I have too little context, and too few memories, to write about my father with the depth and accuracy I would like. He moved out of our house when I was six, and while there were stretches of a year or more when he was more present, he was mostly on the periphery. I knew of him more than I knew him. He lived in at least two places I never visited, and he spent time in a rundown hotel in Chelsea–and not the glamorous Chelsea of New York, but the beaten-down Chelsea outside of Boston.
I live eight miles from where I grew up and a ten-minute drive from where my father lived when he died and I was 21 and away at college. He was living in an apartment complex that I pass every day I drive into a work–an unattractive, faux-Spanish-style set of buildings. I try to not look in its direction. On my evening commute, I sometimes get off the highway a couple of exits early to avoid traffic, and I pass by it from the other side. It looks taller, and more foreboding. A half-mile later I pass Club 24. I don’t know everything about the place, but I know it is for alcoholics, hosts meetings, and played a role in my father’s life. One summer he was on a softball team, and I inherited a shimmering green and gold shirt from him, and a matching hat. I wore the shirt constantly.
The picture here is from Christmas of 1975. I would have been 16, my dad would have been 49. It was at my grandmom’s. If memory serves me, he was between his second and third marriages. I doubt he was sober, but maybe he was. He would have been working–or would soon be working–at Triangle, Inc., also a short drive from my home, and a center for disabled children and adults. I understand he did great work there, but I don’t know.
This may well have been the last time I saw my father. I know he didn’t come to my high school graduation, and I know I never saw him again once I started college. Somewhere in that time, he married again, and I remember meeting his wife and two stepchildren, also at my grandmom’s, but he wasn’t there that day. He might have been tying one on.
I spoke to my dad once when I was in college. It was my first semester as a freshman, and I wasn’t managing my money well. I had only signed up for 15 meals a week, and I wasn’t going home on the weekends. I was starving all the time. So I called him, asked him for some money. It was a quick call. I had one of my buddies, Erick, standing with me for moral support. We agreed on $40, and he asked me if he would see me again. I said yes, but I knew it wasn’t really up to me. He had known for years where to find me. I wasn’t going anywhere.