Ricky didn’t plan on spending his 60th Birthday back where he was born, back where he hadn’t visited in more than ten years. But as always, life deals its curves and sliders and sometimes you need to swing at a ball in the dirt to stay alive.
He had been living in Chicago working for an advertising firm for the past 15 years when as a birthday present he was unceremoniously laid off.
His name was Richard was known as Ricky. Ricky had been married to his first and only love, Catherine since they were both 18 years old. Ricky and Catherine had 4 children together and 9 grandchildren.
Ricky and Cat were high school sweethearts who used to go swimming in the lake one mile from the town where they lived. This lake was not well known to the college kids from out of town, it was a local spot frequented mostly by the local teenagers. Ricky and Cat first swam there the night of July 4th 1968 – both were 16 at the time.
In 1970 they went swimming and dared each other to take off their clothes. With no one around and an August heat wave in its third day – they did just that.
Coming out of the lake they were alone and decided to lay down on the grass. He held her tight, felt her breath against his shoulder, her pulsating body out of breath and brought her closer to him and she responded in rhythm. Ten months later they were in the hospital room welcoming their first child.
Now, 42 years later he finds himself sitting outside his apartment on the 30th floor smoking a cigarette and nursing a scotch, waiting on Cat to call him in for dinner. He watches the city lights dim, the city closing down slowly while across the way he can see the nightlife coming to life as the bars and the restaurants begin their “Rush Hour.”
He feels the phone vibrating in his pocket, takes it out and looks to see who is calling. Its his mother and he sighs and then answers the call.
Catherine looks outside and sees Ricky falling back onto a chair and covering his eyes.
Ricky had limited contact with his father since “Little Ricky” was born forty two years ago. They had spoken and been cordial on Christmas and Father’s Day throughout the years but the relationship was never the same once Ricky’s father basically threw him out of the house when he broke the news about Catherine. Ricky’s mother had made sure that they reconciled and had been the only reason Ricky did come back to visit.
Now his father had suffered some sort of stroke and was in the hospital not expected to survive more than 24 hours. Ricky’s mother had basically ordered him to come home and say his goodbye and make peace.
“Benny and Geri are already here with Bobby and Ramona on their way. Please come and make peace with him.”
There were no flights leaving until the morning and by that time it might be too late. So he decided to take the Eleven PM train.
“The last train home right before midnight.” He said aloud to himself. He would arrive a little before sunrise in Mooresville after being picked up by his brother in Indianapolis and driving a half-hour. It had been over ten years since he had last been home and was kind of nervous as he boarded the train, bag in one hand and heart in his other.
He sat by a window and watched as the train began to leave the station. An announcement was made that the Cafe would be open for a short time and then close. He saw the conductor who was collecting tickets and recognized him right away. Old Jimmy Hansen’s boy. Old Mr. Hansen had taught American History in Ricky’s High School in Mooresville and Jimmy Jr. or JJ as they called him was two years older than Ricky. Mr. Hansen had a comb over to try and deceive the world (or himself?) about his hair loss. It fooled no one besides Mr. H and it looked ridiculous. The comb over was accompanied with a curvature of his spine, chalked stained black sports jacket and pants that were at least four inches too long. His voice was low, his words came out extremely slow and he chose his words too carefully which meant he bored the shit out of the students. His students recognizing his curved posture, his slow delivery and the long strand of hair standing atop his head like uncut foreskin nicknamed him, “The uncircumcised never erect penis.”
JJ, would shine as the quarterback for the High School team, the Indians, leading the team to consecutive state championships in his Junior and Senior years. After he graduated he ended up quitting college after two weeks and took a job as a used car salesman.
JJ looked just like his father – only a circumcised version of him. He had shaven off his hair, now covered with an Amtrak cap but walked slowly and stood flaccidly as he collected tickets slowly one by one from the passengers.
“Hey JJ, remember me?” Ricky asked as he gave him his ticket.
“Should I?” He looked closer at Ricky but couldn’t place him. He then checked the name on the ticket and looked back at him.
“Richard Post?” He said but looked puzzled. “I am sorry but can you give me a hint?”
Laughing Ricky said, “Your father was my teacher in High School and I watched you win the two state championships.”
“Well I apologize but I am not as young as I once was – do you still live in Mooresville?”
“No I left there when I was 18 years old. You might remember the scandal – I married Catherine Hallaway and left town in a rush.”
“Ricky and Cat? I remember you! How are you guys?” Sudden smile on the flaccid mans face.
“Yep! Still married, four kids, nine grandchildren and living in Chicago.”
“That is fantastic Ricky, great to hear. Anyway I need to finish my rounds here I will come by once I am done maybe catch up some.”
“I might be sleeping so if I am – maybe I will see you back in Mooresville.”
“Sounds fine.” He walked away with a smile on his face and continued collecting tickets.
Ricky looked out the window at the darkness and then the passing lights. The cars, the homes some in darkness some with some lights all passing from present to past within seconds.
He went to the bathroom to wash his face and looked in the mirror only to once again question where time had gone. Sitting back in his seat he looked out the window and scenes from his life passed by just as the lights, homes and cars passed by.
Memories flew in front of him like a highlight reel on a movie screen. His father giving him his first baseball glove and ball, his brother being born, Vietnam and then no Vietnam thanks to Father Fletcher, Cat and him at the lake…Little Ricky, Lilly, David and Rebecca. Each one growing up so fast, photographs can never capture the laughter and the love and end up in old frames covered in dust or stuffed into albums left in closets unseen for years. Forgotten memories of days spent with Cat and the kids, days he thought would never end only to find himself empty nested and wondering what was next..Christmases spent waiting for his father to say the words “I love you” only to settle for “Merry Christmas.” Wanda who worked behind the counter of Bobs Burgers and who got more than a tip when she delivered herself to him for a couple of weeks until he had the steak at home and didn’t need the fast food to help him be whole. His many co-workers throughout the years and the friends who fell off the map due to his neglect and his desire to spend more time with his family. Grandparents waving “Good-bye” – grandchildren waving “Hello.” Catherine, Cat…Mrs. Post and his overwhelming love for her…
He wakes up with a jump, feels himself sweating and looks at his watch. Two more hours to go…
“Ten years…” He thought to himself as the train sped on through the darkness with sparkles of life, of light spread around as if to confirm that the full darkness has not descended as of yet. He thought back to his last trip 10 years ago on Christmas.
His father standing by the fireplace smoking his pipe and staring out the window, arm on the eave where the pictures were laid out.
“So Richard I spoke with your David today and told him to not follow in your footsteps.”
“Spoke to him about what?”
“He looked a bit pensive and I asked him what was on his mind and he mentioned that he was looking to leave college to marry his Junie. I told him that he should finish his education and put Junie on the back burner – there is nothing as important as an education.” Spoken with a steroid induced amount of self-pride.
“What did he say about that?” Ricky asked.
“He said he would think about it. I told him to call upon me any time he needs to speak. I told him I didn’t want him ending up like you – uneducated and always living paycheck to paycheck.” A bitter chuckle.
“You told him that…you told him that you didn’t want him ending up like me? Like his father?” He felt a thunderous heat in his gut and sat down. He looked around at the walls in the room and noticed, for the first time the pictures hanging on the walls. He stood up and walked towards the first of the four walls and looked closely. Walked to the second and third, nothing. Look at the wall and the shelf where his father was leaning against and saw it. There were no pictures of him or Cat.
“You don’t have any pictures of myself and Cat on the walls. You have everyone of your children, grandchildren, even your own parents but not me or my wife?”
“I guess it must have slipped my mind – sort of how you both slipped out of town and out of our lives.” He then took his pipe and banged it into the fire place emptying its contents. “Besides your once a year trips to visit, how often do you call or keep in touch?”
“Does that even matter? I skipped town to avoid you and mom – along with Cat’s parents from “being disgraced” as Father Fletcher stated. If you wanted me to stay you should have told me – one word would have made the difference. Even a hug would have made me feel better – but you turned to stone, Father. Your eyes were marble and your hands kept to their sides when they should have embraced me. Now, 30 years later you want to make me feel bad about leaving? Not happening.”
“You disgraced us in the eyes of God by sleeping with that girl.”
“That girl is Catherine, she is the mother to 4 of your grandchildren. She is the mother to the young man you gave such loving and wonderful advice to. You are a terrible man, you are a cold, cold man. How did you get that way, Richard, your parents were wonderfully warm and loving.” Calling his father by his first name caused his father to slap Ricky across the face. Ricky’s mother came in and took Richard by the hand and led him to another room. She came back in to address Ricky.
“You should know not to upset him. Haven’t you done enough?” Her cold blue eyes shooting icicles through him.
“Mother, how can you take that coldhearted person’s side? Did you even hear the things he said to me?”
“That ‘coldhearted person’ is the man who worked to feed you, to house you and to make sure you had everything you needed to grow into an adult. That ‘Coldhearted person’ is your father. Do not disrespect my husband, your father.”
Since that night he had spoken to his father less than 20 times – one time for each Christmas and another for each Father’s Day. His children kept in touch with their grandparents and even visited several times a year – but Ricky could not forget the look in his parents eyes that night; the indifference they had shown for the past thirty years…he let go of the anger but could not forget the lack of love or words – sometimes inaction can leave deeper scars than a knife to the skin.
The train was slowing down and coming to a stop – one hour to go he thought as he looked at his watch. he thought about his son and the advice that his father had given him. He thought about that conversation between him and David.
“David, sit down I want to speak with you.” He looked at his son and was amazed at how handsome he was. His dusty blonde hair fell on him and matched the golden hue of his skin. His eyes, Irish green, were swimming all the time with laughter, sadness and unlimited hope and excitement. He wore a sweater with a collared shirt – both a dark blue with jeans and black boots. He held on to his phone as if it were a limb and was in need of a shave. But he was handsome.
“Whats up dad?”
“I spoke with your Grandfather and he told me he gave you some advice.” He said in a soft tone but still exposing the pain he felt.
“Before you go any further, Dad understand that I did not agree with anything that he said. If I can turn out to be the half the man you are pop, I will do whatever I can to follow in your footsteps.” He stood up and embraced his father. “I need to go get Junie now, I am going to ask her to be my wife sometime next week. I will keep you posted and let you know in advance.”
“That is wonderful news – thank you son, thank you.”
“Thank you Dad – you and mom – all that you are and all that you have done. We both love you guys so much.” He stood to go.
“Close the door…” Door closed and Ricky broke down in tears. He cried for himself, his son and for the son of a bitch his father was. But mostly he cried out of pride.
The train rolled into the station right on time, Ricky took his bag and walked towards the end of the car to leave.
“Hey Richard. It was great seeing you – maybe I’ll see you in town?” JJ spoke as he tried in vein to stand straight, or get an erection if we want to take the name more literally.
“That would be great my friend. All the best.”
He called his brother to see where he was and got his voicemail. He sat outside the terminal and smoked another cigarette. He had quit smoking ten years earlier but had restarted a week ago when hints about his being “Let Go” were making the rounds at the office. He stood outside a place called the “Ugly Monkey” where they had planned to meet and waited. He stood there and thought about when he and Cat first told their parents about her being pregnant. Her mother hugged her while her father went to punch him. Ricky took the punch and acted like a gentleman knowing that he would do the same thing if he was in that position. After the emotions wore down a little – the sat and discussed what they were going to do.
Ricky would be moving with Cat to live with his grandparents in a small town outside of Chicago. He was going to begin working with his Uncle in his marketing firm doing some copy writing and office work.
“But why don’t you stay here and get a job?” Her mother asked.
“Because my father will not accept me.” He stated before he even spoke to his parents.
That is exactly what happened – his father told him that he did not want an Atheist living in his home nor working for him. His mother just cried and looked away. Ricky put his things together and him and Cat left the next day on the last train to Chicago.
He felt his phone vibrate and saw it was his brother.
They arrived at the hospital and tentatively walked into the room where his father lay hooked up to a lot of tubes. His eyes were closed and he seemed to be asleep but the Doctor said he was in a coma and likely to pass on at any moment. The usual beeping sounds made up the soundtrack of the room along with the priests soft words of comfort after he had given his father his last rights. He sat down on the chair the priest had sat and took his father’s hand; put it against his head and began to cry.
Ricky had no regrets about the way he lived his life – but he did feel the pain of not having a father by his side when he needed one. He felt the absence of unconditional love or unconditional acceptance that every child should feel. The only regret he had was that his parents chose strict adherence to biblical dogma in place of unconditional love for their son. He had told his father that if Jesus could forgive his children for their sins why couldn’t he? His father said, “I am not Him.” He had lived his life based on his own “Moral Compass” and felt satisfied that if he ever did get lost he would find his way back.
He sat there as the rhythm of his father’s life was silenced into a never ending monotonous tone.