It is 12 midnight and I am screaming at the top of my lungs in a way that reminds me of childhood – that halcyon time when you could still scream like a banshee if you wanted to, because you were a child, not an adult, and different rules applied.
I am screaming and reveling in it, and the sound of my own voice, raised and hysterical, feeds on itself, making me want to scream louder, and longer, and harder.
I am screaming because for the last 48 hours, I had no idea where my 88-year-old father was, and now I do. He is on the phone with me, wondering why I didn’t know where he was.
I am screaming and imagining a knock on the door from the co-op manager who probably should have become a cop, but instead became the president of the board, so he could make random decisions with other people’s money.
I am screaming and expecting a knock on the door from an actual cop who has been tipped off by one of the neighbors that a bloodbath might be unfurling in apartment 3F.
“I don’t want to have to hang up on you,” my father says. And I scream even louder. If anyone were about to hang up on anyone, it should be me, who spent a sleepless night and the morning following it waiting for an email that hadn’t come the day before when it should have, and didn’t come the next day either.
“We’re just going around in circles,” he says in a voice as calm as mine is maniacal.
And it’s true we are.
He is adamant that the fault is mine. He wouldn’t leave town without telling me. Since he did leave town, then clearly he told me he was doing so. So why didn’t I know that?
This is sophistry 101. Plain and simple. But my father is a lawyer, trained to talk fast and find the escape hatch. Trained to believe that you can argue your way out of anything.
“Why would I have expected to hear from you, if I knew that?” I say. (I like to argue as much as he does.)
In the old days, before cell phones and Blackberries, you could tell yourself that you’d probably misdialed, and dial again, because otherwise there wasn’t anything to do except wait.
I am screaming that he needs to take his Blackberry with him when he travels, and he is insisting that he wouldn’t think of it. It’s a nuisance and a bother and he doesn’t want to have to worry about it falling out of his pocket.
What he means is that using it unnerves him. “If it falls out of your pocket, which is, of course, highly unlikely, you will get a new one,” I say. “What the fuck are you talking about?”
“Watch your mouth,” he says, exactly as if I were 12 and just finding the nerve to use bad words with my parents.
I say “fuck” again working it into every sentence I can, until I tire of that.
And then a thought occurs to him. The thought is that we’d had a whole conversation about his taking the Blackberry — or not taking it, since he was sure he didn’t want to. “Don’t you remember that?” he asks, all solicitous now.
I concede that I do. Because I do, and whatever else I am not, I am a truth-teller.
“So, doesn’t it seem likely to you that if we had that conversation, then I must have told you I was going to DC.”
“I’m not the one losing my mind,” I say, wondering if perhaps I am. “Don’t you dare accuse me of memory loss.” In our family, memory loss is no joke. He didn’t get those bad genes. But I might have.
“Don’t you ‘don’t you dare me,'” he counters.
I ignore that comment, taking a break to light a cigarette. Perhaps he hears the little inhalation of breath and perhaps he doesn’t, but he tells me that he will make a deal with me. “I will carry my Blackberry, if you agree to stop smoking.”
I’m so agitated that it takes me a while to think of it, but when I do I accuse him of the basest kind of bait and switch. “What does my smoking have to do with this? It has nothing to do with it. What the fuck are you talking about?”
He ignores that instance of “fuck,” suggesting that William Burroughs or whoever it was who first noted it publicly is right. You can use a word like “fuck” so many times that it just doesn’t mean anything anymore. It’s neutered. Stripped of all force. “What you are doing to yourself is far worse than anything that could happen to me.”
“I’m an addict,” I say.
“Everyone else in the world can stop smoking, but you can’t?”
“Everyone else in the world is also married with kids,” I say.
“That’s different,” he says.
And I wonder how.
It takes a night of sleep and a morning of brooding before the thought comes to me. We did have a conversation about the Blackberry, in which he’d said he wouldn’t dream of bringing it with him. But it was a conversation about the trip to Chicago, the one he never took because of the torrential downpour. It wasn’t about the trip to Washington I never knew he was taking.
Via email, I tell him that. And via email he denies it. We each have the good sense to avoid the telephone.
In his email, he elaborates. “Not only did I tell you I was going to DC,” he says. “I told you what hotel I’d be staying at. Just as I always do. Go on. Think very hard. I know you’ll remember the name of it. I remember telling you that I wasn’t sure if it had three words in it or two, but I was sure of the first two.”
I ignore that email, even though that is out of character for me. And then for days we let things settle. And I remember how in childhood when my mother was exasperated, and had already used every other expletive she could think of — words I would never even have believed she knew — she would call him a Farber. “Farber” was our last name. Her married name. His name name.
“You, you, you,” she’d splutter in her rage, still searching for le mot juste, “You Farber you.”