To Infinity and Beyond
 
          My mother’s dead. I didn’t know her, she died when I was three. I have her picture though. She was pretty. Her wavy brown hair just passed her shoulders. I have her eyes—green eyes, like the moss on a rock. I miss her. Is that possible? To miss someone you never knew? It must be. Especially if you were me. My sister is in college, far away. She went to California, away from home for obvious reasons. She left me here. Here alone. With him. My father, if you could even call him that. But she doesn’t know about what he does, so I guess I can’t blame her. So I am stuck in Rhode Island. With him. I call him Hank.
            Do you ever feel so alone that all you want to do is lay in fetal position in your small twin sized bed and cry? Yeah, well that’s me. Everyday. Yesterday was my eleventh birthday. I thought things would be different. For the past seven years, I have gotten no birthday presents. Zip. To be expected, I guess. My last present was when I was three. When I still had a mother. She gave me Buzz Lightyear. It says, “To infinity and beyond.” Hank used to tell me that that is how much my mother loved me, so she thought Buzz was a fitting gift. Buzz is always with me. But now, my father doesn’t really talk to me. He drinks. He sits in front of a television and drinks.
            When I was almost eight years old, Hank got shot. He used to be a police officer, but then he got shot. The bullet was launched in his thigh, but I was at school, learning multiplication. The principal came to my classroom and interrupted my teacher. I mentally answered 36 to the problem on the board, and then followed Mr. Shultz to his office. He told me my father got shot and that someone is going to take me to the hospital. Panicked, I cried. I mean, I was all alone. If he died, what was I going to do? Live in my sister’s dorm? Orphanage? No. I couldn’t. So he had to be alive. He had to be.
            Be careful what you wish for. That’s what they say, right? Be very careful.
            I got to the hospital when my father was in surgery. A nurse took me to the waiting room. She was nice. She had brown hair like my mother’s. She asked if I needed anything and I told her I needed Buzz. She was confused at first, but she then understood. She gave me her laptop and right there in the waiting room, I watched Toy Story on her iTunes. It wasn’t my Buzz Lightyear, but it was good enough. It was a distraction. My father was in surgery. For three hours.
            Around eight o’clock the doctor came out. I remember this well, because he had blood everywhere. It was on his scrubs, his pants, some on his Reebok sneakers. He’s dead. He has to be dead. This doctor can’t have that much blood on his scrubs and be alive. But he was. The doctor approached me, and then smiled. Smiled wide, because accomplished something huge.
            “Your father is in a recovery room, Tucker,” the doctor beamed, “He is going to have a full recovery, except a possibly limp in his right leg.”
            Better than the alternative, I thought.
            It started when I was eight. It hurt. A lot. I was on my way home from school.
But let me rewind a little first. For the next three years following Hank’s surgery, he became a different man. I can now name almost every type of beer and vodka because every corner I turned in my house, there was a bottle, a can, a cap, a spill. Yes, Hank became an alcoholic. Yes, I am only eleven, but computers tell you a lot. Sometimes things you do not want to know. And my father, who was once a well-respected cop, was now Hank, the alcoholic retired cop. He was only forty-four, so this hit him hard. I mean, his passion was ripped away from him, like a toy being ripped from a dog’s mouth. Only, this is something Hank would never get back. His limp was stopping him. He moved slower, gloomier, and his chief officer told him he was no longer able to work in the line of duty. His cop friends stopped checking in on him, they moved on. I mean, people get injured all the time on the job—at least Hank still had his life.
            So he drank. From dusk until dawn, ignoring me all together, except for the occasional “the game’s on” in which I would sit with him and watch football. I would eat my ramen noodles, and he would finish a twelve pack and then pass out. For three years. On the bright side, I learned how to make canned soup, pasta, and ate more PB&J’s than I can count. It’s possible that I’d go through four loaves of bread within a week.
            Now, back to where I was. I’m eleven now, like I said, but it first happened when I was eight. We were watching football and I had fallen asleep on the couch with Buzz. I was in a deep slumber, so I guess I didn’t hear my father yelling my name. I suddenly woke up to a sharp pain on my forehead. Screaming and crying and confused, I looked up. Hank stared at me. And he looked…pissed. I asked him why my head hurt. He told me he hated Buzz. I held my head where I was bleeding, and asked him again. I was eight. I was so confused. He told me Buzz reminded him of my mother, and he hated my mother. This was news to me, but my head was pounding so hard that it took over my thoughts. Taking Buzz with me, I got up, only to step on the broken glass of a beer bottle. He had thrown it at my head. That’s what caused my aching pain. He threw it to get my attention, because he wanted to tell me he hated Buzz. I ran upstairs, frightened, flustered, and panicked. Straight to the bathroom. I looked in the mirror at the gash in my forehead. The blood matted my brown hair to the cut. The blood made my hair sticky. Like a rough spaghetti texture. I ran my face under warm water. It wasn’t that deep I remember, because it stopped bleeding rather quickly. I ran back downstairs, grabbed ice as fast as I could, and retired in my room for the rest of the day. It was only four pm. Around eleven that night, Hank was knocking on my door. I heard mumbles of “sorry” and “I didn’t mean to” and “you know it was a joke, I loved your mother.”
            As he slurred these words from the hallway and into my door, I stared at the picture on my desk. I was just a toddler. My mother held me in her arms and my father had his arms around her waist, standing behind us both. He was in uniform and we looked as happy as could be. As I got older, I remembered how he would drive me around in his very own police car. It would be on the days he was off duty. We would go to empty parking lots and he would let me touch all the buttons as I sat on his lap and drove in figure eights. That man, my father, was not the same person who was mumbling “I’m sorrys” right outside my door. There was no way. But I believed his apologizes, that it would not happen again.
            I believed him. But he lied.
For the next three years, my alcoholic father abused me. When I was nine, I told Hank I wanted to try out for the town’s track and field team. I knew I was fast because I used to chase to squirrels around the back yard after school. Anything to get out of the house. Distractions were good. I would run for hours until I realized I was panting and needed to go inside for water. I told Hank I was fast and I could win many medals. I would daydream about hanging those medals up in my room, on top of the trophies I would win as well. Mid daydream, I felt a sharp pain across my abdomen. It hit me, literally and physically. I forgot that my dad used to be able to run. Fast. And then he got shot. In the leg. He was so drunk when he hit me that he tripped over himself as I simultaneously fell down from the blow. When he recovered he looked at me, with a bit of hatred in his eyes.
“You will do no such thing,” he slurred in my face. I could smell the beer lingering on his lips. He could have inhaled a brewery for all I knew.
“But I…” I started. I should have been smarter and kept my mouth shut. The amount of bruises on my front side would have been way more minimal.
            That night, I cried. I cried harder than I can remember. Harder than when I thought about Mom. Harder than when Hank got shot. Something I wanted, really wanted, was ripped away from me faster than I could even dream of its reality. I was devastated. And from that day on, I never consulted my father about things I liked. I never told him about what I wanted to do, what I wanted to be when I grew up. Any father son conversation was burned, turned to ashes right before my eyes. Because Hank was no longer a father to me. Not when he did not support me on something I enjoyed doing.
When I was ten, I went to a local convenience store in a small town and bought a cooler. Every week I’d fill it with ice and keep it in my room, icing the wounds that were inflicted on me. Sometimes it was just a slap. Other times, a punch in the ribs. A hit to my back, so hard I thought for sure I would one day have a collapsed lung. Other times, he would bend my finger back, and sometimes breaking one. I would lie in my room in the night, letting my body chill from the relieving feel of the ice. It hit my body and I would shiver, then fall into a calming, cooling sleep. He was clever though. If you can even call it that. Hank would hit me in places that would go unseen when I attended school. No one noticed much, I was a lonely child anyway—making friends did not come easy to me.
             Then a few months before my eleventh birthday a new family moved in next door. They had a daughter. She was my age. She was pretty. Her name was Isabel. In July, it was hot. I was sitting outside on our front porch, drinking water and reading a book out loud to Buzz. Next thing I knew, Isabel was standing in front of me. That grin. It was so wide it practically hit both of her ears.
“Hi,” she said. I just smiled.
“It’s hot out,” she spoke again, a small bead of sweat coming down her left temple as if on cue to her statement. I nodded.
“Do you like lemonade?” again, and she plopped down next to me. I nodded.
“Me too, let’s make a lemonade stand. We can sell it at the end of the street! I’ll bring Woody!” It. Was. Fate. Meant to be. My jaw dropped and she smiled back. Suddenly, the front door to my house opened. Isabel stopped in her tracks to get Woody from her new home, looking up and then immediately back down. Hank was staring at her. His eyes bloodshot. His hair greasy. His look mean. I was about to speak, plea, do anything to make Hank go away, when he interrupted.
“I’m sorry, dear,” he spoke to Isabel only. I was invisible. “Now is not a good time. Tucker is gonna watch a movie with his old man.”
            Defeated. Once again. By the drunk. I sadly looked up at Isabel. She gave a shy wave, and walked down the steps, back home, her head down. She kicked rocks the entire way back. I watched her. She was just as upset as I was. Only when she walked inside her parents would console her and ask her what was wrong. I, on the other hand, did not have that. Slowly, but eventually, I got up from my spot. With Buzz in one hand, I walked inside and waited for the blow. Hank was just sitting on the couch. Watching the television. As if he didn’t just embarrass his only son.
“Go to your room,” was all he said. And then, “No dinner tonight.”
So from that afternoon on, I stayed in my room. I went to bed early though, because sleep was the only thing to get my mind off my grumbling stomach. It hurt too bad to be awake.
            One morning in August of that same year, a few weeks after my unspoken of birthday, I woke up and Hank was gone. This came as a shock to me because he normally was in the recliner when I got out of bed in the morning. I always wondered if his butt print was physically permanent on the cushion. Before I panicked, I checked. Yep, it was. I called his cell phone. No answer. Where would I even start to look for…
            Bars. I called all the local bars. No one knew where he was. Mind you, the town I lived in was a small, small town. So, off I went, taking Buzz with me, of course. I walked down my gravel driveway, and onto the main road, in search of my father. As I was walking, I stared down at my black converse, watching them become more and more dirty. I silently thought to myself, why? Why was I searching for an adult who was more of a stranger than a father for the past three years? Someone who constantly hit me, knocking me when I was already down. Because I could not live alone. No matter what, I needed an adult around so I would not be sent away from the one home I ever knew.
            After an hour of searching, and thinking to myself how much I hated the fact that I was searching, I found my father. He was passed out on a bench in a public park. There was an empty six pack next to his seat. I was ashamed, annoyed, and embarrassed. Not for me, but for him. How did his life come to this? He was a man of the law! What happened? I walked over to him, holding my nose, and shook up to wake him up. I told him he was asleep in a bad area and he should come home with me now. A bit reluctant, but he finally agreed. Hank sluggishly made his way home. I walked a few paces behind him to make sure he was walking okay, and not tripping over the roots in the park.
            About a half hour later we made it home. I thought everything was okay and that Hank would just resume position in his signature drunk chair. I was wrong.
            The second we walked in the front door, I was pushed to the ground. The yelling began. More than I have ever experienced.
            “How dare you come leave the house in search of me! Did you even lock the doors? Did I say I wanted to leave the park?” Nothing made sense to me. I thought I was being responsible. I thought he would thank me. The thank you I thought I was getting was transformed into a kick in the gut. I moaned loud and the tears began. He was still wearing his work boots. The kick was powerful. Hunched over in fetal, I begged him to stop in between breaths. He didn’t. The wind was knocked out of me and I wanted to be able to breath right again. I felt like I was drowning. The pain was unbearable and I was beginning to see black spots.
            The kicking stopped, but Hank came down to face me. He took his hand and went into my pocket, grabbing my one memory of my mother: Buzz. I tried to reach for Buzz, but the pain was too much for me. I cried harder and louder and begged and pleaded. As if I was not there, invisible to my very own father, Hank brought Buzz to the kitchen. Watching sideways from the cold, wooden floor, I saw Hank take Buzz and put him in the sink disposal. He flipped the switch and I heard the cracking of my toy. “To infinitt itt ittt itt…” Buzz glitched. And then the cracking stopped.
            Hank returned to the den, sat down in the chair, started at me, and smiled. That evil grin that makes shivers run down your spine. Anger led to adrenaline and I slowly got up. I walked to his room, to his drawer, and took his cop gun. The television was loud. He did not hear me coming. I walked up behind my father. I put the gun to his head. I pulled the trigger. My mind went black after that. I think I passed out.
            When I woke up, I replayed my day. I was shaking. There was blood all over my body. Slowly, I realized I was sitting in a pool of Hank’s blood and brain matter. Yet I was not panicked. I got up slowly, the pain from my ribs burning with a sickening sensation. Getting up took a few attempts; I kept slipping on the red wetness. When I was up, I limped, hunched over, into the kitchen. My converse imprinted red with every step I took. I walked to the sink and grabbed what was left of Buzz out of the sink disposal. He was crushed, but some of him was still there.
            I walked outside, on to the porch, down the stairs, and on to my driveway. The only thing I could feel now was Buzz in my left hand. I gripped him hard because my hands were slippery from my father’s blood.
            I walked away and I did not look back.

Jamie Rothberg | Writer | Chicago

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