He didn’t like being late. He hated being late. There was a time not long ago when he always was. Late or absent. I think those days breed guilt in him; guilt and shame and fault. It is said that an active narcotic addiction holds the power to change a man, transforming him into someone else, or something else. But he was different—aberrantly aware for one who had, on multiple occasions, given up all but his life. He knew in each moment of hell that he shouldn’t be there. His awareness is the reason he lives so well, the reason his sons are still his sons, and the reason he is trusted. It is the reason he is still needed.
It is a wonder why he hadn’t yet left for work when they arrived. They might have kicked the door in had he not been there to open it. That’s what their appearance told me as they occupied the entrance to my room. My father, the only one without a Kevlar vest, stood at the helm. I feared the moment would come, but I didn’t foresee him as the one to witness it. The room flooded with angst. I felt guilty and ashamed to be the one to cause such inconvenience, giving life to past emotions of which he and I thought dead. I had led these men into his home; into our home.
His look was one of acceptance. He had not spoken a word, yet, among my indignity, I felt his support. He gave it unconsciously, as a product of his now natural, permanent obligation to redeem himself. As his son, I confidently say he didn’t need to. He never needed to. But perhaps it is better he lives unaware of that, for it was on this day that I took advantage of it out of necessity. That was also in his face—the recognition of his son in true need, the recognition of despair, the recognition of regret. I sought his forgiveness before that of the officers, and I felt foolish for not being able to generate in my mind an excuse which could justify myself.
Each time the men gave me an order, it was followed by a small, effective piece of advice from my father—helpful only because of his past. His words were painfully realistic, yet held a sense of comfort which I was in no position to deny. With a resolute stride, he made his way to my closet when they instructed me to dress. He tossed me a hoodless sweatshirt without strings as he claimed warmth would be a priority, and handed me a pair of boat shoes that were without laces, augmenting my displeasure as I realized I may not be sleeping home that evening. I was cooperative, so, under supervision, the men allowed me to brush my teeth. My hands were cuffed, and my father, in a way that longed to be believed as I was escorted from our home, told me not to worry.
I had lived with him once before, in a life that seemed too celestial to be permanent; divine because I’d never experienced it. I should have known. I did know. I was naïve then, but I knew. There are instances, though, in which fear becomes subordinate to desire; the kind of natural, inevitable desire that can harm you far more than it can please you. Such is a permanent want, able only to be suppressed by a separate one which is made of stubbornness from pain when it creates a frail façade. That wasn’t home.
I felt that he and I shared similar thoughts on our way to the courthouse; him in his silver pickup, me in an unmarked cruiser. What we built was being tested, and perhaps, dare I say, it was meant to be. I was brought before the court with cuffs linking my waist to my hands and my feet. They weren’t mine. They didn’t fit me. They were too big; too small. He sat in the gallery, and I could manage to only glance at him seldom, for I saw in his face the recognition again—wanting to run with nowhere to go, without the ability to take any more than a small step in a forced direction.
Then I realized it was his. It was not my mother’s, nor was it a step father’s or a friend’s.
It was the face I had yearned to see, to be familiar with before it became too late, badly so that a mask of it could have sufficed. I never lost faith during those years, and I hadn’t known why until I needed to; until a time when, if I had, I’d be as good as dead. I was in hell, and my father was, too. It was three years prior that he had left there, but he returned to pick me up as I fell. It was redemption in its entirety, not requisite but embraced, and it proved that I had him. I always would.