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When the world stopped functioning at the beginning of 2020 it was impossible to imagine how the following months would unfold, whether the confinement we’d be subjected to would last at most one month as the government said -there was no one to believe it- or if, as the general public guessed we would at least be at home for several months adapting to the “new normality”. The future pointed in uncertain directions, more than it already does, and the fear of the virus was not only linked to the health aspect but also to the economic one, theoretically everything stopped except the minimum to subsist. But at home we were relatively calm, our family was small: there were no grandparents in nursing homes to worry about or overweight cousins who, if they “caught” the virus would end up in the ICU intubated due to pneumonia or a thousand other possible symptoms…
Mom had passed away six years ago, and the relationship with that part of the family is practically non-existent, only conditioned by the annual “happy new year” messages through WhatsApp, so simple and formal that they seem more like the announcement of a funeral than the celebration of the passage from one life to another that is supposed to be the cycle of three hundred and sixty something days…. The reality was that if something had happened to someone they wouldn’t call to tell us about it, a sad situation that’d be no different if mom was still alive since she was the maximum exponent of aversion towards her own family that for reasons she never told me existed… And now it’s too late to understand -we never talk about these things with dad, or rather there’s no courage to do so-.
On my father’s side I only know my uncle, a happily married and childless fifty-something guy with such a frail appearance that it’s surprising that he has been working in construction for almost thirty years moving weights -or so he says he does-, which I reiterate seems unthinkable with tanned arms as wide as a broomstick and clear blue visible veins about to burst. If I didn’t know better I’d think he only eats rice once a week and is abused by his wife who has him drinking from a tube like a hamster to be this skeletal… But the counted weekends they show up in our garden with trays full of barbecued meat and vegetables point to the contrary: the man eats like a bottomless pit, and her wife is so calm and kind that you would like to be in medieval times to defend like a knight the honor of such a lady, and accompany her on her adventures. The story is quite consistent because Lucy, her name, works in an NGO as coordinator of all type of projects, the last one related to disabled’s due to traffic accidents, a subject that she did not want to go into detail because she clearly saw the reaction from dad and I; still grieving after the years that have passed since “the boss” -that’s how we called mom because of her position in the family pyramid- lost her life because a drunk asshole ran a red light… There’s only one word now that I’m old enough to understand something about life, and that’s that these things are a bitch.
All in all, the relationship with Jack and Lucy has never escalated beyond occasional dinners and occasional birthday celebrations: they’ve never come to see me at a school piano recital -which now that I think about it I’m grateful for, my hands were shacky enough with the auditorium half full of unknown parents and schoolmates-; nor at the athletics championships -a little more encouragement here would’ve done me good, maybe then I would’ve managed to overcome my limits-… And I’ve never been to their house or taken a trip together as families are supposed to do. In this sense I think we are quite peculiar, our family I mean, but I don’t think too much of it. Things are the way they are. Besides, I suspect there’s also some untold story of disputes between Dad and my uncle, relationships I don’t want to know about. Filling one’s mind with dramas takes up precious space.
In the living room at home with the TV on the 24h channel but without being too attentive I heard from behind the sound of a door opening, which meant that Dad had come home from work. I moved the mouse to the right end of the laptop screen in front of me so I could see the specific time, almost nine o’clock, a little later than usual for him but not completely out of the ordinary. In theory today, Thursday, was his last day of “face-to-face” work since the travel agency he manages had decided to telework starting tomorrow -which in reality was practically a complete stop of the activity since now with Covid there were no trips-. I knew Dad was under a lot of stress, the virus had stopped everything in relation to travel (especially when his agency’s specialty is Europe), and he was having to make some tough decisions; organizing himself and his company in ways he’d never done before. He was having a hard time. I hadn’t seen him like this since Mom’s death, and that was a very dark time kaçak iddaa for both of us that’s best not to remember.
Dad had explained to me while we were having dinner a couple of days ago that we would follow the government’s guidelines and confine ourselves completely starting Friday, tomorrow, only going outside to go grocery shopping and to walk the dog; at least until the situation started to calm down with Covid -which we didn’t know at the time would take so long-.
Our dog, Arlo, is a Portuguese Spaniel that we rescued what’ll be three years ago the next August. I perfectly remember the night I was coming back from practice and found him wandering in front of the house, painfully dragging himself from exhaustion. I approached very slowly to see if I recognized him, he could be from the neighborhood and had run away, but he didn’t look familiar; and his lack of collar and general dirtiness indicated to me that he was an abandoned dog that by appearance would not be more than one or two years old -I don’t study veterinary science or anything like that, but I became quite interested in dogs after I was bitten on my left arm and when I was ten years old by an irascible Husky from the neighborhood-. I still have the scars from that assault, slight but visible especially when summer comes and my skin gets a little tanner than its usual almost snow white tone, which highlights the rough teeth marks on my abdomen and arm. Honestly, I’m half grateful for that event as it’s always a curious fact about oneself that more than once has served me to try to flirt, with more or less success.
With the respect I have for dogs but with a lot of warmth I gained the trust of the then stray Arlo by sharing some of the sandwich I’d left over from the day, and without thinking too much about it I slowly led him to the garden at home where Dad, who was reading a book, was flabbergasted.
The rest of the story consisted of difficult and hectic trips to the vet, hanging posters to see if he belonged to someone in the area and had really escaped, and finally him becoming the newest member of the family; a source of joy and happiness for both of us. Arlo is a magnificent dog at home that the only thing he needs (apart from food and water) is to walk three times a day to tire him out, as the vet explained that this breed is a very calm one and that just needs a bit of activity to be healthy, and although never aggressive they can be a bit of a nuisance; constantly at your feet, licking your legs so much that you doubt if you’ve transformed into an ice cream. Since I found him, and even though I know Dad loves the dog, we decided that Arlo would be my complete responsibility. A test to see if I am capable of taking care of important things, and a dog is very much so.
That same night we also discussed the incompetence of our politicians and the terms of our confinement: no visits, no friends, no girlfriend (which surprised me and made us both laugh loudly because I didn’t know how Dad had found out that I had recently started dating Rachel, who he doesn’t even know. We didn’t talk about it at the time, but I know it was left as a conversation for another time); and no meetings even in a park… Nothing. We would be responsible citizens until we saw how things evolved. Thank God we’d been foresighted and had already got hold of masks and done the shopping to last at least a couple of weeks, filling the pantry with various canned goods and the freezer with frozen vegetables, meat and fish, and plenty of fresh food in the fridge.
We also talked about more serious things like work. Dad said he wasn’t particularly scared about the economic problems; the company had a strong cushion to withstand a period without income… And he wasn’t worried about our own situation either, according to him we also had reserves to keep us going even if there was no money coming into the account anymore, which made me think about what social class exactly our dysfunctional family duo fits into. If I am not mistaken, we are the maximum representation of the middle class: with enough economic power to get by but no luxuries like those who no longer think it’s better to buy milk ten cents cheaper, with a decent house on the outskirts of town, a current car of our own (a Subaru at least four years old, plus an old Toyota Camry I bought when I turned eighteen with the money I saved throughout my life, plus some help from Dad), and the ability to go on vacation every year for at least two weeks, usually abroad as Dad loves to travel.
But our comfort was not the same for all of Dad’s employees, his family outside of me. There were single mothers, families expecting a child; simple-normal people who needed the salary to pay the rent, the mortgage, or the car… Situations of life itself, but for which he felt completely responsible. I had always seen my father as just that, a diligent, conscientious person; and somewhat cold because of his shyness -which I inherited-, but kaçak bahis with an easy and simple humor (it wasn’t hard to make him smile). And this stop from work because of Covid I could see that it distressed Dad incredibly, to the point of making him look like someone else. The last few weeks since the Covid had flooded the headlines his personality had progressively changed, which affected our relationship at home: he was tougher and more apathetic, a less funny Gordon Ramsey… Any mistake was a problem that ended in yelling on his part, and typical dad comments like: “I always have to do everything myself”, “this is my house and you are going to answer me with the respect you owe me”, or “as long as you are still under my roof you will do what I say”… In short, phrases that we have all heard thousands of times and have rehearsed their answers at night when we were teenagers, but this time I did not let my still hormonal mind be affected, I knew the stress and the burden my father suffered so I just took his shouts and apologized, of everything and at all times.
I knew that now I had to be his figurative punching bag-even though and there is a physical one hanging in the garage-. Dad was overwhelmed, worried and tired with the job, with the Covid, with the situation in general; and a recent twenty-something year old like me is already beginning to understand the complexity of the human character and its needs, so I bit my tongue every time it crossed my mind to answer back and played the good boy -which I am-.
One night in the early hours of the morning, without knowing the exact time but I’m sure it was after two o’clock, I went down to the kitchen to get some water and found him sitting at the dining room table in front of the computer looking at the screen twisting an indistinguishable colored pen in the almost darkness, thinking about something, with hundreds of papers spread out in an order only understandable to him… The image of that night made me wonder if I looked the same when I was trying to study for my final exams at the university, an empathy that motivated even more my desire to help -after all I was practically on vacation with online classes since a few days ago-. Doing class in front of the computer was an obligatory situation but in my opinion completely useless, it was impossible to concentrate; so my studies were based solely on reading manuals.
After such an image that would have no problem to be in an art exhibition in some gallery with an obvious title like “the modern man” I decided to try to do my best to relieve his burdens, doing myself each and every household chore, from cooking to ironing -even if some of them I was not particularly good at-. Just as a curiosity regarding the living room table, we recently bought it at IKEA after I returned early from a college party one day to find the old one broken, with the two legs closest to the entrance of the house completely broken. According to a sweaty dad, he had sat down to answer a phone call and it had snapped just like that.
I owe a lot to Dad, James being a special person not only because he is my father but because I like him as a human being -something I have learned recently-. There are people you like and people you dislike, and that doesn’t mean that because they are one or the other they are better or worse people as life is full of grays. Dad has always taken care of me, especially after mom’s death, balancing being the only bread winner in the house with his roles of being involved in my life; maintaining a good brotherly closeness and respect at the same time, the perfect definition of a role model. I know he also has flaws that I’d rather not talk about, we all have them, but they can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Dad is… a father boss. Exact situation at work where he had confessed to me that they had taken the decision to continue paying the salaries of their employees with a slight reduction, and passing to perform all the staff administrative tasks and others to try to clean up the company and put everything in complete order for when the world would be world again.
In short, I love my father, although I have never told him so.
This dreaded and awaited phrase that takes your breath away, an I love you heard in a series or movie always results in dad telling the same anecdote; the story of how he got to where he is now. It turns out that he finished his journalism degree at twenty-two and wanted to start working right away in what he had studied, explaining with some embarrassment how he then had a facility for writing and synthesis that was praised by more than one professor, he felt special, and he had an incalculable desire to tell many stories. He had finished his university studies with good results and, like all graduates, he wanted to take on the world, with big dreams of being a correspondent in some succulent place like Brussels, Moscow, Tokyo, New York or Washington itself… He always repeated that illegal bahis he knew it would take time to achieve those goals, but he was willing to start working in anything related to journalism to gain experience and from there move up the ladder. But then I happened.
As life would have it – I’ve never asked if it was a failure with the condom, the pill, or that they just didn’t think of birth control – his girlfriend of the moment and my mother, Brooke, got pregnant. It was a blow that knocked him off his feet and knocked him off his fantasy horse. Things got serious very quickly. It was a time of a more open environment, the two thousand, but their families were still quite conservative and abortion was not an option, with parental pressure to get married and have me in wedlock. Anyway, family troubles…
Thus, the two recent graduates, one in journalism and the other in biology, found that they were going to have a child together and all that it entailed; without even being boyfriend and girlfriend, just friends with certain privileges -this I had been told, the two lovebirds giggling like teenagers after a date at the movies and a joke that only the two of them know-. I knew they were brought together by the circumstances they lived through, but they grew to love each other very much, turning out to be two soul mates tragically separated too soon. There was a crystalline love reflected in their eyes, warm gazes that make up a set of special memories that I replay like a grated record in my mind; wishing to have with a girl the same bond (and I think I’m heading in the right direction as I’ve never been as happy as I’ve been since I’ve been with Rachel). But going back to the previous story, at that time neither of us had a stable job, or a house or an apartment of our own, or anything… They were just a couple of crazy young people who were going to be parents overnight.
And that was how Dad began to throw resumes like a desperate man, trying to get a job in his field, but without looking too much at the conditions, the important thing was to get a job: if he had to work marathon days without receiving extras he was willing to do it, if he had to lick the bosses’ asses to be hired he was willing to do it, if he had to drive hours to get to work he would do it, he was willing to do anything. But Lady Luck had other ideas.
None of the interviews he went to related to journalism came to fruition, so walking home one night after another failed interview he had already made up his mind to look for a job in anything, even if it wasn’t journalism: if he had to wait tables or wash dishes to start putting something in the account, he had to do it; and at the same time he would keep looking for something more succulent. When Dad told this part he would always pause dramatically to let me know that it was a tough situation, but the effect lost its force each time he repeated the story – and he did it quite often.
That same night when he made the decision to find any job, while waiting at a traffic light he saw a man on the other side of the zebra crossing in front of him steal a woman’s backpack, which was hanging only on her right arm. She fell to the ground completely disoriented, and Dad, who had witnessed the scene firsthand, then activated his newly acquired paternal powers and for some reason that he still says he doesn’t know today, began to chase the thief as fast as the suit and moccasins he was wearing would allow him to do so. With a wide grin he tells that he felt an impulse that ran through his whole body, as if his nervous system caught fire and forced him without even the slightest second of reasoning to chase that “bad guy”. Dad the superhero. The incident ended with my father tackling the thief in the purest American soccer style -a sport he has never practiced, playing volleyball in his youth taking advantage of his more than impressive height of six feet six inches-, and immobilizing the subject until a policeman turning the corner came across the two men in such a curious position.
It turned out that the lady, now in her forties, was super grateful because in her backpack she had some very important documents from the inheritance left to her by her recently deceased father, and her father’s own ashes that had luckily survived the incident. She thanked daddy so much that she went so far as to say the impossible, music to the ears of the desperate twenty year old: “if you need anything at all just let me know, here is my card with my personal information… Fuck, my heart is about to burst, thank you so much…”. Followed by heavy breaths and half bows.
A light bulb then went on in the brain of the adrenaline-filled, flushed and sweaty man, who, displaying one of his qualities, his ease of speech and his plain sincerity, told Marianne directly – the name on the card, which he correctly assumed was her – that he was a recent journalism graduate with excellent grades (taking his resume out of his briefcase so he could show it to her), and that due to personal situations he urgently needed a job, whatever it was and in whatever conditions, but he needed a job. And as they say, the rest is history.
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