The wood shop’s din wasn’t even audible to me anymore.
The noise had been simply pushed aside, ignored.
My mind was across town.
At that very moment, my Father was on the operating table.
He was having his bleeding ulcers removed, along with
“thirteen fourteenths of his stomach
and the first ten inches of his duodenum”.
That was exactly what he said
for years afterwards when he spoke of it.
Sometimes he would show the scar.
An amazing arch all the way from
below his belt on one side,
up under his ribs and sternum all the way back down again
to below the belt on the other side.
He once told me that he asked the surgeon why so large an incision,
and the doctor replied, “Just look at these”,
holding out his very large hands and
turning them over and over in the air.
The air around me was suddenly filled with sawdust
And my shop teacher Mister Zabbuci’s screams.
I had not heard him for a few minutes
as I was cutting the table legs apparently
without any focus, or attention.
Man, did he lay into me. Not that he shouldn’t have.
Not that I couldn’t have cut my hands off or worse.
Over the years my Father’s drinking worsened.
He would sit and bitterly go on and on
about how much things were so much different.
He had lost thirty-five pounds after that operation.
He never gained it back.
It wasn’t the thirty-five pounds that made him drink.
It wasn’t even an excuse.
My mother, my sisters and I often wondered what caused it.
Now he said it was his work. The very high pressure of his career.
I always thought it was combat.
God knows, it could have been that
or any of all the things
he never talked much about;
the loss of his father, the doctor, at twelve,
the loss of the family fortune that followed,
the Great Depression,
leaving his wife, his baby, his dying brother,
his penniless mother and
his dependent mother-in-law
to go to war without any idea
of how they would survive without him,
if World War II would claim him too,
and all the family would get would be a folded flag
and be yet another family
with a gold star in their window.
But he never really thought of himself as
a complete person, “a real man”, ever again.
It wasn’t the thirty-five pounds
that made me lose my respect for him.
It wasn’t the weight or the lost strength
that made him less of a “man”.
It was the abuse, the pain and the damage
that he inflicted on us all.
After Mister Zabbuci finished yelling,
I went back to pretending I was working on my table.
All he would let me do was sand it, by hand.
I sat in the drone of the Thursday morning wood shop
wondering if I would have a father when I got home that day.
It was 10:30 AM and I knew that at that very moment
he was under the knife.
Two very large, skilled hands were removing
“thirteen fourteenths of his stomach and the first ten inches of his duodenum”,
thirty-five pounds through weight loss and surgery that would leave my father
a very different man.