flats of northwest Tennessee and see him at least one more time, even if it hurt like hell.
Hurt it did. I had seen my dad low, but never this low. He looked so wrecked that it wouldn’t be a surprise if he died at any minute.
I took a seat in a sad dusty plastic visitor chair next to his bed like my childhood living room was a hospital room. I pushed away the rotting bones of a fried chicken Hungry Man on the TV tray and took out a faded Polaroid of us from the breast pocket of my shirt. I set the picture down on the thin wool blanket on top of his naked chest, felt him shiver.
“I found this in a box of stuff when I moved out of my house.”
My father looked down at the photo without moving his head, just his eyes. It was of us on a frothy beach in South Carolina, standing next to each other in the bright, summer sun, my dad’s arm lightly draped over my shoulder. It was literally the only picture I could ever remember of us together. Hell, it was the only picture of my father I could ever remember seeing expect for the military one from when he was 18, about to be shipped off to Vietnam. It rested above the TV, proudly framed.
I could see the life behind my dad’s eyes at least shrug.
“That’s pretty neat. Thanks. Your brother just brings bills to pay. Mine and his. I appreciate someone not bringing me fuckin heartaches for once.”
“You got it.”
“I just got two requests of you though.”
“One. You don’t judge anything I do.”
“I already conceded that before I got on the plane in Denver.”
“Two. ESPN Classic is playing the nineteen-ninety-nine Fiesta Bowl tonight. I want you to sit right here with me, watch it and drink whiskey.”
“That sounds about damn perfect to me.”
My dad cracked the first smile of my visit.
“Well, it’s a date then. Go mix up yourself a drink. I got five bottles over in the liquor cabinet.”
My dad gave me a sly dog wink.