“When you were born, we still couldn’t think of a name for you.”
Nameless for a few hours, I did whatever babies do while my Dad and Mom eventually came to a conclusion, together, that I should be called Phillip. They later, unofficially, removed the second L. In hindsight, this explains a lot of my teachers misspelling my name; the official transcript must have had two Ls.
My Dad and I had an interesting relationship from the moment I was born. There was a time, the story goes, where I wouldn’t stop crying. Dad checked and changed the diaper. He fed me, or tried. He tried bouncing, burping, the whole shebang, and nothing worked. Fed up, he put me in a jolly jumper to tucker myself out, sat in the other room, and put on some records.
I was out within 15 or so minutes.
The stairs weren’t entirely uncomfortable, but I was getting tired of sitting on them waiting for my parents to all get out of bed. Christmas was the best; lots of presents, and Christmas milk, and awesome food… plus, Dad and everyone would get oysters!
I loved having Oysters with Dad.
With a creak, the door of the bedroom cracked open to show a bleary eyed pair of parents shuffling to the stairs.
“Why are you sitting on the stairs, Famous Philip?”
“Waiting for you! Presents!” I grinned.
My brothers and I got a wicked sick Batcave, and the action figures were getting a lot of attention that day.
Dust had gathered on the Batcave. It had been awhile since we last took it off the shelf. I passed it by with indifference on my way to the basement. I hadn’t seen Dad yet today.
The stairway down was dark. I hated and feared the dark, so I crept down carefully, flicking light switches from as far away as I could so I could stay in the light. Once I got to the bottom, the sound of Dad’s electric shaver was loud enough to wake the dead.
I opened the door.
“Good morning Famous Philip.” He kept shaving, his focus clearly on making sure he got all the rough patches without missing a one.
“Can I shave?” He laughed, and propped me up on the sink, and gave me a shave.
The trimmer tickled my face, and I laughed. Dad smiled. It wasn’t often I saw him smile since he and Mom stopped getting along, but he always smiled around my brothers and me.
Trees flashed by, punctuating the grey outside the car as we sped to the cottage.
Dad was explaining what was happening, how often we could see him and stuff. While driving, he started explaining how Mom wanted us to see him every second weekend.
My furrowed face grumped in the front seat, trying to puzzle out why Mom would want that. “That doesn’t seem fair.” 10 year old me was very interested in fairness; having two brothers has that effect on a boy.
He nodded. “Neither do I, Philip. I love my sons; if I could, I’d want to see you all the time. Now, you should love your Mother, always; she’s the only one you’re going to get, and I’m the only Dad you’re going to get. But…”
A flash of blue circled on the note pad as Dad made a pie graph, something I’d learned about not too long ago, so I could read it. Half of the circle was being sketched in blue. One side was Mom, the other dad. 50/50. Week on week off, he explained.
“That’s a lot more fair,” I judged. Dad smiled.
We hauled firewood from below the cottage, hand bombing the bits from one brother to the next. Julian was in the deepest; he was small enough to fit without banging his head all the time. I was in the hole, taking from Julian and passing it on to Sebastien, who would then run it inside the building and stack it. Dad was inside, correcting Seb’s mistakes and lighting the fires, getting the house warmed up. In the mean time, the cold had permeated my gloves, and my fingers hurt a bit. It didn’t matter much though, we were close to getting the wood we needed for the next couple of days.
“Philip, do you have any homework this weekend?” Dad’s voice was clear through the house.
“Nope, did it while I was in school.”
“You telling the truth? I have to know I can trust you.” His voice betrayed his distrust. Once bitten, twice shy and all that.
“Trust me Dad, I’m not lying. I don’t have homework.” I lied.
I sat crying in the back of Mom’s car, her friend Brigitte in the front with her. Both were asking for details of some kind. What happened?
Sobbing, I told them how I didn’t do my math homework for my tutor, and after trying to squeeze out of it all day I had gotten caught. Dad was furious. He threw a dictionary across the room, and told me to leave.
One month. It had been a month since the last time I lied about my homework, but it wasn’t enough. Dad had kicked me out to Mom’s house.
His voice rang in my head. “If you can’t tell me the truth, then get out! If I can’t trust you anymore, and I love you, and this…” he left the room, the sound of heavy footfalls going upstairs. Sebastien helped me call mom and get me picked up. I don’t know what Julian did.
I cried until Mom got there, and sobbed some more.
The house was dead silent. None of the lights were on, save for a faint glow near the red room at the front of the house. I took off my snow-slogged shoes, leaving them in the mudroom. My socks padded the floor, the wooden floor creaking as I passed through the dinning and piano/reception hall. The dark stillness of the house was like a heavy blanket, smothering all the colours, turning them into a lifeless still-brown.
The door to the red room swung open on semi-dry hinges. The glow of white outside was stuck at the window opposite the door, the light of day unable to pierce the perma-gloam inside. The sofa nearest the door was occupied; someone lay there, wrapped in several blankets.
Drifting past the table, I sat on an empty section of sofa near him. He had visibly lost weight, but not gained any muscle. Stress and misery had robbed him of his demeanor, his joyful and bright twinkling eyes which now sat on dark beds themselves. He stared at the window, but couldn’t see past the darkness.
I gently placed my hand in his, and squeezed. As if breaking a spell, his eyes focused and turned on mine. No one spoke.
He squeezed back, the crack of a smile touching his eyes.
An hour later, I left his sleeping frame on the sofa and embraced the bitter cold outdoors as it bit into my face.
Intro to Western Philosophy. Not a bad class, not at all, but the best part was being able to see the one girl in the back every day. I’d never talk to her (and I never did) but she was always a highpoint in my day without meaning to be. I worried about whether that made me normal, a monster, or both.
My phone rang. Dad.
As we spoke about my school and whether I was doing the work, I kept searching in the Sleven for a snack. I stopped mid sentence as I found a tin of oysters. I couldn’t help but smile.
“Philip, are you still there?” Dad was worried we had cut out, again, since he was driving in hilly areas.
“No, no, I’m still here Dad. It’s just… remember how we used to get oysters?”
“Sure thing, Famous Philip.”
The hall broke up in elated cheers as the ceremony came to an end. By contrast, I stood up, stretched, and sighed in relief. Those chairs sucked, but I was glad I got through the ceremony. Graduation isn’t so much a feeling of suddenly being spectacular, but a slow and satisfying stretch after hours of sitting.
I walked to the end of the pathway and saw Dad. He had the biggest smile.
“Sorry Dad, I forgot to shave. I know I should have.”
“No, no. The beard suits you, just…” he paused to collect his thoughts. “Just make sure you keep it clean, mister teacher.”
“Whatever Dad. Look at you, you scruffy bastard. You look good!”
Chuckling, he brought me into a hug. It had been a lot of effort, for him especially. Full professional degrees don’t come cheap, particularly when they take 7 years of secondary schooling to achieve. I worked over the year, sort of, and worked over the summer in a kaleidoscope of jobs that never really paid as much as I would have liked. School would have been impossible without his help. Not to mention all the times he moved me, or lent me the car; the times when he gave me needed advice, or an instrument with which to do a music degree. I owed him everything.
“Thanks Dad,” was all I could manage.