The Casa Grande Arizona scenery is as follows: cactus, desert, mountain, and cactus. I’m eight and we’ve been driving through Case Grande cotton fields for more than hour. My dad told me not to go to school that day. I didn’t know why. I guess he wanted me to see how much of a fucking pain in the ass it is to work at a cotton field. Which believe me, is one of the reason I avoid physical labor to this day. He was only checking the meters, but the farm workers sure as hell were doing more. Suddenly I wanted to go back to school.
“Dad. Am I supposed to be learning something here?”
“No. We’re going to the zoo.”
My little kid excitement rose to unequivocal levels.
“Just don’t tell your brother or sister. They actually have stuff to learn in School. You’re in third grade. There’s nothing to learn there.”
“So we’re going to the zoo?”
“Well I have to take someone to the zoo.”
I still didn’t get it. For some reason my dad thought it absolutely necessary to go the zoo. Maybe he needed an excuse to not check every goddamn farm meter in the middle of the desert that day. Either way. We were going to the zoo.
Until the van cracked to a halt.
The van cracked and burst into a smoked up hood of despair and ruined dreams. I was about upset as a kid promised tigers and giraffes would be, but the sorrowful expression on my father’s face was what surprised me. I wasn’t as upset as he was. I could see it. He really wanted to have a good day, something nice, without error, just him and me. When the van broke down two miles from anywhere close I saw it all over him. He sat there in forlorn glum as I watched him think.
“Stay here” he said, and stepped outside to perform miracles on a van that didn’t have any left. Eventually, after many expletives, I hopped outside to check the progress. My dad slammed the hood shut and looked me up and down.
“I hope you have your walking shoes on.”
“I only have one pair of shoes.”
So we walked. And when I couldn’t keep up I rode on top my dad’s broad shoulders. He probably carried me over a half a mile until we reached a gas station just off some deserted Arizona freeway. We ate packaged apple pies and popsicles as he shopped for just the right equipment to fix a fifteen-year-old van. And then we walked back. This time I wouldn’t let him carry me. I swear to god I was going to make it. I was going to make it if my life intended on it. Lets just say I made it.
My dad fixed the van with popsicle to spare. If it was the summertime I’m convinced we would have been dead by heat stroke. But it wasn’t and it was still early. Early enough for the zoo.
It was fucking feeding day for the tigers.
This is the greatest memory I have of my dad. As a man that could do anything, weather all storms, do things just because he wanted to. He carried an eight-year-old boy over a half a mile, fixed our van In the middle of the desert, worked half a day at the cotton fields, and managed to get to the zoo before they closed down the reptile cave.
This memory has been there for my entire life. As clear as something that happened to me yesterday. It’s been engraved as the Image I came to recognize being my father’s actual personality. Something that was real as father to son. Something you only get once in a lifetime.
This memory was there before he taught me the art of playing 5-card draw, and it was there before he made fun of me for refusing to eat Hawaiian Shaved Ice.
“It’s like a snow cone but better. I don’t see what you’re problem is?”
This memory was there before he attended every single one of my baseball games, and it was there before his habitual heckling got me kicked off my middle school team.
This memory was there before my friend Chris and I witnessed my mom pealing out of the driveway with a socket wrench flying towards her and a crescent wrench putting out her pick-up truck’s left taillight. This was way before he chased down her truck at three in the afternoon wearing tube socks and a grateful dead T-shirt.
This was before my parents fought for three years straight, debating bankruptcy, divorce, and how much money was just too much money to gamble with.
This memory was before I started binge drinking in high school, and long before my teenage self decided to stop respecting both parties that raised me. This was before my parents loved, hated, and re-loved each other.
I had this memory before my parents got old. Before my mom retired. Before we moved to small town nowhere.
It was there when we bought my first car, and when I decided I was moving to California three weeks after graduating high school. It was there when I said, “Adios bitches” and got in the car that my dad and I picked out 2 years prior. A 97’ Monte Carlo.
It was there when I kissed them both good bye and said I will probably never move back without the unfortunate circumstance of accidental children. It was there when I watched them in my rear view mirror watching me leave.
This memory lasted through everything.
This is before I was hardened with actual bills and some resemblance of understanding adult decisions. Understanding as much as a twenty-some can actually understand, but whom am I kidding?
This memory lasted until I had a 6 in the morning phone call that I rolled over to ignore. I fell back to sleep almost as I pushed the button. I dreamed I was eating an apple pie and watching my dad fix the van.
This dream lasted until I woke up to perpetual knocking on my bedroom door and my Uncle whispering something about bad news.
This one memory of my father lasted until my twenty-one year old man body got out of bed, stopped before my bedroom door and dropped. I dropped and cried for the first time in years. I don’t remember stopping.