It was a horrible time for me. I lost my best friend, I felt terrible for my father and I worried for our family’s safety. The man was truly unstable. Dark days indeed.
One thing my uncle couldn’t control was that Mike and I went to school together. We managed to hang out at school and occasionally would play basketball at the church near Mike’s house. The get-togethers were rare. It was very frightening for both of us and the opportunities didn’t come up often. I found out many years later that his dad found out about one of our sneaky rendezvous’s and, as promised, beat Mike pretty badly.
Fortunately, and I sound like a really bad person here, 4 years after the infamous 4th of July incident, the bastard came home drunk, attempted to beat his wife, fell on the kitchen floor and died of an aneurysm. I shed zero tears.
Now 14, I was hopeful that it was finally over. I naively thought that both families would come together, the wedge now gone and pick up where we left off. That was not to be. Mike and I resumed our friendship in that we openly spent time together but the rest of the family, with the exception of my aunt, still believed it happened and treated me like the son of the guy who stole from them.
Several years passed and I began to believe that it would likely never get better. Mike and I remained close but just didn’t talk about it. My father resumed his relationship with his sister, who in turn told her children to be respectful. It was still painful for him, I could see him struggling to be comfortable around them. In the house that he grew up in, he felt like a villain. But he was glad to have his sister back.
I would not speak to anyone in that house, other than Mike for years. I didn’t hate them but I was extremely offended that they, anyone for that matter, would really think my father was a thief. So many years after the incident, my father had proved over and over what a decent, honest hard-working man he was. I was offended for him and I resented them. Despite my anger, not seeing them on a regular basis allowed me to keep a lid on it. Out of sight, out of mind.
When I was 22, Mike and I were both still living with our families in town. I had been working a lot of overtime and had finally bought my dream car. A 1988 Mustang GT Convertible. Mike and I loved Mustang’s so I was eager to show it to him. It was a hot August day and I navigated my shiny new car, top down, around the potholes to Mike’s house. I pulled up and one of my older cousins was outside. I asked for Mike, he told me he wasn’t home. “Nice car,” he said flatly. I thanked him and rolled forward to turn around in the driveway. As I did, 2 more of my cousins came out of the house and watched me. As I passed them, slowly to avoid dust, I heard one of them say “there goes the rich kid.” I slammed my brakes and threw it into reverse. Fuck the dust.
I rolled up, put it in Park and got out. “Excuse me, did someone say Rich kid?” They just looked at me. I wasn’t the same scrawny kid they used to toss around. I was now 6 ft and 250 pounds and I was pissed. I asked again. Nothing but contemptuous stares met my fury. That’s when it all became crystal clear to me. It wasn’t just over a coin, they resented my father’s success. I let them have it. I unleashed and showed them a side of me they didn’t know existed. I tore into them for not understanding that my father worked his ass off to not live on this street anymore. He got a job, got into a union, put in overtime, worked side jobs and missed almost every holiday working on broken oil burners for people with no heat. All to buy a house and give his family what he didn’t have growing up. I went on to give them hell about that stupid comment about my car. The car I worked 60 hours a week to buy. Who the fuck did they think they were to call me the “rich kid?” To say that I read them the riot act is an understatement. I flipped them off and got back in my car.
I wouldn’t speak to them again until my father’s funeral 25 years later. I wrote my father’s eulogy. It may be the best thing I’ve ever written. I spoke passionately about how much I admired my dad, what an honest man he was, how he had been hurt by those close to him but always retained his dignity. I stressed his work ethic and his big heart. I wrote of his great success through hard work despite his humble upbringing. I wasn’t able to deliver it myself, I knew that I would be a blubbering mess. I had a hard time listening to the minister read it even though I wrote it. As he read it, I made eye contact with the few cousins that bothered to show up. They were squirming in their seats. I don’t think even I knew until that moment that parts of that eulogy were scathing, brutal truth bombs aimed at them for how they treated him.
At the cemetery, as I knelt on the frozen ground at my father’s grave, one of my cousins patted me on the shoulder and said “I’m glad I came today. “
“I’m glad as well.” As I thought to myself Glad that I will likely never see you again.
My Mom disagrees with me on a lot of what I am talking about. She claims that the cousins were friendly after my Uncle’s death. I’m glad they were to her but I never saw it. Mike himself, on one of the rare occasions that we talked of his father, said that his siblings all believed that my father stole from them.
I’m privileged to still be close to Mike. He annoys the hell out of me sometimes, we have very little in common, but he is a solid guy with a very big heart. The only problem I have with him is that he is a walking reminder of an indignity perpetrated against my father. Normally a forgiving person, on this one the bitterness is still on my tongue. My father lived a great life, despite the headwinds he had to trudge through in his earlier years. He didn’t get the time on earth that he deserved for the work that he invested. To think that so many of those years were spent feeling hurt and wrongly accused angers me to no end. As in so many other aspects of his life…he deserved so much better.