Jul/Aug 2006  •   Fiction

The Last Time Dad Got Out of Jail

by Carolyn Steele Agosta

Art by Victor Ehikhamenor

Art by Victor Ehikhamenor

The last time Dad got out of jail, he didn't have any money. So Grandma told him he could stay in the old Winnebago parked in the backyard. She couldn't let him stay at the house, not with the way he smoked and her lung cancer. So I helped him pick up his stuff from his ex-girlfriend's and unpack it in the Winnie. His whole life crammed into a couple of 33-gallon Hefty bags, mostly clothes, but also fishing gear, his collection of Johnny Cash and Metallica CDs, and his football trophy. "Never borrow money from someone's purse without permission," Dad told me. "Promise now."

The last time Dad got out of jail, he didn't have wheels, so Grandpa loaned him the old pick-up truck with the cracked windshield. Dad's Jeep Cherokee still stood in Grandpa's back yard, next to the Winnebago, the hood all crushed in from where Dad wrapped it around a tree on Highway 16 South, across from the Auto Bell. "Never drink and drive," he told me. "Promise now."

The last time Dad got out of jail, he didn't have a job, so his buddy Dwayne let him do some carpentry work under the table, which means no taxes and no child support, and I have to work at McDonald's till ten each night so I can afford my Color Guard uniform. "Never smoke pot on the job," Dad told me. "Promise now."

The last time Dad got out of jail, he got into religion. Religion and a whole new philosophy about how he was going to be a good dad, a responsible dad, a dad in charge. "From now on," he said, "you have to rely on me. You have to understand I'm the head of this little family. That's how the Lord wants it. The man's the head of the household, and the children are like little olive plants around his table. Well, you're my olive plant, honey, and this time I swear I'm going to do right by you. I'm going to take care of you now. I promise."

You know, I want to believe. I want to be able to get down on my knees and pray to God, Our Father, who art in Heaven, that I am ready to love and respect my father. But I've been promising Dad half my life that I won't fuck it up like he has, and what has that gotten me? Nothing but a litany of what not to do, and damn little about what I could do with this messy life he's given me.

And when I come home from Color Guard competition, all excited because we scored second in our division, and I find Dad passed out on the couch, a six pack of beer killed and a smoldering cigarette in the ashtray, I can't help but wonder who takes care of whom, and why he's been released when I'm the one in jail.