Family Tree


Molly tells me I need to lay off the drinking. She sees me come home from a ten-hour day and it takes me an hour in the truck one way. I come home, take off my overalls, piss, and make myself a double of whiskey and water and slam it with a pickle juice chaser. We watch All in the Family or Futurama. Actually, I watch those shows and she watches make-up tutorials on her phone that are hosted by drag-queens or awkward chubby girls, or anorexic supermodel types with condos in the Hollywood Hills.

She doesn’t like how I drink. I just slam the booze until I don’t have to think about my life. She says it bothers her. Her telling me it bothers her bothers me. Leave me alone, I say. I need a fucking break every once in a while, and I bust my ass. But then she starts to cry and I have to leave the room.

“You can’t go a single night, can you?” says Molly as I down a whiskey and water.

“Sure I can,” I say. “I just don’t want to.” I’m being honest, but she wants my lies more than the truth.

“You’re just trying to piss me off,” she says, and goes into the bedroom with her make-up videos on her phone and slams the door. I can hear her getting under the covers.

I tell her, through the door, that I’m going to the Shell station at the bottom of the hill for treats. I tell her I’m sorry. Before she can call me in there to be friends again, I’m out the door and around the corner in my pickup truck with my lighter on the tin foil and my favorite Hank Williams song.

The drinking sort of makes more sense now, since I’ve had one of those genetic tests done. My grandma got it for my thirtieth birthday. They send you a little tube you spit in and then you send it to a lab and they tell you what you’re made of. I guess they can also track down serial killers from the FBI DNA database too.

Turns out I’m over half Irish, mostly on my daddy’s side. So that explains my drinking, and my daddy’s drinking, and his daddy’s drinking, and the bastard Irish son-of-a-bitch who knocked up the girl who gave birth to my grandpa and never owned up to his drinking.

My grandma is getting old, almost eighty, and I’ve finally started asking her about the family. Sometimes we get together at an overpriced sandwich shop in Portland, or else send each other lengthy emails. She grew up in Jersey as an Irish Catholic, her father was a D.A., one brother was a cop, another was a lawyer. Both died of liver failure. Her youngest brother died from AIDS in Los Angeles before they knew what it was.

She had wanted to be a nun, but instead she met my grandfather and they moved to Portland. He turned out to be a raging and abusive drunk. Three kids and a decade later he threatened to burn the house down with them in it. He went and started a different family with another woman, and when he died his three kids and seven grandkids weren’t mentioned in the obituary, but his dog was.

The love for smack and pills comes from my mother’s side of the family. There’s been more than a few funerals. My grandfather on my mother’s side lived to be a hundred and one, no addictions. He was just an asshole.

Now, ever since I found out my Irish ancestry, I’ve been wanting to get one of those celtic arm-band tattoos on my right arm. Yeah, I know, it’s not original, but who cares, I like them.

Molly’s trying to get into grad-school, and her dad is dying from cancer. Meanwhile, she works at a vet clinic in Longview dealing with dirtbags like me, or worse. Molly’s got a lot going on. And it’s a lot being with her going through all of that. It makes me happy to have booze and smack to sort of level the whole thing out.

So far she hasn’t made much headway in terms of grad-school. She likes cutting open animals and hooking them up to machines, which is ironic because she’s also a vegetarian. On our first date she took me into the lab she was working in, and it was full of bats. They swirled around our heads and squeaked as we made out. Then she worked with monkeys, then mice. She would cut up their brains and sew their eyes shut in the name of Science.

Her dad was diagnosed with colon cancer two years ago, and it spread to his liver. They cut out his colon and a piece of his liver, gave him about twenty rounds of chemo and radiation, and now they say he hasn’t much time left.

On Tuesday the hospice people come in. One guy has no neck and some missing fingers, probably since infancy, and then there’s a chubby nurse with glasses who probably smokes a lot of pot. They ask her dad if he wants a chaplain. It’s part of hospice services.

“Well how fast can he run?” says her dad.

“What do you mean?” asks the nurse.

“I mean how fast can he run?” he makes a gun with his fingers. They don’t know whether to laugh or be concerned.

“He’s kidding, right?” they ask his wife.

I can’t help but laugh.

He’s a good guy, but he doesn’t like taking the drugs they give him, hydrocodone and liquid morphine, among others, so I’ve been making it magically disappear when he’s asleep and his wife is out of the house.

I’ll spend my Sunday when Molly is at work passed out on the lawn chair from a whiskey-morphine combo, not enough to kill me, just enough to feel like if I were to die it would not be so bad. Better than dying from cancer on a fucking La-Z-Boy recliner in front of daytime T.V.

Every once in a while I fantasize about tying a noose in the living room and hanging myself, but I’ve heard that the brain can live for about five minutes after the heart has stopped beating, and that sounds fucking unpleasant.

I also used to mow the lawn, but I think I broke the damn thing. It sits in the back plot with a flat tire and broken serpentine belt while the weeds get higher.

On one of my days off I finally get down to McMinnville to see Derek. I guess now his biker buddies call him Razor, but I think that sounds dumb, so I still call him Derek. He shows me his Harley.

“Damn, that’s nice,” I say, sounding impressed. “How much did it run you?”

“About ten,” he says, taking a pouch of chew out of the can and stuffing it into his cheek.

I’ve always wanted to be in an outlaw motorcycle gang, but I could never hack it. I can’t even remember the last time I got in a fist fight or shot off a gun. I’ve never even ridden a fucking dirt bike.

We worked together on the railroad, and I’d say he’s one of my best friends even though we never hang out. Reason I’m here is to get that celtic armband tattoo on my right arm.

“You got anything for me?” he says, and I pull out a bag of hydrocodone from Molly’s dad’s medicine cabinet which I’ve put in a sandwich bag. He takes a look at them, grunts, and throws it aside. I don’t think he uses them himself.

“How’s Molly’s old man doing?” he says.

“He doesn’t have much time left.”

“That’s a bummer. I’m sorry.”

I shrug. “I just want one of those simple celtic armbands,” I say, trying to change the subject.

He pulls up his Acer laptop and Googles celtic armbands.

“One like that,” I say. It’s a simple design, just in black, not too intricate. I want it wrapped around my right bicep. He’s got a setup in his garage, right next to a nice red F-150 and his Harley. It’s my first tattoo, and it hurts a little bit when he gets going, but after a while I start to enjoy it. I have him put “Gimme Shelter” on his garage stereo, and everything feels right. It’s like I’m in a Scorcese film about to beat the living shit out of some gangster that owes me money. We each take a nip of Jim Beam and let the afternoon pass in that way.

“Whatever happened to Crazy Will?” I say.

“I don’t hear from him much anymore. He was calling me about once a week, with a different number every time. I think he got back on meth hardcore and moved with his old lady back to L.A.”

Crazy Will was a guy we worked with from Georgia, who claimed to have been buddies with Mike Tyson and to have hung out with porn stars in Hollywood. He was a big corn-fed motherfucker with a bald skin-shaved head and a goofy smile with big teeth. A real hillbilly.

I felt bad, because we were at work riding along together and he fell asleep, only I didn’t know he was asleep. He had worked a straight week of overtime and probably been up for three days. The manager came walking up and asking what’s going on, and I start explaining what we’re up to. But then the manager says, “no, what’s going on?” pointing to Crazy Will who is zonked out in the passenger seat and snoring loudly. He was fired right after the lunch break and I never heard from him after that.

“Does he think I set him up?” I ask Derek.

“Who, Will? Don’t worry about it. He was always sleeping. He didn’t give a shit about that job.”

I nod my head and laugh, but there’s still that guilty feeling. It makes me smile thinking of that guy. One time, in the break room, he started playing Brazillian fart porn on his phone and showing everyone. It’s about what you’d think it is – girls farting in other girl’s faces with their bare asses. How anyone finds that erotic and not a work of comedy, I’ll never know.

After a few hours Derek is done working on my arm. We don’t have anything else to talk about, so I head home.

“Don’t be a stranger,” he says.

I know I shouldn’t, but I’m high and a little drunk and decide to text Hannah on my way home. I just say something about me being in town, and how I can’t stop thinking about her after all of this time, and can I come and see her.

She has an apartment in downtown Portland and I find parking a few blocks away, popping another hydrocodone. My arm is sore, covered in bandages, but the pills seem to be helping. I have trouble finding her apartment.

It’s been a while now, and she has a two year-old kid that’s asleep in the front room.

“I hope that’s okay,” she says, and I say yeah, no problem, and we go back into her bedroom. It’s nicely decorated and dark. She’s put on a little bit of weight, and she looks like a mother. It feels a little awkward, but then I think, that could be my son in the front room, and I’ve put on some weight too. I kiss her, and she smells good. Not like perfume, but something deeper.

I can feel her whole body relax and open up, and she says “you’ve always been a good kisser.” I work on the nape of her neck, and get my hand up her dress and into her panties. She tells me she wants me, and I don’t have to wear a condom if I don’t want to, just try not to come inside. I don’t ask her if she’s on birth control, and at that moment I don’t give a shit. I’m so high, and I get undressed and work it in with her bent over. She feels so good that it sends shivers to the back of my spine, and I come inside her in less than five minutes. She comes at the same time and I feel like I’m in love for the first time in a long time, or maybe ever.

“Oh shit, I’m sorry,” I say. “I didn’t mean to do that.”

“It’s okay,” she says. “It felt really good.” She smiles at me, and I give her a kiss. I start getting dressed as she goes to the bathroom and the baby starts crying in the next room. She hurries out and I throw my shoes on. She waves me bye as she tries to comfort her kid and I slip out. My high is starting to wear off and the bandage on my arm is starting to ache and itch again.

When I get to my truck, I check my phone. It’s Molly. Her dad is in the hospital. I text her telling her my phone died when I was at Derek’s getting a tattoo, and that time got away from me. What hospital? She tells me St. Johns in Longview and I start driving.

There’s a guy on an electric scooter in the middle of the street as I’m trying to get on the freeway exit. I roll my window down and scream. All that comes out is me saying “looking to die, asshole,” and the guy looks more scared and confused than offended.

It’s generally about a forty-five-minute drive to the hospital, but it takes longer because there’s a wrecked semi on I-5 blocking two lanes of traffic. I put on the eighties station and have to turn it off after a few minutes. I can’t tell which is worse, silence or music.

I find a spot in the parking garage and dig around for the tin foil. There’s only a little left. It’s just enough to take the edge off. It feels like a long way to the room where they’re keeping her dad. In the elevator two med students come in, laughing and joking about some medical procedure or something, and I feel the urge to strangle them to death just to get them to stop talking.

When I finally find the room with Molly’s dad, there’s no place to sit. He’s on a respirator and his eyes are closed. His wife, brothers, and sisters are taking up all of the seats, and some are standing. Molly has her head on her dad’s chest, and she’s crying. Her whole body is shaking.

“I love you, daddy,” she says. Some of the others are crying quietly, or trying not to and looking at each other.

Her mom puts her hand on her daughter’s shoulder and she looks at me. “Thanks for being here for her,” she says to me. “It means a lot.”

And I don’t cry. That’s not something I like to do. I nod my head and walk over to Molly and she hugs me, sobbing, and I kiss her forehead. Her family looks at me, and a part of me wishes I was there for her the way she needs me to be.  

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