“Grow up.” Two words that meant so much more to me as I attempted to be the man of the house.
My fingers brushed down the wooden trim of the doorframe. They came to rest at the three roughly cut lines which had the faded numbers 4’6” written directly above them.
“Grow up” was what I did, physically at least. My hand slid back up the oil-darkened door trim. My fingers came to rest at the measurement of 6' my current adult height.
I lost my father well before I reached this height. In fact, 4’6” at age eight was the last time my father would scratch a notch into that door frame: a tradition my mother had kept going until a week ago when cancer claimed her life. She was laid to rest next to my father this past Sunday.
As I stand in my parent's house, memories of the day my dad left for good come flooding back. He lifted me in the air, saying “let’s see where that ol’ height is now son!” He gently set me down in front of the door. He reached to his side and unbuttoned the knife from the leather holster that he wore on his belt. “Hold still now, I want to be accurate” his mouth barely moved as he spoke. He looked over at mom and gave her a wink. She stepped forward and pushed and patted my hair down flat to the top of my head.
“Okay, now you can be precise dad,” she said while backing away to take in the scene. Dad’s old knife scratched across the frame. Once. Twice. Three times just to be sure. When dad tucked the knife safely back in its holster, mom opened her arms signaling that she was ready for a hug. Dad (being prepared, as usual) reached to the other side of his belt and slid a tape measure off it with a sharp click. He measured from the floor to the highest of the three fresh cuts, of course. “Four-feet and six-inches son,” he said, “you’ll pass your mom soon.” He chuckled and mom smiled.
“Don’t forget we still need a couple things from the store before mom and dad get here tonight.” Mom said as dad clicked the tape measure back in place and wrote my new height on the door.
“I’m headed to the store now, anything you want son?” He asked.
“Um… Umm, maybe some ice cream, I loooove cookie-dough ice cream!” I licked my lips as I finished the sentence. He gave Mom a kiss then called me close and, wouldn’t you know it, found a quarter behind my ear. He patted me on the head as he walked toward the door for the last time.
My final words to my dad were “I love cookie-dough ice cream.” Not “I love you dad,” or “I’ll miss you, hurry back.” They were “I love cookie-dough ice cream.” Three hours later my mom received the phone call that would change both of our lives forever.
According to what I was told (or at least what I can recall) when my dad got to the store and had finished the list from mom, he headed back to aisle fourteen to get the ice cream I requested. Of course, they were out in the freezer section, so dad asked if they could check the back for it. It was this delay that cost him his life. They did get more in, but the truck had just arrived. The stock boy informed Dad that it would be a bit, but that they would bring the ice cream out as soon as possible. “Okay I’ll wait, after all, it is his favorite.” Ten minutes later they brought it out to him. He tipped the young man, thanked him, then went off to checkout.
While in the checkout line a disheveled man entered the store, waving a gun around. He stepped past the people in line stopping in front of a teen-aged clerk. The man demanded that she open the register and place all the money in a bag. My dad stepped forward. He spoke to the man, “Sir, if it’s money you need I… maybe I can help you.”
“GET BACK NOW!” The man demanded, pointing the gun at my dad.
My dad said again “maybe I can help. There is a better way sir, you don’t have to do this.” Dad reached down to retrieve his wallet from his back pocket. His hand brushed the knife holster while reaching back. A shot was fired before he reached his back pocket. He fell. The gunman fled the store, only to take his own life a few moments later in his car.
While the blood and ice cream pooled (becoming one) on the worn tile floor beneath his head, I sat at home selfishly nagging my grandparents, who had just arrived, about how long his trip to the store was taking. He bled out and died before the ambulance even arrived. Sometime later Mom actually saw this whole scene unfold, the police showed her the video footage from the store. I, however, was deemed too young to see that footage.
Turns out the man that took my father's life had a newborn baby. The baby boy screamed in his car seat as the second fatal shot was fired. This one claimed his father’s life too.
He was born just one week before the shootings. The man’s wife was cruelly taken from him, she died, in the labor delivery room due to complications. A couple days later he showed up at work, met with the boss, and asked for a week off with pay to grieve and make some final arrangements. Instead of granting his request the bastard laughed in his face, fired him for no call no show, and told him to “grow up, and grow a pair!” When I told my therapist about this I learned what "grow a pair" meant. Now I’m stuck writing a stupid journal so I can cope with all that has happened.
The plea for a measly week off and subsequent dismissal directly lead to the man picking the same store my dad had. His boss also owned that store and the man was hell-bent on getting even for the injustice.
Life has a funny way of coming full circle. Turns out that after my dad’s funeral, my mom became rather lonely. I never felt like she blamed me or didn’t love me. That wasn’t it, she just needed to connect to something (to someone) else. She needed to fill the void that was had so quickly sprung upon her. She decided to adopt, and as fate would have it, the gunman's baby boy would become my little brother. He had been placed in state custody because there were no next of kin to be located. Mom fought for the adoption for over a year, and he has been with us ever since.
But now, here in the aftermath, I am the one who must “grow up” I am eighteen years old, and I have a tremendous responsibility in front of me. I have an eight-year-old brother, and wouldn’t you know it, at the time of this writing he stands in front of the door frame next to me. He stands at an exact height of four feet and six inches.