The International Writers Magazine: Lifestories

Parents on Good and Bad
David Tavernier

It was the summer after I'd crashed and burned at U.C. Davis, and I'd come home feeling as if my whole world were tumbling. Whenever something awful or unexpected happens, and there's no love in a family, all kinds of ugly things can happen inside a house.

My mom, her beef was with all the little crumbs I kept leaving on the floor. Toast crumbs, rice cake crumbs, grapes and raisins fallen out of slices of raisin whole wheat toast. She couldn't stand the sight of these, and somehow I think they must have been all the bits and pieces of my college educational dreams.
My dad, on the other hand, was just outright mean sometimes and really tough to talk to. But, we had our moments, especially when we'd get out into nature. It was as if Redwood forest or Juaquin Miller park, with those holy trees looking down on us as guardians, we could shoot our mouths off about anything we felt inside. They'd protect us and keep us from beating the heck out of each other.

"I'm telling you dad," I tried to say as forcefully as possible. "There are such things as good and evil. Things that are very simple, like Superman, Batman, heroes in storybooks. But then there are more complicated things, things of the heart. Sometimes, maybe somewhere, you'll find something, like a book or a movie, or a subject, or a friend, or a woman, who touches your heart. Or maybe there's a decision coming up. Something you've thought about doing that keeps on coming up in your mind and feels good, so good, to just think about. Just thinking about this thing makes your insides light up and you just want to jump for joy. Well that's good. And it's the evil that stops you from doing it, or gets in your way, or crushes all joy, or stamps out the light. There's a battle out there. I know it. I've felt it."

We walk for a while and reach a fork in the road. Dad's thinking. He's thinking real hard and I have to nudge him and ask him, "Are we going this way, or that way?"
Suddenly, he bursts to life, "there was this Persian guy. He slept in the room next to me. Well, he'd always have some girl or another in there with him. And you should have heard the stories he'd tell them to get them there. And then they'd come up to me afterwards and ask me where he was. What he was doing."
"He dropped them. Just like that."
"But you weren't like that. What about mom?"
"Ha-ha. That. That's what you call the biological drive. We met in an all you can eat ribs place, after singing."
"That figures," I laughed. My dad had always been a big eater.
"And then I remember afterward, I was on the bus, joking around with the bus driver, who was a friend of mine. And he said to me, 'Hey Paul, I bet you can't get that Berkeley girl.' He bet me five bucks. Now, who he meant was this blonde bomb who was sitting in the back of the bus. I guess he'd been peaking out at here in the rear view mirror for a while and he was probably thinking about doing something himself if he hadn't been driving the bus. But I took it to mean your mom. She was spunky and red-headed, and I always wondered, 'how the heck could a girl have that much energy?'."
"So you followed her out here? In your car?"
"Yep. She was married at the time so I had to lay low. I hung around doing dish washing jobs. I worked in a Bakery for a while."
"And then she left him, and then you found her."
"And then it was Adam, and then it was you."
"You know what dad," I said as we passed out of the trees and onto the sunny hill. "Fuck the Persian guy."

I guess I'd just wanted to know why bad things happened in the world. When I was a boy I once dropped a train into a pond, and cried for hours. It felt like it would never come back. I wanted to dive down but I was afraid of the murky depths, and I doubt my mom and dad would have let me. And I wouldn't take any replacement toy train. I knew that no matter how many new toy trains I ever got, they'd always be different from that one which may still now be buried under sand deep down at the bottom of that pond.

I was getting ready to go back to U.C. Berkeley for the summer, and my brother was coming home from Taiwan for the first time since Christmas. Up until then it'd all been homesick calls from Pouli, a small province at the center of Taiwan, called Tai Zhong, nearby Da Jia. I can't say he liked teaching down there one bit, except for those weekends when he'd ride off on his motor scooter down a long, winding dusty road toward Da Jia, where he'd wander around Cafes chasing after girls and writing poetry.

It was morning and I had just woken up after a family feud over school again. And I felt like I needed to do something to fix everything. My brother would be getting home on the BART train soon enough. I'd been using his room as a kind of office to work from while he'd been gone, and I moved my computer back into my room. And I organized his shoes under his bed and tried to straighten everything out for him. He'd be back soon enough.

But where were my glasses? I suddenly thought as I was about to go out for lunch. I'd been near-sighted for eighteen years before I finally flunked an eye examination and qualified myself for a fairly weak prescription. My eyes weren't bad, but, sometimes, just losing something so little after losing something so big can be a mighty blow.

In frustration, while I searched, I pushed over my bookcase, and it keeled downward, crashing upon my dresser and spilling everything on the floor. My glasses were gone, I couldn't see, and everything around me that I'd I'd collected from the world as a momento of everything I loved lay in ruins. But my mom came to the rescue. She had a moment off work.
"I'm sorry mom, I'm an idiot."
"What's wrong?"
"Adam was coming home so I was moving my computer and I'd put my glasses somewhere, but then they were gone, and I didn't know what I was going to do for summer classes but... I ruined everything."
"No... everything's not ruined. It just needs to be picked up."
"But picking things up can be so difficult, especially when it feels like there's no hope in sight for the future."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean I can't see! What will I do in class?"
"You can always listen."
"I know but... it's not the same!"

"He's not so bad, when you really think about it."
"No, no."
"I mean, there are good times."
"Oh, I know."
"And bad times too. Ups and downs."
"There're always ups and downs."
"I just wish he would quit sometimes!"
"Me too. But you've got to support him."
"I try."
"Support him in whatever he does, good or bad, if you love him."
"Ever read Crime and Punishment? Raskolnikov, a student, kills an old woman because he thinks she's too cruel to continue living."
"How can he justify that?"
"In short, he calls himself a God."
"A god?"
"Or at least Alexander the Great. A true king among students, as it were."
"Ah, I see."
"Anyway, the point is this Raskolnikov is hounded by the police. He was isolated. Trapped in a room. No friends. No relatives. He went insane. But when his parents returned he regretted every moment. He regretted it so much he knelt in the middle of the cross roads and begged for mercy from the entire world. And yet there was a woman who loved him, who moved to Siberia to be with him."
"Through good and bad."
"There is no darkness that cannot be brought to light."

© David Tavernier

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