Decline and Deceit
Growing up, my father had a ritual to getting dressed.
Not clothed, mind you. But dressed. There was something special about it, even on an ordinary rainy Monday in early April.
Socks, undershirt, boxers; then wool pants, leather belt, starched white shirt, just the right tie.
Even the way he tucked the shirt in: fly half zipped, legs shoulder-width apart. Then pull the front taught so the buttons lined up with the zipper. Place the thumb behind the shirt slack and fold backwards, like hospital corners on a bed.
The result was always a perfectly tucked shirt, any excess hidden by the jack, and nearly impermeable to wrinkles from a day of sitting at a desk.
It was a ritual more so than a skill.
Don't get me wrong. It started as a skill - just like how priests can split that unleavened bread down the center without thinking. But it became a ritual.
It meant he had somewhere to go - something to do.
As the years went on, the ritual began to slack - the equivalent a priest mumbling through Ave Maria.
The first thing to go was the double windsor. He started wandering down the stairs, jacket on, with the tie swinging loose from an unbuttoned collar.
This was about the same time he started slowing down. He stopped taking the 7AM calls in the den before hopping into the shower and "getting ready to conquer the day."
Instead, he started sleeping in. Waking up at 7:30 and stumbling to the bathroom. Knicking his face with the razor badly enough to require a styptic pen. He would leave two or three buttons open on the shirt, just so he didn't spot it with blood.
It was days like these where he would search around in last nights clothes for a pack of Marlboro Reds - "Cowboy Killers" as everyone called them.
He would turn, look in the mirror to light the cigarette and half comb his hair.
"Tell you momma I'm heading out early."
Then he would tossle my hair.
But of course I never had to tell my mother. She was always in the kitchen, making breakfast for three - even though she knew from the smoke wafting down the steps it would only be two.
"Another rough one..." she would say under her breath.
Rough what? I thought. Rough morning? Bad dreams?
Looking back on it now, I realize he belonged in a box, and knew it. He was trying to get there. Somewhere between the expensive suit lined with baby-blue silk and the second-hand sport coat he got when Grampa passed away - he knew he had failed.
He sure could have saved us all a lot of trouble by just disappearing. But if blood is thicker than water, as they say, it makes sense he couldn't sink alone.
Too bad for him I had a life raft.