My dad, the military man


knox8Growing up with a military father wasn’t always easy.  The old man was a bitter alcoholic who cursed in his sleep and wouldn’t sit in a restaurant if his back faced a window or the door.  Furthermore, it seemed that as soon as I started to make some friends in whatever city we were living in, we’d get moved again to some other place and I’d have to start over.  My mother couldn’t stand it, so she left when I was five.  And my sister ran away when she was 15.  I ended up getting shipped off to live with my aunt while dad did his damndest to drink himself to death.

Needless to say, me and my dad were not very close.  I mean, the guy had me call him, “Sir.”  And he had a wicked left hook that leveled me more times than I care to remember.  He always said I could never take a real punch.

I went to visit him one day when I was 22 and I found him sitting in an easy chair, alone in a dark house, smoking a Marlboro and drinking Old Crowe straight from the bottle.
“Knox,” he said.  “You know the doctors tell me that all this drinking is bad for my cognitive abilities.”.

“You don’t say?” I said.

“They say it’ll affect my memory.  Say that I’ll start forgetting things.”

“They’re probably right, dad,” I said.

He didn’t seem to notice my response.  “But no matter how much I drink, son, the memories won’t go away.  Even in my sleep.”
He looked up at me.  I could tell that he had been crying.  “I still hear the helicopters.  The sound of bullets ripping through the air.  My best friend’s last words.  I remember hookers in foreign cities that I thought I could fall in love with at the time.  We all attached more meaning to sex then.  Life had more immediacy when you truly believe you might be dead next week.  Most of all, though, I remember just feeling scared.”
I was speechless.  Never before had my dad been so candid with me about being at war.

“But next to all these war memories, you know what gets me the most?  I can’t get rid of the memory of your mother.  I can still feel the sun on her skin.  Sometimes, Knox, remembering the good hurts worse.  You’ll see.”

I realized then it was Memorial Day.  He had a yearly ritual where he’d drink himself unconscious in memory of all the things the military had taken from him.  His ability to concentrate; to sleep the night through.  His wife.  His health.  His best friend.  And eventually even his sanity.  His final days were spent in a psych ward, tortured by those memories no amount of whiskey could kill.

So, this Memorial Day, I think of my dad, and all the other moms and dads who served, and I hope the military life didn’t take so much away from them as it did my pops.

So, dad, here’s to you.  You were a bitter son of a bitch and I couldn’t stand your company, and it was miserable living with you all those damn years.

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