LIKE FATHER, MY SON - Andrew Sarewitz
Every year on this one day, Dad disappears. If it’s not a weekend, he takes the day off. If I don’t remember the day, I figure it out pretty quick, since Dad’s mood changes for a few days before the date. He gets real quiet, you know. Mom sometimes used to whisper things in his ear. Last year the day before he left, he just got up from the dinner table for no reason and went upstairs.
He and Mom met a couple of years after Dad finished high school. If I remember right, he moved here to take a construction job. It’s a long way from where he grew up in Union City, New Jersey. I can sometimes get him to talk about growing up there, but it’s rare and usually after he’s had a couple of beers. And Mom often says “that’s enough” to me. Or “go do your homework” or “finish your chores,” even if I don’t have any. I don’t argue ‘cause I know I’ve stepped into something I shouldn’t. I’m smart that way.
This part of Massachusetts is really nice. Mom grew up in Springfield, where my grandparents live. They moved there for some reason before my mom was born, probably for a job for Grandpa; I don’t know. But we live on the Massachusetts coast, in Marblehead. There are two regular high schools there. I go to the one near the Veteran’s School. I’ve got a group of friends here that are more like brothers. I do have a younger sister, Lila. She’s okay, but she’s not a boy. Me and the guys have all been together since Middle School. And I’ve been dating my girlfriend, Debbie almost all year. We’ve known each other for a long time, but I hadn’t really thought about her that way until recently. She was just another annoying girl to me. Last summer, her family went up to the Cape for a while. When she came back, she was wearing mascara and had grown tits. She’s a year younger than me, but boy, she is really pretty. We almost never fight except when she talks about going up to the tip of the Cape, to
Provincetown with her family in the summer. Her grandparents have an old cottage there. They’re Portuguese, like my family, and lots of longtime Provincetown families were fishermen and whalers way back when. It’s also where all the faggots go. When I say that, she gets pissed off, so I don’t say anything anymore. She’s got some cousin who’s a ‘mo that lives in Truro or someplace on the Cape. I don’t really give a fuck. As long as no guy tries to grab my dick, I don’t really care what they do. But I don’t get it. The first time Debbie let me feel her boobs, I almost shot my load without even touching myself. Jesus. I had to think of some other shit so I wouldn’t cum. You know, like my dog dying or the dead fish that sometimes wash up on shore. That kind of stuff works for me. Debbie still won’t let me go all the way with her. I kinda respect that. But I always carry a rubber in my wallet, just in case she gives in.
Anyways…. Dad. He’s a good guy and I guess a pretty great father. It’s just Mom and me and Lila. If he’s away for work or something, when he comes home and sees Lila, he picks her up like she’s a little girl and swings her around. She pretends not to like it but she always giggles and says, “Dad — I’m 14 now!” “You’ll always be my little girl,” he says, “so deal with it!” He’s not so touchy-touchy with Mom, but I know he loves her. He just doesn’t show that kind of stuff in front of us. But I’ve heard them sometimes when they think I’m asleep. It’s kind of gross to think about, but most of my buddies’ parents have either split up or hate each other. A few weeks back, I came home from football practice and caught them dancing in the kitchen. Dad was singing some old song from the 70’s. Thinking they’re all alone, he was singing loud and funny:
“There’s a girl in this harbor town
And she works layin’ whiskey down
They say, ‘Brandy fetch another round’ She serves them whiskey and wine.
The sailors say, ‘Brandy, you’re a fine girl
What a good wife you would be
Your eyes could steal a sailor from the sea…’”
I forgot to say that Mom’s name is Lorraine Brandy Pereira (that’s her maiden name) Pinto.
Anyways, when they saw me standing in the doorway, they stopped dancing, and Mom put her hands over her cheeks and Dad spun around and said, “what are you looking at, Pete?
Haven’t you ever seen a man and woman dancing before?”
He wasn’t really mad or anything. When Dad gets mad, it’s a silent hurricane. And when that happens, his face turns beet red and he storms out. He never hit me or nothing like that. I once saw him fighting with Mom. He crushed his beer can, walked up so close to her I was afraid he was going to hurt her. But instead, tears filled his eyes and he ran up the stairs and slammed the bedroom door. Mom looked at me and said, “Peter, your Dad just had a bad day.”
But the mood that comes before his yearly disappearing act is really weird. He’ll sit at the kitchen table alone and drink beer. Mom leaves him alone or cooks some pasta or chowder, watching him sideways, without saying anything.
This year, on the day, I was awake when Dad left the house at around 5:30 in the morning. I followed him out to the car and asked if I could come with him. “What are you doing up? Pete go back inside.” Dad said.
“I’m 17, Dad. There’s no school. Why can’t I come with you?”
“Peter Anthony Pinto, get in this house right now,” yelled Mom from the screen door, wearing her pale yellow nightgown, arms wrapped around herself.
So anyways, I was sent home from school by the principal today. Suspended for pushing that little fag’s head in the toilet after gym class. Me and Richie both. It was hilarious. He tried to sneak into the boy’s room but we saw him. So we followed him in. Such a wuss. I thought he was going to cry. We got him between us pushing him back and forth and back and forth, scaring the shit out of him. He didn’t even try to fight. Then we shoved him to the floor and dragged him into the stall and pushed his face in the toilet while he whimpered like a girl.
Mr. Landau, the fucking history teacher came in and caught us. He helped the little wimp up and sent us to the principal’s office.
Dad was really angry at me. I never heard him talk that way before.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” He screamed.
“Calm down, Eddie,” Mom said.
“Brandy, stay out of this, God damn it.” Then he said to me, “I thought I taught you better.
You’re going to apologize to that boy.”
“Dad, he’s just some little prissy girly boy. He had it coming.”
I thought my father was going to explode. I’d never seen him so pissed off. For dunking that kid’s head in the toilet, and also for talking back to him. He got all up in my face and screamed “You are going to say you’re sorry to that kid, God damn it. I don’t want to hear another word about it. Why would you…? I…I…I can’t…”
Dad turned around and left the house, letting the wooden door slam behind him. My mother, who was just standing there, said in a calm voice, “Pete, I’m very disappointed.”
“I know,” I said. “I shouldn’t have done it. But it was all in fun. I promise I won’t touch the kid again.”
“There’s something you need to know,” Mom said. “It’s not really for me to tell, but I’m going to, so you can understand something about your father. Not just why it’s wrong to be bullying some weaker boy. Honestly, I thought we’d taught you better than to do such a childish and mean thing.
She sat down at the kitchen table and put her hands in her lap. “Sit down, Pete.” I sat in the chair across from her.
“I was afraid that either you or Lila might be bullied, but that’s not the case. I didn’t know how your Dad would react if anyone went after either of you.”
“We can take care of ourselves, Mom. And if anyone hassled Lila, I’d kick their ass.”
“When your father was a junior in high school, there was a boy in his class. I don’t know if he was a homo — I mean gay or what — but he played violin and only seemed to have friends that were girls — and from what your dad told me, not the popular girls. Anyway, one day your dad thought it would be funny to grab the kid’s violin. So he did. The boy asked for it back and began to cry. Your father punched the kid in the stomach, took the violin and smashed it on the ground.”
“Did Pop get in trouble?” I asked.
“No,” said my father. He had walked back in the house.
“Ed, I…” my mom started.
“It’s okay, Brandy.” Dad sat at the table, and took my mother’s hand. “Your mom shouldn’t be the one to tell you this. The kid with the violin. Robin. His name was Robin. Even that sounded more like a girl’s name. As far as I was concerned, he had it coming. He wasn’t at school the next day or the day after that. The following Monday, there was an assembly called for the entire student body. We all took seats in the auditorium. Mrs. Adelsohn, the Assistant
Principal, came onto the stage.
“‘One of our fellow students isn’t…. Isn’t coming back to school. Robin Novick.’”
“A few of us started laughing and high-five-ing. He got the message. He’s not welcome here anymore.
“‘Who’s laughing?’ She scanned the auditorium and found me. ‘Was it you?’ Pointing at me, she said, ‘Edward Pinto, see me in my office after this assembly.’
“I didn’t really care. I walked into the Vice Principal’s office and dropped my books, loud.”
“‘Edward,’ she started, ‘I didn’t want to address this in a public forum. I see you aren’t taking this news seriously.’
“She walked around her desk and sat on top of it, hands on either side of her hips, her feet not quite touching the floor. ‘Robin Novick hung himself in his garage last Thursday. His parents are burying their son tomorrow. I can’t prove it, but I have a strong feeling you had something to do with it.’
“I hung my head and looked at the floor.
“She stood. ‘You have nothing to say?’
“No, I had nothing to say.
“She slid off the desk, turned her back and said, ‘Get the hell out of my office.’”
There was a terrible silence between my dad and me. I looked right at my father. He said, “I have had to live with this my whole adult life. I pushed a boy to kill himself. I took a child away from his parents. I’m still waiting for God to punish me. If anything ever happened to you or
Lila, I’d…I don’t know what I’d do.”
“Ed,” Mom said, “God couldn’t punish you any more than you punish yourself.”
“I should be in jail.”
Mom said, “every year, your dad —“
Dad interrupted her. “Brandy, I’d like to talk to my son alone.”
Mom stood, kissed my dad on the cheek, and left the kitchen.
“Tell me about this kid,” Dad said.
“What? I don’t know. He’s really weird. Paints his fingernails. Probably a fag.”
“So tell me what he did to you,” my father asked.
“Nothing, I guess. He’s just some pathetic loser.”
“Do me a favor, Pete. Forget about him for a minute. Think about his mother and father. Think about what it would be like to come home and be told that some student pushed your son’s head in a toilet.”
I started laughing. “Dad, it would serve him right.”
My father stood up, knocking his chair over, more pissed off than I’d ever seen him. I stopped laughing. He scared the crap out of me. He walked around the table and stood over me, his eyes burning. Then he wrapped his arms around me and hugged me tight. He’d never done that in my entire life.
“Once a year, I drive to New Jersey,” he said, “on the anniversary of the day a young man hung himself because of what I did to him when we were in high school. I go to his grave.”
“‘Dad, you don’t know it was because of you…’
“Maybe he killed himself to punish me and anyone else who picked on him. Maybe he did it to escape. I’ll never know. But his parents have to live with knowing that their child is dead.” I steered things back to the kid Richie and I dunked. “But Pop, this kid isn’t normal.”
“Right. He’s weird. So was Robin. So you think he deserved to die? You think you have the right to decide who is weird or normal? Isn’t that up to God? Not me and not you. He’s someone’s son, God damn it! Trust me when I say this to you. Some day, you’ll think about it different. And when you have a son, will you brag about how you humiliated and tormented some ‘weirdo’ to the point where he might consider killing himself?’”
I just stared up at my father.
“So what do you want me to do, Dad?”
“Part of this is on me and your mom,” Dad said. “Listen, Pete. You’re going to leave this kid alone. And any other kid you think doesn’t belong. If you don’t, I swear to God, I’m going to whip your ass with a belt buckle till you can’t sit down for a year. You hear me? You may not get this yet, but you will not bother that boy again, you understand??”
“Alright, okay…. Jesus. I’ll stop…”
The following Saturday morning, my dad woke up at 4:30 in the morning. He came into my room and told me to wash up and get dressed and meet him in the kitchen. We sat and ate a quick breakfast of cold cereal and buttered toast without saying a word. When we finished, we put our dishes in the sink. Then he said, “now get in the car.”
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“To New Jersey. To a cemetery in Union City where a 16 year old boy was buried decades ago after committing suicide. And to see the house where his parents lived. Regular people who buried their teenage child, who they loved — like I love you.”
Andrew has written several short stories (links to published work at www.andrewsarewitz.com) as well as scripts for various media. Mr. Sarewitz is a recipient of the 2021 City Artists Corp Grant for Writing, helping to fund the completion and a reading for a new play based on Andrew’s previously published Creative Nonfiction story of the same title, The Other Side of the Coin. His play, Madame Andrèe, (based on the life of Nancy Wake, the “White Mouse”), garnered First Prize from Stage to Screen New Playwrights series in San Jose, CA, winning the honor of opening the festival in August of 2019. The script for his play Five Men, Four Beds advanced to the Second Round at the 2019 Austin Film Festival Competition and Andrew’s spec script for his sitcom, The White House is a Finalist in the 2019 Pitch Now Screenplay Competition. Mr. Sarewitz also has authored numerous historical and critical artist essays with a primary focus on twentieth century non-conformist art from the former Soviet Union.