This lovely picture was sent to me by Dan, and it was one of those photos where I feel like the story could go in so many different directions… What I came up with is a story that I hope gives you all the feels– probably much to Dan’s dismay 😉
Here is, ‘Those Lost Moments’:
I remember the day my father disappeared.
It happened at the lake near the end of summer.
The days had started to get shorter. Not a lot. Almost imperceptible. But definitely shorter. The air had that overly warm feel to it, as if summer knew it was dying and was putting up its last fight to stick around. The geese had also started flying over in formation, talking loudly to each other as they did. One point bird and a heck of a lot of backseat drivers.
A lot led up to that point, though. That point where my father disappeared. Most of my life was leading up to that point, I guess, but I feel like it all started reaching a breaking point in ninth grade. I was on my third private school in three years. It wasn’t that I was a bad kid. At least I don’t think so. How was I supposed to act, though, when my mom was dead and my paternal figure was so busy running his mega corporation that he barely spoke two words to me a year?
“Conner Heg, what do you have to say for yourself?”
Principal Riley was looking at me with a face that had been trained to show disappointment. The kind that is supposed to make kids feel the depth of their shame. Not me.
“I dunno,” I said with a shrug, crossing my bony arms over my chest.
“You don’t know?” His voice rose. “You could have burned this entire school down!”
I shrugged again.
“Fine,” said the principal, his voice gritty. “Final exams are over. I’ll allow your year-end grades to stand, but you are not welcome back here next year. Do you understand me?”
“And I will be calling your father this afternoon to make sure he is aware of your behavior.”
With an exaggerated sigh and that disappointed look still firmly on his face, Riley pointed a long finger at his office door, and I slunk out.
My father didn’t call me. His secretary did.
“Your father is very disappointed in you,” said Velma.
I could picture the frustrated lines around her mouth and eyes. The way her foot would bounce up and down. I even thought I could hear through the phone her ball point pen tapping against her oak desk, a visible sign of her inward feelings.
Velma was not my mom. She wasn’t even really a mother figure. But she was about as close as I was ever going to get, given that she had worked for my father going on twelve years.
“Not disappointed enough to call me himself,” I muttered, flinging myself across my king size bed.
“You know he’s busy, Conner. That merger has him under a lot of stress.”
“Couldn’t you try to stay out of trouble?”
She sighed. Everyone seemed to sigh a lot around me.
“You’re going to the lake house for the summer,” she said.
That got my attention.
“No,” I said.
I hated going to the lake house. It was isolated, and I never got to see any kids my age. There were only two people that were regularly there. Mr. Inis, who kept up the grounds, and his wife, who was the housekeeper.
“Yes. Consider this your punishment.” With that, she hung up.
For a week, I argued. I kicked and screamed like a toddler. I pleaded, promising angelic behavior moving forward. I even threatened to kill myself. It seemed I had overdone that one too many times in the past, because neither Velma nor my father bought it.
Without much ado, I was dropped on my backside outside the lake house. Literally on my backside. Since I refused to get out of the car when our driver dropped me off, Mr. Inis grabbed onto each of my feet, despite the fact I was almost fifteen, and pulled until my arms gave way and I shot out of the car to the ground.
Once I was out, he grabbed my bag from the backseat then walked unceremoniously toward the house. Not a word had passed between us.
That was pretty much how things went through June and July, then into the first half of August. Inis would try to get me to do something. Help him clear out brush. Take a turn mowing. Grab a bag of groceries to take inside. I’d refuse. He’d make me comply without using more than a word or two. He was so much like my father in that regard, and I didn’t know if I hated or loved him for that.
Midway through August, my father showed up out of the blue. Not to see me, though. That would be too cliché. No, he was there with five other men. Business partners, or those he hoped would be soon. They were all there for a weekend away to do manly things, like go out on the boat and fish while guzzling beers.
“We’re taking the pontoon out tomorrow,” my father told Mr. Inis as he walked into the kitchen after Friday night’s dinner.
I was flipping through May’s boating magazine, trying to pretend it was the newest speed boat I was checking out and not the bikini-clad women leaning against them.
Upon hearing my father’s words, I slapped the magazine shut and sat up a little straighter on the stool.
“Can I go?” I asked, trying to figure out a facial expression that would show a kind of bored interest.
Inside, I was desperate for him to say yes. He and I had never done anything together just the two of us. Heck, we’d barely ever even done anything in a group setting. Not even when Mom was alive. Even if the other guys were going to be out there, too, I needed him to say yes. I needed the chance to do something fathers and sons did together all the time.
He turned to me, his brows drawing together over his dark eyes. I tried not to sink into myself under that gaze.
“No,” he said, and there was an edge to his voice. “I can’t trust you not to try and burn the boat up.”
And there it was. His passive-aggressive way of parenting. Of punishing me for the incident at school.
I wished that he had just come home and decked me in the face right after the fire incident rather than this method of his. I wasn’t a board member he needed to keep squelched under his thumb. I was his son. Yet to him, there didn’t seem to be a difference.
“I’ll make sure the boat is ready to go,” Inis said.
The next morning, I stood on the dock and watched the boat head further out onto the lake, the mist shrouding it, making it look almost like some kind of ghost ship. The men’s voices were already carrying across the water to me, jovial despite the early hour.
I tried to tell myself not to let it bother me. That men didn’t get hurt or emotional. That I was fifteen and not three. Despite my pep talk, though, there was this tight squeezing in my chest that I couldn’t shake. A feeling that followed me throughout the rest of my boring summer and into the next school year.
I wish I could say that tenth grade was better, and that I finally matured and got my act together. But my chest was still tight, and I felt a simmering anger that wouldn’t be fully stomped out. I wasn’t even sure what the anger was for, only that it was there.
All through the school year, I crafted what I considered to be awesome works of graffiti on some smaller surfaces at the school. Some were noticed, some weren’t. No one ever realized it was me. Until the day of exams when I drew a mural on one of the gym walls, only to be caught by the school resource officer.
Just like that, I was kicked out of another school and back at the lake house for the summer.
Velma was the one that dropped me off that year. She said it was so she could talk to me, but I think it’s actually because our driver had been so exasperated by my rants along the way the year before that he had refused to take me again.
“Another school, Conner.” Velma’s voice was calm. It would have almost been believable that she was unperturbed except for the slight tremor along the end of my name that showed how frustrated she really was.
“Yep.” I slouched further down in the leather seat, wincing as the material protested against my bare skin.
“What’s going on with you, huh? I know there’s got to be a good kid down in there somewhere. Is this a cry for attention or something?”
“Not that I could blame you, I guess, if that was the case. You have been pretty much on your own since your mom died.”
Her brown eyes got that crinkly pained look they always got when my mom came up. She and Mom had been pretty tight. Some women might be suspicious of their husband’s secretaries, but my mom had never been like that. She knew her husband was too busy to pay the necessary attention to one woman in his life, much less two. Plus, Velma was just a straight up trustworthy person.
“Can you not play therapist right now?” I asked.
“I’m just trying to get to the bottom of this.”
Despite her prying questions the rest of the drive to the lake house, I didn’t give her much to work with, and she was as lost when we arrived at our destination as when we had started for it three hours before.
I gave a little nod to Mr. Inis as the older man walked to the car. Grabbing my bag before he could touch it, I slung it over my shoulder and walked for the house, letting Velma tell the groundskeeper whatever she thought it necessary he should know. I knew I didn’t have much to worry about. Even if she asked Inis to keep up the inquisition she had started, the man would never do it.
The anger that had only gotten worse in me over the school year continued to grow as the summer progressed. That was only expounded when my father arrived once again with a bunch of businessmen in tow.
I went out to the porch to watch them all unload their weekend gear from a handful of luxury cars. My father walked up to the house, and judging by the set of his body, I thought he was going to breeze on past me as if I didn’t even exist. Instead, he stopped when he was next to me and gave me this quick look. My breath caught at the disappointment in it, and I could feel the lump growing in my throat.
He didn’t say a word. Just held that look a moment longer and then went into the house. I could only stare at the wood that made up the porch, my eyes studying the patterns of the grain as if it was the most intriguing thing in the world. It was that or give in to the burning behind my eyes, and I was not a sissy boy. No way would I ever shed a tear, not even over the massive disappointment I knew my father felt toward me.
By Monday, he and his entourage had left again. We had gone the whole weekend without saying a word. I hadn’t even bothered asking again if I could go fishing with the group. I hadn’t stood on the dock and watched the boat disappear into the mist, or listened to the voices carry over the water.
The rest of the summer was spent nursing my simmering temper. Feeding it and letting it build until I felt it would suffocate me.
Eleventh grade started, and I was once again at a new school. A public school. Apparently I was no longer worth the cost or trouble of a private school. That was fine by me. They were all the same in my book, with the exception that I got to wear what I wanted at the state run place. Better than the stifling uniforms that made me look like I fit in with the other rich kids I had once gone to school with. I’m pretty sure they hated their matching looks with me as much as I did with them. Other than those clothes, I had absolutely nothing in common with them. They were all working toward Ivy League schools. I didn’t even care if I graduated.
The school was near my family’s main luxury condo in the city. The one I had lived in with Mom when she was alive. When she had been living, my father would come home from the office a few nights a week to appease her. But she was gone, and I was the letdown of a son, so he never showed his face. He stayed in the suite off of his office. At least that’s what Velma told me.
I got in trouble a lot throughout that year, but not bad enough to get kicked out. My grades plummeted. I had no friends. No interest in trying out for a sports team.
Velma called me all the time like a freakin’ stalker. I told her as much, and she about busted my ear drum in return.
“You ungrateful, irresponsible, immature…!”
I set the phone down so she could rave in peace. The condo housekeeper, Miss Johnson, raised an eyebrow at me before she started dusting again. She was a spy. She’d report in later to Velma that I had stopped listening, but I didn’t care.
Mid-May, everything came to a head. The anger and pain I felt had only continued to grow during school, and it eventually had to have a release. That release came in the form of me taking on three other boys in school with my fists and a switch-blade knife. I flung both around with a fury, unable to control my own actions. It was like I couldn’t even see those kids in front of me. I couldn’t see anything. Only undulating colors. People always say you see red when you’re angry, but I beg to differ. I think I saw every vivid color known to mankind. A kind of spectrum, ever shifting. I think I may have been yelling, too, but I don’t remember what.
The memories start up again from the time I was tackled by a teacher. This big, burly guy who slammed into me and wrestled the knife out of my grasp. One thing I clearly remember is my face against the cool floor, my eyes taking in the sneaker scuffs on the tile. Black streaks that marred what had once been a perfect white surface.
Miraculously, I hadn’t hurt anyone. It seemed that the boys, upon observing my maniacal behavior, decided they had no interest in taking on what appeared to be a demon-possessed peer. Instead, they along with a growing crowd of students, had watched me perform my one-man tussle. The absence of injuries didn’t stop me from being arrested, though.
Velma was the one who came to get me. Not my father. I was being detained, and he couldn’t even take time out of his busy schedule to come and parent me. To yell and scream at me about my decisions. To ground me for the rest of my days. And the odd thing was, that hurt worse than anything he had done up to that point. I had hit my lowest point, resorting to a kind of mania to get his attention. Instead, I got Velma.
For once, she had nothing to say. At least not until we were halfway to the lake house.
“Conner, I’m so scared for you,” she said as she brushed away a tear that had escaped the corner of her eye.
“What can I do? What do you want me to do? How can I get you off this path you’re on?”
I didn’t think anyone could. Not even my father if he were to step in right then. I had passed the point of no return. My solo battle with the switch blade had released most of the anger in me, only to be replaced by this massive, hollow hole. A kind of directionless desperation.
When I got into the lake house, I noticed the rifle that usually hung above the door had been taken down. Apparently even Mr. Inis thought I was dangerous after my knife-wielding stunt. Not that I could blame him.
The weekend in August when my father usually showed up with his business friends arrived, but he did not. Mr. Inis said the guy’s trip had been moved to someone else’s lake house that year. I knew why. Me. It was because of me. No longer was I just the rebellious son who occasionally got into mischief. I was now the crazy son. The delinquent. Dangerous. To be avoided.
The hole grew a little deeper.
On the morning that my father and his friends would have been going fishing if they had been there, I got up before even Mr. Inis woke and went to the dock. There were massive rocks that were along the shoreline. I reached down and grabbed the biggest one I could carry and brought it onto the pontoon with me.
A boat didn’t have to get far from shore to be in deep water. The shoreline dropped off fast, a fact I was well aware of from three consecutive summers of swimming there.
I didn’t want to go too far out. Despite wanting to die, I didn’t want my body to rot away for days in the middle of the lake before it could be found. I knew that was odd. I would be dead. It didn’t matter. And even when I was found, I would be buried or burned. Both would render me unrecognizable in short time, just like the water would. Even so, I only went about twenty yards out.
As the boat was slowly heading to that twenty yards, I closed my eyes. I tried to picture my father standing by me, directing my steering to a good fishing spot. I tried to imagine that he was happy. That he was giving me tips on how to fish. That he was commenting on how good fresh fish would taste for dinner. For the briefest moment, my brain bought it, and I felt the most overwhelming feeling in my chest. A warmth. I tried to identify it. Happiness, I decided. It was happiness and contentment. But then reality washed over me, and the happiness was shoved out by that hollow hole.
When I got the boat where I wanted it to be, I grabbed the rock. As I stood at the side and looked down at the water, I wondered briefly what people would think when they found out what I had done. Only sixteen-years-old and dead from suicide. My father would probably be grateful to have such a troublesome son off his hands. Oh, I knew he’d feel sad. Maybe even regret. But deep down, he’d be grateful. Velma would cry a little, especially at the funeral. She’d ask what she could have done different.
“Nothing,” I murmured into the wind, hoping that, somehow, Velma would feel that answer when I was gone.
The last thing I did before stepping off that boat was take a deep breath. I don’t know why. That would only delay the inevitable, but I suppose it was an instinctual habit. Or maybe it was my subconscious telling me I didn’t really want to die. Whichever the case, I fell through the air for about half a second, then began sinking through the murky water, the rock escalating my descent.
Though it was probably no more than a half a minute, I felt like I sunk forever. Like I was dropping to the very core of the earth. Finally, my feet touched the silty, squishy bottom of the lake. Squeezing some of that cold muck between my toes, I then lifted my feet so that my rear could take a seat on that giving ground.
My lung capacity had never been very good. Death wouldn’t take long.
With each passing second, the pressure grew in my lungs. The pressure then turned to a slow burn. The slow burn to an intense fire that would not be ignored. Letting out some of the air relieved the pain a bit, but that relief was short lived. My brain started to feel funny. Lack of air, I guessed. Not much longer now.
I knew I was close. I knew it would only take twenty more seconds or so before my body took over and tried to inhale, bringing in only water and suffocating me. So close.
Then the grip. Such an intense grip that, even in my oxygen deprived state, I was aware of the pain. Weakly, I tried to struggle out of it, but it was unrelenting.
The rock was kicked from my arms, and I was being pulled to the surface.
There will never be another feeling in my life like the one I had when I broke the surface of the water. Desperately, greedily, my lungs gulped in oxygen. The quick exchange between no air and then so much of it had spots appearing in front of my eyes.
The grip didn’t ease on my arm until I had been hauled over the low side of the pontoon and discarded on the boat’s floor. Then, a string of curses erupted, filled with such anger, unlike anything I had ever heard before.
I blinked my eyes open, squinting against the early morning sun. Raising a shaky hand, I shaded my eyes so that I could clearly see my father’s face.
“What are you doing here,” I muttered, interrupting his tirade.
“Saving your sorry butt,” he said, the anger still very much in his voice.
“What are you doing here?” I asked again, confused.
He was silent for a moment, his lips in a grim line. Then he crossed his arms and said, “I came to see you.”
Five simple words.
I quickly leaned over the side of the boat to throw up.
When I was done, I sat up and wiped my hand across the back of my mouth.
“To see me?” I reiterated in disbelief.
“To find out what you’re doing with your life! You’re throwing your entire future away, Conner! If you don’t clean up this act of yours soon, you’ll end up in jail. See if I rescue you when that happens!”
“This act?” I couldn’t stop the anger from seeping into my own tone. “Is that what this is to you? An act?”
“Yeah, an act. You think that because you lead a privileged life, you can go and do whatever you want and never have to pay for it? You think you’re above the law? Above rules? Above authority?”
“No!” I jumped to my feet, ignoring the fact that my legs almost gave way under me. “That’s not it!”
“And then this, whatever it is. Suicide? Are you acting like you want to kill yourself? You think that’s gonna get you even more attention? That the world will cater to you even more than it already does?”
“Then what, huh? What could you possibly want?”
“You!” I shouted, and it was like I had released a long pent up dam of words. “I want you in my life! I want you to stop ignoring me! I want you to treat me like a son!” I gestured to the boat with my arm. “This! I want us to go fishing, and watch sports, and hang out! I want you to come home sometimes! I want you to at least act like you like me!”
Men didn’t cry. Men didn’t show their emotions. If that was true, in that moment, I was far from a man. I started crying. These awful, deep, from the gut things that I couldn’t stop. There was no anger. No empty hole. I much preferred those to what I felt at that moment. Grief. Raw grief over all of those lost moments we should have shared and never did.
Even with the emotions, I couldn’t stop.
“I want you to be the one to teach me to drive! Not Mr. Inis! I want you to talk to me if I get in trouble! I want you to ground me, because then at least I’d know you care!”
My father’s face had gone completely white, his arms dangling limply at his sides. A kind of realization came over him as my outburst had carried on.
“You were going to do it?” he asked hoarsely. “You were going to kill yourself?”
Fists clenched at my sides, the sobs finally slowing, I looked at him, not answering. I knew I would have followed through with it. I knew that nothing would have stopped me. When I let the rock take me to the bottom of the lake, I had known that was it. No coming back. And right then, I could tell that my father saw that in my face.
A look of confusion that I had never seen on him before crossed over his features. His mouth parted slightly and his breathing was heavy. A vein in his temple was twitching rapidly with each new, quick pump of blood.
For a moment, he was completely still. Then, he reached out and grabbed my shoulder, pulling me into a hug. That was all it took to start up those sickening, unmanly sobs again.
The entire time he held me, my father murmured apologies. With each one, he pulled me a little tighter, suffocating me, but I didn’t mind. Even if it killed me, I figured that was a pretty awesome way to go.
I don’t know how long I stood there acting like a little boy who needed comfort. All I know is that when we finally pulled apart, I looked up and realized I wasn’t facing the same man.
That was when my father disappeared. He was replaced by this really awesome guy. A guy who enjoyed taking me fishing and to baseball games. This guy who made sure he was always around for the big moments of my life and as many small moments as he could.
I remember the day my father disappeared. He was replaced by my dad, and that was the best day of my life.