Underneath his bed was a box with his most prized possessions. The box had been given to him by his mother when he played the curious nine year-old wanting to see if something fit in to it. That thing was the family cat, and it certainly fit in to it. It wasn’t happy when released after a few tumbles down the hill in front of the house; his mother certainly wasn’t happy either when she discovered what he had done. He could still hear her, “Thomas Theodore Tirman! What do you think you’re doing?” Those were the days. Now he was a 25 year old man, playing the role of waiter, wannabe writer, and janitor at his church; but at the moment, he was just a man sitting on his easy chair in a cramped apartment. His mind drifted to the things in that box. A collection of rare coins, a bottle of ancient perfume he had found in his grandparents’ attic, a few arrowheads, his first place ribbon from the 6th grade science fair, and a dried out rose. The rose always brought memories. Terrible memories. His mother had just arrived home from her job at an insurance office downtown, and as she reached for the bouquet of roses that her husband had sent her, a dump truck careened around the corner. The driver was going too fast for the load he had, and had drank half of a cheap six-pack. The truck toppled onto its side, flinging the load of top soil it had in the bed. Thomas’ mom turned to see, but was too late to avoid the shoe-sized rock that was flying at her. It hit her between the eyes, as if it had been aimed by a human. Her face was an unrecognizable mess of blood and bone. Thomas was the first on the scene, as he had been playing hide-and-seek, hiding not 4 feet away from his mother. He could still see the pinched, dirty face of his mother. He could feel the wind on his cheek as he stared in disbelief. The roses lay in her lap, absorbing the blood that flowed down her neck and chest. She was in a crumpled sitting position against the open door. Suddenly his dad was there, crying, screaming, the dump truck lay on its’ side in the street, the driver knocked unconscious, was dangling from his seat belt. Thomas watched his father put his fingers on his wife’s neck, and then crumple against the fender of the car, wailing. “Tommy, here.” He extended a phone to him, “Call 911.” Twelve year old Tommy didn’t know what was the proper thing to say, so he just told the operator exactly what happened and what the scene looked like. Minutes seemed to take hours to pass, but finally, the sounds of sirens were heard. Firetrucks, squad cars, and two ambulances arrived, and their occupants exited quickly, all knowing what they needed to do.
That was the day everything changed. Tommy’s dad withdrew into work after attempting to be there for all four children. He left it to Tommy as the eldest to take care of everyone. None of the other children had seen their mother’s condition, until after the funeral home had worked their magic. Talie was 10 at the time, Timothy was 8, and Tina was 6; Tina had a hard time comprehending what had happened, but the others seemed to know that nothing would ever be the same. The two dozen roses were distributed among the family; each child received one, each sibling and the one surviving parent received one, and her husband received the remaining 3. The deep red roses had speckles of deeper red, reminders of that grim day. Tommy had done his best to make sure the house continued to run as close to what it had, but it was never enough. Tommy tried to protect his siblings from pain of an unfilled need, but couldn’t. He tried to reach out to his dad for help, but was always met with pleas of helplessness and uncertainty. He gave up, and continued to try to make the best of things. Talie stepped up in the balancing of the checkbook quickly, relieving both Tommy and their father of much weight as that had become a point of contention for them. Timothy and Tina did their best to be helpful, but they didn’t always succeed. By his junior year of high school, Tommy had gotten two supplemental jobs to add to doing most of the cooking. Timothy had overtaken the checkbook; Talie and Tina had become a cleaning machine. Their father suddenly rose in his company, and brought home more money seemingly every month, but spend more and more, buying expensive cars for each of them as they got old enough, a boat was docked at the marina, a new Italian car was in the garage, birthdays involved cards with hundreds of dollars in cash, but he never seemed to be around. He never came to games or recitals; he almost missed his mother’s funeral. Tommy no longer needed to work at a job, but had to work the social game more often. Each time his father missed a family event, it was up to Tommy to convince the others to excuse his father.
The day was like any other Saturday. All four kids were watching a football game, the remains of lunch strewn around the living room and kitchen. A good, lazy, Saturday was well underway. Tommy, home for the weekend from college, felt his phone buzz in his pocket, “Hey, can you come to the shop really quick?” He rolled his eyes, and turned back to the screen. A commercial break came swiftly, and he thought about not going to the shop, but then that stupid car commercial came back on. He hoped whatever it was, it would be quick.
“What?” Tommy swung the door to his dad’s workshop open, walking into a wall of varnish fumes.
“I was about to tell you not to breathe too deeply. Sorry.” His dad said over Tommy’s coughing. Tommy waved it away, and motioned for him to continue. “I wanted you to see this. Do you think Talie will like it for her graduation gift?” On the workbench sat an economically-sized, solidly-built, desk. It was beautifully crafted, and Tommy couldn’t imagine how long it took to build.
“She’ll like it, but–“, he caught himself before going on.
“But what? Is it too big for a dorm room?”
“What then? It isn’t the right style?”
“Nothing is wrong with the desk, Dad! It’s you! Okay? I can just see her, unwrapping it, and thinking, ‘Gosh, I wonder how someone so distant and unreachable could care that much to give me something like this.’ And you know what? She’d be right. It would’ve meant more to her if you spend all that time with her, being her father!
“I’m trying to be her father! I’ve gave her so much!”
“You might have given her things, but you didn’t give her yourself! She doesn’t even know you! None of us do!”
“Maybe I’ll have a chance, after–”
“After what? After you die too? No! That’s not fair!”
“Not fair? What the hell do you know about not fair?”
“I know plenty! I know it’s not fair when you see your mom’s face caved in! I know it’s not fair when you see her blood pooled around her! I know it’s not fair when the man that’s supposed to be there for you runs away into work and crap, and leaves you to be there for yourself and your siblings! I know what unfair is!
“I’m done talking to you. Get out!”
“It’s true! You–”
“I said get out! Out!”
“OUT!” Tommy stormed out, tossed his things into his car, and after a terse good-bye, left. He never came back.
“Tommy?” That’s how the conversation was opened. Tim broke the news quickly. Their dad was dead. A robbery gone wrong, had resulted in a bullet to the brain. The funeral was in three days, would he be there? “Why should I be, Tim?” He snapped back.
“Because he changed, Tommy.” came the quiet response, “after you left, he was a different person. He was a dad.”
“For real? Of course it was after I left.”
“Tommy, whatever you told him, it got to him. Could you please come? You won’t have to say anything at the funeral. Just be there for Talie and Tina.”
“I–, okay. I’ll be there.”
He leaned back into the easy chair. That red rose. The symbol of loss, separation, and abandonment. Had his father really changed? Had he become a father? Whatever had happened, it was all over now. He needed to put the past behind him. He needed to bury the hatchet, and move on. He would take that rose with him, for it had stopped reminding him of his mother long ago. It needed to be buried with the hatred. The hatred needed to be buried with the man whom it was toward. Tommy wished he could’ve resolved all this earlier. Maybe he too could’ve experienced his father. It was too late now.
He lowered his head, and wept.