I remember when my dad told me he was leaving. It was a really cold night and our furnace was broken again. We were all wearing winter coats in the house and the only space heater we owned had just tipped over and burned my sister’s pink beanbag chair. There were black burn streaks on the shiny pink shell of the beanbag and the house smelled like plastic death. “You probably won’t understand now why I’m leaving,” my dad said, “but you will get it later, when you’re older.” I asked him if he was leaving just for a little while and he shook his head and said “No, this is more of a permanent thing, I’m probably going for good.” I was only ten so I didn’t quite get the point and kept asking him if he was coming back. Eventually he got tired of trying to explain and left the room. My mom came in a few minutes later and asked my sister and me to sit on the couch so she could talk to us. “Your dad has decided he needs to get away for a while,” she said, and I could tell right away she was very sad. This was clear because when she talked her voice was raspy and her eyes were puffy, like she’d already been crying and was trying to hide it. My sister was really little at the time, around three years old, and she didn’t get it. I mean she just kept playing with her baby doll while my mom talked and even when I grabbed her arm and told her to stop goofing around she didn’t seem to understand what was going on. Eventually my dad came back in the room and sat next to my mom. She looked down at her hands. My dad talked a long time then, he covered just about our whole life history together and all the things we had done. He was getting pretty sad thinking back to the times we built lego sets and went fishing in the creek. It’s funny, but when I look back on that night, the part that makes me think of my dad as not such a bad person is when he talked about why he had to leave us. He said he loved us now just as much as he always did, but that something inside him was dying a little every day and the only way to stop it was to go away and start again. He talked about his job and how going to the same office and sitting in the same chair and talking to the same people every day was killing him little by little and if he didn’t do something about it soon his life would be over and he would have nothing to show for it. “I always wanted to be a painter,” he said, “someone who paints landscapes, the changing seasons, stuff like that.” He said his own father laughed at him when he talked about painting and that was probably why he ended up working in an office selling insurance. When he was done explaining he went back to his room and started to pack. The next morning he was gone and no one has seen him for three years. Since my dad left I’ve read about kids who had fathers walk out on them when they were little and most of them tell the same story where the father disappears one day without telling anyone. So I feel a little better because at least my dad took the time to explain why he was leaving. This is going to sound crazy, but when I think of my dad now I imagine him living alone in a log cabin, painting landscapes and thinking about the day he might come down from whatever mountain he lives on and start looking for us. If we ever met again, he’d probably talk about how the painting had changed his life and made him a happier man. He’d say he just needed some time to figure things out and now that he was doing what he loved he could be with us again. I really think there’s a chance because there was something about the sound of his voice the night before he left that makes me believe he’s coming back.
John Meyers’ poems, stories, and essays have appeared in a wide variety of publications. Over the past year his work has been featured in The Louisville Review, Lunch Ticket, Fiction Southeast and Thrice Fiction, among others. He has work forthcoming in Misfit Magazine and Hoot Review. John can be found online at http://hammeredinmetal.blogspot.com
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