Drew Zolta unlocked the door to his father’s home. He’d just returned to Arizona coming from New York, where he went to college, majoring in Film Studies. The 21-year-old aspired to one day break his way into the ranks of Hollywood’s elite directors.
It was a luxurious house, double in size compared to average, drenched in copper paint that was complemented by the dusty desert valley. Drew unloaded his luggage onto the floor. Camera? Check. Tripod? Check. Light? Lens? Microphone? Check, check, and check. He yanked off his shoes and placed them on the shoe rack.
Above the rack was a small, rectangular bulletin board that hung from a rusted nail. On it was a yellow sticky note, with a message that read ‘WALMART SHOPPING. BE BACK SOON’. Drew scratched his head. His father’s car, a stormy gray Prius, was parked in the driveway.
“Dad!” he called out, “I’m home!”
Drew bustled up the stairs, and as he strode down the grand hallway, he couldn’t help but notice a large, vibrant oil painting that hung on the wall. It portrayed a boxing ring, and within it, a referee holding up a man’s arm. The man looked young, in his early thirties, with tan skin, a chiseled jaw, and blue eyes plastered onto a looming, 250-pound human frame. His name: Marco Zolta.
“What is that?” Drew watched as his father hung a painting in the hall.
“It’s a painting,” Marco Zolta replied. His voice was deep and throaty, coated with a heavy southern accent.
“Who’s in it?”
“You’re a boxer? How come I never knew?”
“Should I have told you?”
“Yeah. I would’ve brought you to career day instead of Mom.”
“Well I was a boxer. Not anymore.”
“What is this painting about?”
“Ah, let's see. This was the final match of my career. Luckily, I won, because everybody knows it’s bad luck to retire after a loss. You can’t end your career on a bad note.”
“Wow. That’s cool!”
“Yup. I fought in 32 matches, won 30 of ‘em. 30-2 record. Y’know, they used to call me ‘The Bomb’, because my punched felt like, well, bombs exploding.”
“So, who did you lose against?”
“Well, err, I don’t exactly remember…”
Drew heard the front door click open. Who was there?
“Drew! Come put away these groceries!” It was his mother, Ciara Zolta. At the entrance were grocery bags, filled with an assortment of fruits, vegetables, and most importantly, bagel bites.
“Hey mom, where did you go?” Drew inquired.
“To Walmart. You would know if you read the board,” his mom gestured towards the bulletin board. On it, a yellow sticky note read ‘WALMART SHOPPING. BE BACK SOON’.
“Sorry...hey, mom, did you know that dad was a boxer?”
“How could I forget…”
Unbeknownst to a 9-year-old Drew, his mother’s voice was traced with faint nervousness. It hinted at something uneasy, something she didn’t want to talk about…
Wait, a sticky note? Drew thought. It must’ve been his mother who left the note. But where was his father? He continued down the hall, venturing into his father’s room.
It was king sized, with a giant bed built of sturdy oak wood in the corner. On the surrounding walls were posters of Marco Zolta, some were victory poses, others advertisements. The walls of nostalgia gave the room a curious yet comforting atmosphere.
Above the bed was the largest poster of them all, colored fiery red with Marco Zolta posing in the foreground, fists above his head. A quote in yellow block letters read ‘ALWAYS AIMING TO BE IN THE SPOTLIGHT’. It was signed, ‘The Bomb’.
Scattered across the frieze carpet were DVDs- Seinfeld to be specific, the completed series. Not a single disc was left untouched, as both DVDs and boxes were spread out in disarray. It was as if a robber had come through here looking for loot. Then again, Seinfeld was comedy gold…
Drew slid his jeans on and zipped them up, taking a glance at the mirror for the hundredth time. He ran his fingers through his long, shaggy hair, until finally satisfied with his look.
In the living area, his father was sprawled on the couch, munching on bagel bites. On the TV was Seinfeld.
“Where ya going kiddo?” he asked.
“To the movies,” Drew replied. He’d received two tickets from a friend to see No Country For Old Men.
“How come you didn’t tell me?”
“I did. Many times. Mom’s taking me.”
“Oh,” Marco turned to stare at the television. “How come you never invite me to watch movies?”
“You’ll end up forgetting the name of the movie before we leave the theaters. I mean, isn’t that the same episode of Seinfeld you were watching yesterday?”
“What? No! I watched that other one…y’know, where Jerry goes and does that thing…” his voice trailed off on a hike of uncertainty.
“I’ll be back in a couple hours,” Drew promised.
“Well...have a good time…” Marco said, though his words failed to reach his son as he closed the front door behind him.
A dark blue sedan was in the driveway, engine gurgling. His mother was here. Drew hopped in the car.
“Hi honey,” Ciara smiled. She was skinnier than the last time Drew had seen her. Her skin was mozzarella pale, her eyes dark and baggy.
“Mom...are you OK?”
“Yes. I’m good. Turn on the GPS. I don’t know where the movies are.”
On the road, Drew fiddled with his tickets, unsure of what to do or say. His mother hadn’t spoken a word since they'd begun driving. Finally, he decided to break the silence.
“Mom. How come you can’t live with us?”
“...That isn't fair. You know I’d love to. You know that, right? But I can’t. I just can’t.”
“Why? Me and dad, we miss having you around.”
“How is your father?” Ciara dodged the question.
“He’s good. Y’know, like always. Between eating and napping, he still finds plenty of time to do other stuff. Like watching TV. He still watches Seinfeld. Can you believe that? Still.”
“Don’t say that Drew. That show is his favorite. Whenever he was down in the dumps, depressed, he’d watch the show to feel better. If it was a really bad week, he’d binge an entire season in one night. Can you believe it? An entire season!”
Drew stared out the window, uncomfortable. If what his mother said was true…
Drew scanned his father’s room once more. Seinfeld DVDs were dispersed across the floor. He dashed out of the room, shouting.
“Dad! DAD!” Still, no response.
He made his way to the kitchen. It had been renovated once-upon-a-time, indicated by its modern design and feel. It was large, uncomfortably so, with marble countertops and a gold chandelier that hung above the dinner table. On one wall was a funky looking clock, with cupid arrows for hands and a heart imprinted on its face. It audibly ticked after each second. Tick. Tick. The time was 3:02 PM.
On the countertops were a dozen medicine bottles. Drew examined one called Valerian Roots, meant to aid sleep for insomniacs. Nothing surprising. Upon further inspection, however, he noticed the other bottles contained pills for more serious symptoms. Memory loss, deafness, antidepressants…
Flashback, Psychiatrist’s Office
“It’s CTE,” the doctor told Drew, pulling him into her office.
“CTE?” he repeated.
“It stands for Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy,” she continued, “To cut it simply, it’s Alzheimer’s for athletes, caused by trauma to the head. You said your dad was a boxer, right?”
“Yes ma’am. Are you saying he took too many punches his head?”
“I believe that to be the case. The thing with CTE is that you never know when it’ll get serious. It's like a ticking time bomb. Up until this point it’s been fairly harmless. But as he grows older, it’ll get worse. Confusion, erratic behavior, memory loss. It’ll happen slowly, but one day, his memories will be all gone. ”
The incident that propelled them to visit the psychiatrist occurred two weeks prior. A car accident. Marco Zolta had been focused on the road, coming back from a Walmart shopping trip. For just a moment, he took his eyes off the road, perhaps daydreaming. The result was a costly fender bender.
Although it wasn’t the worst that could’ve happened, Drew used the opportunity to get his dad checked out. His father’s forgetfulness, lapses of memory, and inattentiveness had become more noticeable as of recent. There had to be a reason behind it. And boy was it a big one.
“What can we do about it? What can I do about it?” Drew asked the doctor.
“As I understand it, you’re the only one that lives with him. No relatives to support him?”
Drew shook his head.
“Well, I usually don’t suggest this to patients, but you should hire a nurse. Someone to watch your father when you’re not around. Give him his meds too. A caretaker.”
“A nurse…” he pondered the idea.
“People with CTE are better off staying in places they’re familiar with, so avoid letting him go outside the house too much. And while you’re at it, maybe hide his car keys?"
A nurse…? Drew recalled the note from the bulletin board. That wasn’t his mother buying groceries. It was the nurse.
Still, where was his father? Drew skimmed the medicine bottles a second time. The sound of the clock grew louder, each tick more ominous than the last.
It all made sense.
“DAD! DAD!” Drew ran through the house, double checking every room, bathroom, nook and cranny. His father was nowhere to be found. There was one last place to check.
Surely enough, his father was in the backyard, on the deck. The sun shone brightly, giving a gleamy look to Marco's forehead, slicked with sweat. He was half-bald, with gray hairs that grew around the protruding center of his head. His face was weary, his lips dry and cracked.
“Dad? Hello?” Drew shook him. No signs of movement, not even the twitch of an eyelash. Drew pressed two fingers on the groove of his father’s neck…
Panicking, Drew grabbed his phone from his pocket, hands shaking. 9-1-...2, shit! His fingers wobbled as he pressed the keypad. 9-1-1. Got it.
“9-1-1,” the line was answered instantly.
“DRUGS! My dad- my dad's OVERDOSED!”
“Where are you?”
“2410...2410 Beeker Road!”
“Stay on the line…”
In the back of Drew’s mind, he knew. Knew that it was too late. Breathing heavily, he swallowed hard on an imaginary pill. A bitter one. A pill of regret.
His father would later be diagnosed dead.
‘The Bomb’ had gone off.