Skedaddle (on the volcano)

father and daughter
me and my mini-me

Skedaddle (on the volcano)

I was thrilled. My dad invited me to go snow skiing in Colorado with him for the first time in my life, about three years after the divorce, I must’ve been 9 or 10 years old. On the first day, I was like a little downhill racer, tucking and speeding ahead down the easy slopes and catwalks that made up the Buttermilk Ski Area. It was snowing. I was showing off. My dad seemed entertained but complained about the visibility.

We stopped at the mid-slope bar for lunch. It was never too early for cocktails. That night I slept like a child.

I woke to a darkened room disoriented, unsure where I was. My dad was snoring away on the bed next to mine. As I was using the bathroom I noticed a large daily meds case packed with brightly colored pills. Lots of them. Each day of the coming weekend was packed full. The panic attack I’d experienced that morning stayed with me, below the surface, for the next ten years, until my father succumbed to alcoholism, heart disease, and cancer. I was 19 and a freshman in college and he pleaded with me from his hospital bed, “It’s as if lightning struck me twice in the same year. What have I done, so wrong?” His open heart surgery had flooded his system with new oxygen-rich blood and the dormant cancer cells bloomed in his brain.

I wonder how my dad could’ve chosen his demise over more moments with me, as his son. How, after his first heart attack, he didn’t get clean and sober? How, after his second heart attack, he didn’t consider his downward spiral into darkness and loneliness? And how, in that moment – at ten years old, I understood that my father was sick, that medicines were keeping him alive, putting him to sleep and keeping his pressures and levels within livable tolerances.

He didn’t stop drinking by choice, the chemo took the joy of drinking out of his life. Of course, the sobriety that followed was both a blessing and a curse. In those final months with my father, desperate to make connections and to spend time together, I could tell I was going to be angry at him once this was all over. Once he left this mortal coil I would no longer have a father. I had struggled from middle school on with my father’s drinking. Shakespearean theme: son struggles with father’s drinking. I begged him to get help. I became a child magician and a football and tennis star. I made straight A’s.

“It’s time to hit the slopes, dad.” It’s my daughter, thirty years later. We’re in New Mexico for spring break and the snow looks good.

Read more Short-Short Stories from John.

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