Allen M. Price is a writer from Rhode Island. Screen Memory 1 is part of the memoir he is writing and spent time working on with Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Paul Harding. He is a 2018 semi-finalist for Grub Street’s Emerging Writing Fellowship. He has an MA in journalism from Emerson College. His fiction and nonfiction work has appeared in The Fourth River (chosen by guest editor Ira Sukrungruang), Hawai’i Review, Cosmonauts Avenue, Gertrude Press, Columbia Journal, The Adirondack Review, Tulane Review, The Saturday Evening Post, Muscle & Fitness, Natural Health magazine, and many other places.
Screen Memory 1: “Your Father’s Got Hemorrhoids”
My father doesn’t bother turning off the car before he jumps out of it. My mother does it for him, leaning over from the passenger’s side. I don’t move when she opens the back door for me to get out; I just peek out the window at the mostly empty parking lot. She had awoken me at an ungodly hour with a streak of light shewing across the landing from her un-doored bedroom into mine. I could do nothing to extinguish it having no door of my own. For even the sun was still sleeping.
“Come,” she says, putting a kerchief on her head to cover the fluorescent yellow and green and pink curlers in her jet-black hair. “We gotta go.”
I step out of the car parked in a mini plaza and stare at the building. Ominous. Clinically menacing. It disturbs my mind. She wants me to go inside. Hospitals scare the little socks off of my five-year-old body.
“It’s not a hospital, it’s the Warwick Emergency Room,” she says, beseeching me unconvincingly.
My mother snatches my hand and drags me. We take a few steps toward the entrance. I stop. She stops. My body is still too heavy with fear to move. I want to get back into the car, crawl into my bed under the covers, hide my cheeks in between the cheeks of my two pillows, and return to the world of unconsciousness. I want Calgon to take me away! It’s 1978.
“Boy, let’s go.”
We enter a small waiting room. An old white woman with bushy grey hair sits at a desk holding the telephone to her ear. My mother interrupts her to ask where my father is as I look around trying to find him. Everything is white, the walls, the floor, even the doctors and nurses are all white, wearing white coats. It makes me think about heaven and God and His angels. I envision God and His angels coming down in one low, quick swoop. The angels playing their harps while God takes his finger, touches my father, and miraculously fixes the problem my father is having. He is cured, healed before God and His angels are gone and we go home. Only God and his angels aren’t white. They are black. The Bible says Jesus had hair like lamb’s wool, and my mother always says ‘white people don’t have kinky hair, only black people do.’
I peek around the desk to see my father laying on a gurney wearing a johnny. He is lying on his side with his brown-skinned butt naked and sticking out. He doesn’t see me. The doctor is wearing rubber gloves inspecting his butt.
“What wrong wit daddy?”
My mother draws her eyes to where mine are, kneels down in front of me, and says, “Your father is going to have surgery, he’s got hemorrhoids.”
My simple, still-developing brain can’t quite compute what are hemorrhoids. I don’t speak. She stares at me, waiting for me to say something. I can’t. I don’t know what to say. My rudimentary existence is struggling unsuccessfully to understand where I am, why I am in this time and space with everything around me moving in and out of darkness with a break in the order of things. She smiles. More questions run through my mind.
“It’s gonna be ok, son.”
Something doesn’t feel right, instinctively, and something different seems to be troubling her mind. She seems perturbed. My mother sits down in one of the chairs across from where we can see my father. I cling to her leg. My hands are trembling. She puts her hands on top of mine. I climb on top of her lap, peer up at her, and to my surprise see she has my eyes set in her face, brown, gentle, serious, sad some, making me feel sad, and bringing back my anxious thoughts. She sees me watching. A smile light and warm and candid she gives. I don’t smile back. Her ears are sort of pushed back.
“You look like a younger version of your daddy,” the doctor says. “Gonna grow up to look just like him. Just don’t get hemorrhoids,” he laughs.
I don’t, unable to comprehend his joke or humor about a word that isn’t in my vocabulary at my childhood age. We follow the doctor to where my father is laying. Seeing my very strong, very masculine father looking gaunt and sickly scares me so bad I begin to cry. The only thing that looks normal is his naturally born curly black hair, which isn’t natural for most black men, as most black men have afros. I cling tightly to my mother’s leg while she and the doctor talk. She doesn’t hold or console my father in any way. She cuts her eyes at him before looking away and sitting down in a chair in the corner away from my father.
“I love you Allen,” My father says over and over as they roll him off to surgery.
It isn’t what he says that scares me, it’s the way he says it, like death is approaching, and no one can stop it, not even God. Tears meet the snot dripping from my nose. My mother picks me up and holds me as I begin to cry in earnest.
“It’s okay, Allen,” she says, looking annoyed. “Your father’s off his rocker from the medication they gave him for the surgery.”
When they roll my father back into the room, he is awake and coherent.
“Hey boy,” he yells out when he sees me. “Come see your dad, come over, boy.”
I can’t though. My body clings to my mother’s leg as though it will save me from the big bad monster lying in the bed connected to a machine with tubes running zigzag across his body. That isn’t my daddy. It is someone I don’t know and don’t want to know. I stay put. The doctor walks in, pats me on my head, and says, “Your daddy is gonna be just fine, young man.”
My father drives the car into the driveway of our house and, again, jumps out without turning the car off. He runs down the backyard walkway, me and my mother following right behind. I follow her through the house to the bathroom where I see my father sitting naked in the bathtub in an inch of water. My body grows ashamed. It’s the first time I see my daddy’s full black body with its black hairy penis hanging real long and low. I feel I have committed a sin.
“Call the doctor,” my father hollers at my mother, “and ask what to do.”
My mother rushes past me and runs into the kitchen.
“It’s alright, son,” my father says. “Dad’s okay.”
My fixed eyes are not moved by what my father is saying to me. I lean over closer to the edge of the tub and see blood mixing, swirling in the water running full blast out of the faucet, like when the levees break, nature setting itself free, and the water slams into a tree, splits, and meets again on the other side, while the tree soaks up the water, nourishing its roots, hoping to grow longer and stronger, but doesn’t.
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