Requiem for a Pepperoni Pizza; Part 2 - September 11, 2007

(Reconditioning Batteries)

During my senior year in high school, I was so busy trying to finish school with good grades, making preparations for college, working as a mattress delivery boy and enjoying the last months of carefree high school living that my phone calls with dad had become a bit staggered. Dad always told me college was for losers. "Screw college, Mikey. You don't need it. You're smart, you'll do fine. I went to college, and you don't see me using my degree at all, do you?"

Before the stroke, on top of being a bookie, my dad sold bulk depilatory wax of a questionable origin to low quality salons for a friend of his. At one point even, my dad was a legitimate businessman. He and my uncle through marriage started and built a small skin care salon business into a rather large franchise around the New England area. When it came time to sell the business off for a big profit, my uncle pulled some shady maneuvers and cut my dad out of the deal entirely. Since then, he held down dozens of strange jobs for varying periods of time and, despite a degree in mathematics, never rejoined the world of legitimate business.

It was a few days before Christmas when I got a phone call from Dad.

"Hey there, Mickey MacDoogle. How are ya?"

"I'm good, Dad. I'm really good. Getting ready for Christmas break."

"You coming to see your old man?"

"Of course, Dad! Do I get to do snow donuts with you in the wheelchair?"

"Go ahead and bash my legs into the wall for all I care. I can't feel them anyway. Listen, I've got something very important to ask you, and I want to know that you can come through for me."

"Um, sure. What do you need, Dad?"

"Look, Mikey. I'm not getting any better. I'm not going to be able to walk ever again, and I'm starting to get gangrene in my leg. The doctors are going to have to start hacking pieces off of me. I can't live like this, Mikey. I just can't."

It was at that moment I realized that I was being kept in the dark about Dad's true condition. I was always the last person to hear bad news about anything. Being the youngest in the family, I only had my mom or dad to rely on for information about what was going on, and bad news was something that I would get last, if at all. There were times that I would hear about family members dying weeks, sometimes months after they actually died. It was just my mom's way of protecting me from the harshness of reality, I suppose. As for why my dad never mentioned anything before that point; he never complained. Not about anything. I remember one time, when my sister and I were staying at my dad's dingy apartment in a very bad West Springfield neighborhood, he had a bad tooth and decided to pull it out himself rather than go to the dentist. Dad never wanted anyone to feel bad for him, and that was why I was so nervous about what he was saying to me.

"What about physical therapy? You're doing so well. Don't get down on yourself. You can totally do this, Dad." I started thinking about those long trips in the Caprice Classic and what Dad would tell my sister and I about how he wanted to go out. Waves of anxiety pangs began beating against my chest.

"I can't, my boy. I've hit a wall with the therapy, there's not much more they can do with me. They want to move me into a nursing home, Mikey. A nursing home. I can't do it." Dad's voice started to sound more muffled than usual.

"Dad, I...I don't..." I didn't know what to say. Everyone was telling me that Dad was doing just fine, and he wasn't. Dad wasn't fine at all.

"I want you to go to your Uncle John's house and get a gun, and I want you to bring that gun here. I need you to help me end this, Mikey."

Thirty seconds into the conversation, my father had asked me to euthanize him. My stomach hit the floor and my eyes welled up. I felt a lump in my throat and I could barely breathe. I was clawing at the air for something to say; anything to say. I knew how hard it was for him to live like he had been living, but I had no idea that he was in so much despair that he needed it all to end, and now my dad wasn't just telling me that he wanted to die, but he wanted me to facilitate his death. I knew that Uncle John didn't have a gun, and even if he did, he wouldn't give it to me for any reason, let alone to stop my dad from existing.

"Dad, I...I can't...I can't do that, Dad. You don't really mean this." The words struggled out of my mouth.

Dad's voice started to raise. "Michael, I really mean this. I need to know that I can count on you."

"No, Dad. You can't. I won't do this, and I can't believe that you want to do this; that you would want me to do this. Why would you ask me to do this?!" I slowly started going from scared to angry as the conversation continued.

How dare he make me believe in him when he was just going to give up and check out like that? How dare he ask me to fucking kill my own father? Does he have any God damn regard for my well being?! Doesn't he fucking care about how irreversibly fucked, legally and psychologically, that I would be if I ever went through with something like that? Fuck him.

Tears were streaming down my face and staining my shirt.

"I know this is a big thing for me to ask you, Mikey, and I know that you are the only person that I can ask to do this."

"Dad, no. Just...no. I can't do this, and I can't talk about this with you anymore. You are tearing me apart. I can't do this. I have to go, Dad. I just have to go right now."

"Wait, Mikey..."

I hung up the phone, ran upstairs, stripped out of all of my clothes and jumped into the shower so I could cry without my mom hearing me. I didn't know whether or not I should tell someone about what my dad had said to me. I didn't want him to be in pain, but I figured if he really wanted to do it, he would do it no matter what anybody said or did to stop him. I laid in the fetal position in the shower for some time until the hot water cascading over me made me overheat and feel sick.

I spent the next month waiting for something to happen. I never told anyone about the conversation my dad and I had, partly because I didn't want the family to worry about him any more than they already were, but mostly because I was scared that he would hate me for making people pity him. Dad never ended up going through with it, though. I'm not sure if it was because he wasn't strong enough to pull the trigger or if he ended up feeling like life might have been worth living for a little longer, but whatever it was kept him from killing himself, and it kept me in suspense to the point that I started to develop health problems. I began to weather bouts of insomnia and crippling headaches, and I suffered knifing pains in my chest and gut which would later be diagnosed as stomach and esophageal ulcers. The guilt and anxiety was literally eating me apart.

As it turned out, all of Dad's predictions from that fateful phone call came true. The staff told him that he couldn't stay if he wasn't going to concentrate on physical therapy. A month later, my dad was moved to a seedy assisted living apartment building in western Massachusetts. Nurses came in to wash him and take his vitals from time to time, but I never did. I stopped calling my dad after that phone call a month prior. He called and left messages for me at home all the time, but I refused to answer any of them. Part of me was furious at him for giving up on life, and part of me was ashamed of myself for giving up on him. I just couldn't focus on myself and my dad at the same time.

Luckily for my dad, he had an unending supply of friends who visited him on a daily basis. Also luckily for my dad, his apartment was situated directly above a disgustingly unkempt Polish vet's bar into which those same friends would wheel him and get him drunk.

My Uncle John set my dad up with his very first computer and a dial up connection in that dingy apartment so he could keep in touch with the world. My dad set himself up with an email address and an AIM screen name, and, with a little snooping, found out all of my information. I started getting random emails and instant messages from him all the time, and I responded to none of them. I couldn't imagine how long it took my dad to type everything out with one hand. He had regular contact with the rest of my family via the Internet, and he would spend his days cooped up in his little handicapped dungeon hunting, pecking and forwarding around pictures of his grandchildren.

Nobody else had a problem with Dad except for me. The way my brothers and sisters saw it, Dad's choice to stop trying was his own, and we just had to accept him for who he was. The way I saw it, Dad stopped trying not when he was in physical therapy, but when he was married to Mom. He refused to put the bottle down to save his marriage. He had a lifetime to get his shit together before he got to that point, but he said fuck marriage, fuck responsibility, and he gave up right then and there. My dad had let me down from Jump Street, and forgiving or forgetting were just not in my bloodstream at that age.

A couple years later, I left school and started working at a brokerage in my hometown of Portsmouth, New Hampshire as a temporary coffee and bagel boy for the big money energy traders in the back of the building. My half-sister happened to be the branch manager at the time, and she managed to squeak me into a little role there in the hopes that I would prove myself and move up the ladder. I did pretty well; going from a useless joke of a position to Operations Manager in the span of a couple years. Working in a crazy, fast-paced atmosphere turned out to be really good for me. I could focus all of my energy on the job, which helped me block out my issues with my dad and kept me out of trouble. I worked 70+ hours a week, sometimes coming in at midnight and not leaving until the sun went down the next day. I studied and crammed and busted my ass until I literally felt ill by the time I came home every night. I worked like that job was my only chance to make it; to not become my father. I was determined to be nothing like him.

One day when I was on a conference call with one of our more important institutional clients and a floor broker from the heating oil pit on the NYMEX, my sister walked into our office and slid a note onto my desk in front of me. I picked it up.

Mike, your dad just died. Meet me in the foyer.

I walked out of the office and into the foyer, where my sister was waiting for me with puffy, red eyes and tears sending makeup down the sides of her face. We didn't share a father, but she spent a lot of time with my dad growing up and she always liked him a lot. My sister told me that my dad died in his sleep and it was a very peaceful way to go. She gave me a hug, told me to go home immediately and wait for a call from my mom. I grabbed my coat and headed out the door. As soon as I crossed the street, the reality of the news caved my soul in like an ethereal sledgehammer. I crumbled to my knees on the sidewalk, unable to breathe or speak; the guilt was already tearing me into shreds. The tears started to come, and I beat the frozen sidewalk with all of my strength while repeating over and over again, "What have I done? What have I done?!"

It's been four years, and I have never forgiven myself for not making things cool with my dad before he died. The guilt I feel on a daily basis when I think about how foolish I was for not making the most of what little time I had left with him has turned me into what many people would call a crude and awful person. I lash out at others for no reason. I refuse to let myself succeed at anything because subconsciously I don't believe that I really deserve it. The bulk of my family won't speak to me anymore and a large chunk of what's left I have all but abandoned. I can't hold a job down to save my life, there is rarely a day that I leave the house giving a shit about what I look like, and I have let many, many great people in my life slip through the cracks because most of the time I can not stand the broken, withered husk of a human being that I have become. I do get better as time goes on, and the only way that I am able to repair myself is to remember my dad not for the wasteful, irresponsible things he did during his life, but to remember him as he is pictured below; a jolly, silly, friendly, goofy, loving, fatherly pepperoni pizza.

Posted by KungFu Mike at 5:20 PM

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I haven't been that moved by anything for a long time.

Your father would be proud of you, I'm certain.

Posted by: Matt at September 12, 2007 08:42 AM

That such a depth of emotion can come from someone with such a wealth of humor is incredible. You punch in the gut with this story and I just hope the telling of it holds some healing power for you.

Posted by: Anonymous at September 12, 2007 10:02 AM

The most emotional blog entry I've read on any site for as far back as I can remember. It's nice to see your more realistic side, not just the drunken (yet funny) side of you.

Posted by: Paul at September 12, 2007 11:38 AM

you are really good. please keep writing.

Posted by: Todd at September 12, 2007 11:44 AM


Posted by: CD at September 12, 2007 11:47 AM

Your honesty and openness really tug at my heart strings. It's incredibly moving. I've been aware how humorous you are for a bit now. And not to say that I didn't think you had a soul, but this right here leaves me with no reasonable doubt.

Posted by: Euphonious at September 12, 2007 12:16 PM

You did indeed fuck that one up. The good news is that you admit it. You're a good man who did a dumb thing. Reminds me of somebody I know. Oh yeah, me. Beautifully written, as per usual.

Posted by: Chris Elliott at September 12, 2007 12:24 PM

wow. i am impressed. it's such a change of pace to see you write like this. but you've got it, keep it up, your father would be proud.

Posted by: sheylala at September 12, 2007 03:25 PM

Its Dad's birthday today....appropriate I suppose.

Your sister's both love you and always will.

As you grow older, you will understand the hideous imperfections of each and every human, starting with yourself.

We are all fuck ups in this world, Mikey. But we need to love eachother through it all.

Stop using your guilt as an excuse to be a fuck up. Thats exactly what Dad did....

Posted by: genevieve at September 12, 2007 07:03 PM

brilliant. Loved it. Well written. Bravo!

Posted by: Soren at September 13, 2007 07:13 AM

Jesus Mike. This is the first time that I read one of your posts and actually saw you as a human. Most of your stories are great, and have a heavy under tone of comedy. Where as this story explains everything in a completely different manor.

I have figured out that everyone that I know has had that one point in their life where everything went tits up. Some can get over it, others can't. I think by you doing this column its your way of getting over things.

good luck man, it will all work out.

Posted by: Putter at September 13, 2007 08:45 AM

Reminds me of that story about Ethan, even though this one here didn't make me cry as much. I've always wondered when you'd dig up the next corpse from your backyard... But, to quote one of my favorite high school teachers: Blood, shit and diremption is what makes the true philosopher. And the best comedian as well, apparently.

Posted by: Eva at September 13, 2007 09:27 AM

Wow. That's all I can say.

Posted by: at September 13, 2007 12:45 PM

Mike. You moved away from him because you didn't know how to deal with it. I've done the same. But at least you've had the courage to post it for everyone to see.

You're an inspiration.

And he knows how you feel. Even if you don't.

Keep up your writing, I hope it helps.

Posted by: Mike H. at September 13, 2007 07:50 PM

Mike I really feel ya on this story man. I know what its like to not have closure. And the way you describe yourself is also like me alot of the time.
Very inspiring man.
I know how writting helps.
Keep it up.

Posted by: Walkie at September 13, 2007 11:19 PM

You may think you are getting better but you are wrong. You are like your dad. You work and work to change things, but really there is no hope. He never recovered from his stroke, he just found some kind of sick contentment hoveled up in a home with a PC.

You need to do for yourself what you couldn't do for your dad. Kill yourself. Kill yourself and finally be at peace.

What is really more cowardly? Hating life so much that you kill yourself, or hating life but being too wimpy to do anything about it? Inactivity is not better than quitting, it is even more pathetic - and you know that.

Posted by: Don't think about it - do it. at September 14, 2007 04:02 PM

Hey, fuck you for making me cry about my dad. Not your fault, but, shit. At least you weren't the one that found him. Honestly, I hide how fucked up I am inside every day, and it never comes out, unless I am near blacked out drunk, and something reminds me of him. FUck FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK. F-U-C-K!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by: Anonymous at September 14, 2007 09:08 PM

Man, that was fucking brilliant. One of the most moving pieces of writing I've ever read.

Posted by: Alex at September 15, 2007 12:23 AM

Hey Mike, Sorry to hear such a sad story. The best thing about the guy next to you is he has an even more fucked up story then you. Dont feel alone, and if it makes you feel any better, I blocked my dad out ten years ago. Makes one think

Posted by: Tom Mack at September 18, 2007 07:48 PM

This made me cry...
One of the best entries in all of Rudius Media

Posted by: Juan at September 18, 2007 09:07 PM

Mike, I've been a long time reader, but have never left a comment before. The reason I am leaving a comment now is to say thank you.

My father died two weeks ago. I hadn't seen him in 5 years. He would always ask me to come and visit him (I live in Oregon, he in Tennessee)and I would always tell him that I would when I had the time. The truth is I never made the time. We were estranged for 10 years and had just barely started to talk again.

Like you, I didn't even get to say goodbye before he passed. I have been guilty because of it. As ridiculous as it sounds, reading this made me feel like I wasn't alone in this and that's why I want to say thank you.

PS - I lived in Portsmouth for a few years. It was great. I loved it there. My sister graduated from Portsmouth High. The year she graduated, the school song was Guns & Roses's "Welcome to the Jungle". That school was so fucked up.

Posted by: Sean at September 20, 2007 04:57 PM

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