Go Find John
“Just be happy that the grace of the Lord shines down upon your sorry ass, John!” cries my mother as she storms out of the living room. The last word, she always has it. John sits in an easy chair with the usual shit-eating grin plastered across his face, the one he reserves for my mother and her religious diatribes. She speaks about grace with a vitriol that eradicates any compassion and kindness the word is meant too convey. John cuts his eyes at me. I know what he is after. I shrug, produce an agreeable smirk and suddenly all is right in the world again. As long as you agree with John, all is always right in the world. “Fuck this, I’m goin’ to Teddy’s! Tell your mom I love her despite the fact that she’s a bitch”. These are things that John, six foot seven inch John, will never say to my mother’s face. He uses others as a conduit for the words he is too cowardly, too ashamed to say outright.
The deep rumble of his ’73 Harley shakes the windows and their panes, the pictures in their frames. That bike is his world. No house, no wife, no kids, no money; just John and his hog. There’s never been a time when it wasn’t so. I sit in the living room and wait for the noise to fade as he guns it down the long corridor of row homes that make up 13th street. The sound of my mother making dinner in the kitchen soon overtakes the bikes dying wake. It’s Tuesday, meatloaf and garden picked snap peas night. My mother loves a monthly menu. It gives her the sense of predictability and control she cannot find anywhere else in life. While the world outside changes at an unrelenting pace the kitchen is a museum display only my mother can touch. Pots to the right of the sink, pans on a shelf just above them, cooking utensils in a drawer left of the stove, always left of the stove.
Leaning against the kitchen doorway, I wait. Wait for her to say something about John. How much of an ungrateful asshole he is. How he’s useless and selfish. How he’s a drunk. How she wants him gone. She sprinkles various spices and salts onto the blood red meat. Chops a yellow onion and then a purple potato. Mixes it all up in a big silver bowl, scoops it into a bread pan. Something slowly drags across the floor above us. Must be my father pulling a chair closer to his bedside. A cold beer is thrust into my hands as my mother instructs me to take the drink upstairs.
Almost a year ago this day my father was spot welding a cracked steel beam in the capitol building when the scaffolding beneath his feet gave way, causing him to fall three stories onto the white marble floor of the main rotunda. Somehow, my mother swears it was by the grace of God and the Saint Christopher necklace my father always wore, he didn’t die. Rather than dying, his legs shattered like early November ice as he landed feet first upon the unforgiving stone. His x-rays looked like someone had taken a hammer to a ceramic pot, bones splintered into a thousand tiny pieces, impossible to put back together again.
I knock on his door and hear a muffled “yeah?” He’s sitting upright in bed playing a crossword puzzle. “Hey, dad. Mom thought you might like a beer.” He takes the beer from my outstretched hand and drinks half of it with the flick of his wrist. I sit on the edge of the bed, just beyond where his legs would be. He hands me the beer and smiles. I take in a mouthful, giving the bottle back before I can even gulp it down. Despite my distaste for beer I’ve indulged in this little ritual with my father since I was eight. We sit silently for a couple of minutes. With the bottle drained he asks me what John and mom were fighting about. Nothing, or at least nothing worth bringing back up I quietly sigh. John moving in was my father’s idea.
Five months after the fall and dad was finally allowed to move from the treatment facility back home. Mom would need help with upkeep and maintenance of the four rental units attached to our house and her sister’s oldest son, John, was out of work. Dad proposed that John move in and care for the rentals in exchange for room and board. Reluctantly, my mother agreed. John would be more hassle than help and she knew it. It had always been this way with John.
Dinner is eventually served. The three of us gather on the bed for our nightly Jeopardy routine. Dad cracks jokes as Trebek reads hundred dollar questions starting with the letter “G”. Mom laughs at dad’s jokes. She’s adored him since day one. I help do the dishes and then head to my room to study for a chemistry quiz. I’m in my junior year of high school and at the top of my class. All of my teachers expect great things of me. They regularly tell me so.
It’s still dark outside when I wake to the sound of the phone ringing. The clock next to my bed burns 2:45 in a steady firefly green. Why is the phone ringing at 2:45? Maybe it’s a wrong number? A minute later I hear my mother open their bedroom door, cross the hall and gently open my door. I sit up in bed, startling her. “Who was on the phone?” I ask. She croaks out that it was Ted from the bar. John was in a pretty bad fight. They tried to stop him before he left the bar but failed. Stopping an enraged, bloody, and drunk John is a preposterous undertaking only a fool would attempt. Teddy was wondering if he’d made it home safely. This wasn’t Teds first late night call to our house. My mother stands silently in the doorway for a long minute, contemplating all the possibilities of where John might be at this hour of the morning. Then, in a voice riddled with fear, anger, and guilt, she asks me to go find John.
As I dress for the chilly morning air my mind wonders to the last time I was sent looking for John. It was two months back. A similar situation at a similar hour, only that time he pulled up on his bike just as I was stepping from the warmth of the house into the chilly darkness outside. He came staggering up to me, whiskey heavy on his breath, asking what I was doing sneaking out of the house? “Looking for you”, I seethed through clenched teeth as I unlocked the door and went back to bed.
I am met with a light yet steady rain as I make my way onto the sidewalk and begin walking in the direction of Teddy’s Bar. Save for the few scattered streetlights whose bulbs haven’t yet burnt out or been shot at, 13th street is dark. All of my senses are on high alert. Eventually I’m at the intersection of 13th and James. Three blocks north on James is Teddy’s. Damn you, John! Damn your irresponsibility and the burden you’ve become on my family! Times like these make me hate John. The sound of a police siren can be heard some blocks away. Quickly the sound grows louder and suddenly it’s driving toward me on James, south, away from Teddy’s. Wonder where he’s heading in such a hurry? Then my stomach sinks as an ambulance pulls from a side street, lights and sirens ablaze, following the path of the police car. I begin running after the ambulance, watching it’s alternating yellows, blues, and reds whirl as it races down James.
After a four-block chase I can eventually make out what looks like a wreck. The front end of a motorcycle twisted around one of the oaks that line the street comes into view. The paramedics have located a body sprawled out in the street a couple hundred feet from the tree. The policemen wont let me get close enough to make out the condition of the body but the motorcycle tells me everything I need to know. From one of the twisted handlebars I catch the glint of a necklace dangling in the night, rain dripping off the end of the bent pendant. It’s Jude the Apostle, patron saint of the lost, the necklace John’s mother gave him one year as a birthday gift.
And then the truth sinks in, my mind registering the reality of what has just happened. That after tonight, after this cold and wet three ‘o clock slog down James, I’ll never again have to go find John.