“Hi, I’m Robert’s Father” a short story
My son is only 26 but he has been sober for 9 years. I was surprised to have an alcoholic child. Fifteen percent of people are alcoholic. That’s still only 15 out of every hundred people. Plus, I’m not one. It’s a genetic disease and a spiritual malady is what I understand now. They have to be willing to admit they are powerless over alcohol and to live by spiritual principles or the disease that compels them to drink takes back over.
I learned that anyone can be addicted. But not everyone can be an addict. Most addicts are alcoholics. Alcohol is their least favorite drug. I wouldn’t have learned this if it hadn’t been for my son Robert.
My wife related a little better to Robert than I did because she had a way of putting people at ease and getting them to open up. I’m not as good at that but I do love my son. I had a bad relationship with my own father. I was an angry young guy. My father was very strict, very religious. Undemonstrative in his affections. Consequently I was an atheist in high school. Then a little later I decided God was simply the highest part of my own consciousness, and it was superior to my lower consciousness, my ego. But I still wasn’t exactly on friendly terms with Mister or Miss God until I met my wife.
She was simply delightful in so many ways, and she also helped me with my anger. She was a spiritual woman, and was very interested in a variety of religious figures and metaphysical phenomena, but not in a poison Kool-Aid kind of way. We were in accord there. I never had a problem with accepting that there are some folks who can work “miracles”, or affect reality in ways science doesn’t quite have a bead on yet; I did a lot of reading in college about psychic phenomena and the fascinating government and military research done in this area, and about documented Native American shamanic healings, things like this, and I had no problem accepting there were folks capable of this stuff- I just didn’t see why people had to be morons and deify them. Or get so devoted to any particular dogma that one of these people may espouse.
An intelligent reasonable approach to the divine and of consciousness in general makes perfect sense to me. I have read nothing in various books such as “Autobiography of a Yogi” that conflicts with our current understanding of quantum physics.
I loved my wife Lisa very much. We enjoyed each other’s company and I also found her tremendously sexy. She had riveting blue eyes and while I found her very physically attractive it was her calmness and intelligence that really turned me on. For example, it was so pleasant when Robert was born and she agreed with me that Robert should not be circumcized. I wasn’t going to mutilate my son’s genitals and was so happy she understood it was a barbaric harmful practice. Ten percent of the organ’s sensitivity is lost when you cut off the foreskin.
I understand why people get divorced. Most of the time it’s over money problems, but the rest I imagine has a lot to do with simply not being on the same wavelength when it comes to important issues in this life. She and I for the most part shared that same frequency. She thought I walked around with a “perpetual bowtie” on and was uptight (her words) and she was right. Then I’d tell her she was always late to appointments and other capital offences and she would start laughing and agreed. And then we’d end up laughing some more.
Lisa was killed when Robert was six; her car was hit by a semi truck with faulty compression brakes, also known as “jake brakes”, coming down the Grapevine. No one else was hurt in the accident. I didn’t do her memory a discredit by going backwards and turning back into that depressed angry young man for too long. I knew she would want me to stay happy for our young son. I will be honest, I was filled with rage and despair for I’d say for about six months. My mother moved in and helped me take care of Robert. I had a hard time and spent a lot of time just stuck on the couch staring into space. I was a young and rising commercial architect but I turned the two projects I was working on over on to some associates and did not go to the office once in close to a year.
But eventually I came out of it, really for Robert. I went back to work but was able to do so on more of a part time basis because we received a settlement from the trucking company (I did find a bloodthirsty lawyer who was worth every penny I paid her). I wanted to make sure Robert would come through this as unscathed as possible and he did do okay. He missed his mom but children are extremely resilient and shrewd survivors. His little brain calculated that as long as he had one parent present and accounted for, he would get the necessary food and love required to survive and grow into a fine adult human. Which he has.
I always enjoyed hanging out with Robert even during his teenage years. We were similar in the way we both thought deeply and carefully about the important concepts. And he was a tough kid too. He was suspended in the sixth grade for beating up another boy in his class and breaking the kid’s nose. I suppose his parents could have sued the school as well as me but their child had actually instigated the argument by physically bullying a smaller student. Robert came to that kid’s defense and witnesses there backed this story up.
I didn’t punish Robert, I praised him for protecting somebody weaker than himself. He asked me if I ever got in a fight and I told him sure, I’d been in some fights as a younger person. He asked what happened and I told him how most of them happened because someone tired to bully me or one of my friends. “And you kicked their ass?” said Robert. Yeah I did I said.
I wanted my kid to be safe and Robert was not a large guy, he was of average height but tremendously strong, wiry with fast reflexes, which I like to think he inherited from his old man. He had a luxurious head of dark hair like Lisa and her sky blue eyes. It sometimes startled me, because he was very handsome and looked so much like her. I suspected a lot of guys got in altercations with Robert because they called him a pretty boy. I knew he was also considered one of the artsy or punk kids. He dressed oddly, in old teeshirts with mysterious sharpie written messages and symbols on them. Black tight fitting pants. Sneakers with more sharpie messages. It seemed it was mainly the jock types who tried to fight him. A few of the fights involved Robert sticking up for another person but most of them were responses to personal attacks. If someone hassled him in any sort of threatening capacity, he simply in his words, “beat the shit out of the fucker”. Luckily by the time he was around sixteen these altercations seemed subside and I guessed this was because people were afraid of him now.
As he progressed into later adolescence, he began to read constantly and liked engaging me in philosophical conversations. He confided in me too. He told me when he was fifteen that he believed he was mentally ill. I was taken aback. I said “Why son?” And he said because he had repetitive thoughts and that he felt bummed out all the time. I asked him what his thoughts were about and he said he was worried about the planet being destroyed by the fossil fuel industry (his words).
He told me he had a reoccurring dream about being trapped in a house. “It’s a brand new house and it’s built with toxic petroleum based carpeting and paint and particle board. Everything looks creepy and it stinks like chemicals and there is no life,” he said. “There’s no water coming out of the faucets and no food in the fridge. It’s just this toxic barren place of death.”
I found this dream alarming and asked him if he felt it was a metaphor for growing up without a mother (I was concerned that was what had caused all his problems) and he got exasperated with me and said “No, it’s about what could happen to the planet if the government allows the oil companies to keep shitting all over it. Just everyone dead from climate change.”
“That’s not going to happen Robert” I told him and he asked me why not and I told him his generation was going to fix it. I told him “You guys all have the internet in your pockets, you are so much more evolved and educated. You’re advanced souls.” He said he constantly worried about things like bats becoming endangered. “We need the bats to eat the bugs or our crops will die. They are also as important as bees when it comes to pollination. But the pesticides they spray on the crops are fucking with both the bees’ and the bats’ immune systems. And those pesticides are made from fossil fuels.”
I told him he and his generation can and will change all this. He said how and I said he can write to his congress people and be active on social media and organize protests. I remember my chest welled with pride after that talk. My son was so smart. I suggested he get involved with an environmental organization like Greenpeace after school. He seemed to think this over and thought it sounded like a good idea. And as far as his mood problems were concerned, I offered to take him to a therapist but he refused. And he seemed a little more light hearted after we talked. I waited hopefully for him to join some activist groups and get proactive but the closest Robert got to Greenpeace was a picture torn from a magazine I found in his bathroom. It was a famous picture of a young woman protester who’d chained herself naked to an oil tanker in San Diego. She was very cute and very nude. The photo was next to a squirt bottle of lotion.
I was real proud of him though for thinking about important issues. But then other behaviors began to manifest. The police pulled him over for driving around with a coffee cup glued to the roof of his truck. The cops ticketed him and escorted him home. His vehicle was an old four banger pickup he bought with the money I paid him for helping me reroof the house the summer before he turned 16. I asked him what the hell was he thinking and that he could have caused an accident. He told me in his freshly changed oddly deep voice that he hadn’t thought about that, he just thought it was hilarious to see people pointing at him frantically and “losing their shit” while he was driving around. The cops informed me they’d caught him rolling down his window and flipping off one of these concerned citizens before attempting to drive off. One of his idiotic girlfriends was with him at the time and she thought Robert was hilarious too. Well, I put him to work at a friend’s house refinishing their roof and I took away his truck for four months. That seemed to focus him for a little while.
But he began acting more strangely the next year and I was worried about the people he was spending time with. I suspected them of being high. Then I realized Robert was high.
He stopped talking to me and hid out in his room or stayed out very late. I knew he was skipping classes and then the report card came and it was F’s and Incompletes. He got a DUI before Christmas. And then a second one while driving a friend’s mother’s car. It was frightening how quickly he disintegrated. I found pieces of tin foil in his room smeared with a brown substance and I told him he would have to go to treatment or leave the house. He wasn’t rude to me but just smiled sadly and left that evening with an old duffel bag.
I didn’t see Robert for almost two years. It was the worse thing that ever happened to me and I wanted to wring his fucking neck I was so worried. I never even knew where he was most of the time. I drove around many nights looking for him. I lost thirty pounds. I’d heard he was staying in the city at some squat but could not locate him. There were other kids there though, living amongst some old sleeping bags and needles and turds. I asked them if they knew Robert but no one would talk to me. I gave them some money. It seemed like such an incongruous waste and I couldn’t figure out how it could have happened so quickly.
I blamed myself. I found myself apologizing over and over to Lisa. And experiencing deep rage at God again. But then miraculously I received a phone call from the hospital and Robert was in it. He had tuberculosis but it was responding well to the intravenous antibiotic therapy. He’d been living in a tent on someone’s property, having heroin and beer for dinner each night.
When I first saw him I was shocked. He looked like a cartoon skeleton. But a smiling one. He seemed really happy to see me and I started crying. For the first time in years he brought Lisa up and told me he had talked with his mom. I was afraid to press him for details as I had never had a ghostly visitation myself but that was all he wanted to say about it. He looked different inside. More peaceful. When he was released from the hospital he expressed a desire to go to AA and I let him move back in with me.
He stuck with the program and will have ten years sober this February. I went to a lot of meetings with him in the beginning, and still attend open ones with him from time to time (open meetings are ones where non alcoholic visitors can attend too). He has always managed to go to two meetings a week even when he’s working overtime (he now co-owns the second largest solar panel installation company in the state). I feel very grateful that I got to watch Robert grow up and commence to living. I know Lisa is very proud of him. I haven’t had to worry about him as much for some time now. I’ve actually even started dating again.
Copyright © 2013 by Kim Campion
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