See him there. The face of a father barely alive. The last visage of this day, the remnants of histories born before. By night fall he will be deemed mentally unsound and moved to a permanent location outside of Minneapolis city limits, leaving us to be the ones to explain, fumbling with atonement as we stagger on. The gruesome details have culminated to this, and this culmination has brought our family together again.
My sisters came this morning to be with Mom, flying back to Minneapolis from New York, from Seattle. Today is the first day I’ve seen them all together since the divorce, all of them sitting there in the rigid chairs of Rogers Memorial, dabbing their streaming eyes with tissues, each the child of a father, a woman to a family.
When she arrived at the hospital this morning, my youngest sister, Lucy, looked tired. She hugged me.
How was your flight? I asked.
How’s New York?
She shrugged her shoulders, looked around at the hospital hall.
Have you talked with Dad?
I shook my head, lying.
When did you get in? she asked.
Yesterday. About three in the afternoon.
Did you see him?
You talk with him?
No, I said. He was sedated.
Has he said anything?
She sighed heavily then crossed her arms over her chest, putting a hand to her mouth and began to cry. A doctor came down the hallway, doing rounds, a stethoscope slung around her neck. Her shoes clicking softly over the polished tiled floor. Lucy turned and glanced at the doctor then back to me. The doctor entered a room. We heard her greet the patient and family before the door closed. The latch echoed down the hall. Lucy wiped her eyes.
I called the Baudette police, she said.
What’d they say?
That it was easy to bring him in.
What does that mean?
She shrugged. That he didn’t put up a fight, or something. They wouldn’t give me details.
You see the paper?
I saw the Star Tribune.
Lucy’s eyes filled again with tears and her voice labored. Those fucking jerkoff reporters, she said. The fuck do they know? The Star Tribune give them honorary degrees in psychoanalysis? She shook her head. Can’t be true, she said. Fucking liars. They have to be. Dad wouldn’t do that.
I hugged her and she cried into my shoulder. She spoke and her voice was muffled.
What the fuck is happening?
Doomed lives seem to repeat themselves not unlike nightmares. There’s a genesis when everything is innocent, a beginning when not all is bad. When it’s not all choked with torment. I remember certain things about him. Kind things. Things that at one time proved he was a good father and a good husband. He’d take my sisters and me to hockey games in the winter. Dance with Mom in the living room on Saturday nights. Read us Dickens and Twain before bed. He’d take me fishing and show me how to properly clean a trout. And when I start to remember my father for the man he was, I begin to dwell on disparity: the man many think he is since the murder versus the man who taught me how to ride a bike.
I can’t remember the exact moment it happened, the specific day he changed. There was one day in the fall of ninety-four. I was alone in my room when he started yelling from downstairs, a deep resonance through the floor, shouting for my friends and me to keep it down. Odd things like that. A little after Thanksgiving of the same year we began to find notes jammed between couch cushions, clipped to the fridge, scrolled in his hand, addressed to him then signed by men and women unknown to any of us.
I remember we went snowshoeing just before Christmas, just Dad and me. We stepped quietly through the woods of northern Minnesota, not saying a word, Dad wordlessly pointing out cardinals, other birds. The trees were bare and there was no wind with a light snow falling and it was all very quiet. When we came to the edge of the tree line, Dad stopped and stood looking suspiciously out over an empty snow covered field, then he dropped to his stomach, motioning for me to do the same. I did and he crawled back beside me.
Look out there, he said. You know what’s out there?
I shook my head.
The army’s got some kind of massive bunker under this field, he whispered. He looked around. Some government cover-up. I knew it was around here somewhere.
What do they keep here? I asked. But Dad held a finger to his lips.
Keep it down, he said. Then in a whisper, We’ve been trying to answer that same question for years.
Who’s we? I inquired quietly.
A commercial jet flew overhead, miles above the ground, hidden by the clouds. His eyes scanned the sky.
That must be one of their drones.
After Christmas it got worse. I’d hear him in the other room, muttering, as though his language that of a somniloquy. Mom finally took him to see a doctor, and he must have been administered something, because when they arrived back home, Mom led him by the hand through the front door and helped him take off his shoes, and then without a word put him to bed. She came back down and, in a quivering voice, told us to go outside and play.
Dad took his medicine and for years there were neither notes nor incoherent shouting and we feigned relief that some cure had been found. But something had fled. The medication left him docile and apathetic. His vacant eyes held us nameless. He started sleeping on the pullout sofa in the basement, claiming the air was too thin upstairs, sometimes emerging only to take his meals. It was a year of that before Mom filed for divorce.
We learned, after the incident had happened, that he’d quit the medication, believing it was poison.
They are trying to poison me, is what he had written.
He filled an entire notebook with that one sentence, hid it under the mattress then disappeared for two weeks. Not a word. It was an old woman living in Baudette, Minnesota who first reported it to the police. Called, saying there was a loud noise next door. Weird sounds, something like screaming. We heard about it a day later. Heard that the police had found Dad standing over a mutilated body in a room with all the lights on. That he was expressionless and breathing heavily, clutching some blunt object in his hand.
When Lucy arrived this morning she asked if I’d spoken with Dad. I lied and shook my head and told her I hadn’t.
Does Minnesota even have a death penalty? she asked.
I don’t know, I said.
Can they even put to death those types of people?
I don’t know.
She pulled her cardigan tight across her chest and folded her arms. He didn’t say anything?
I looked at her for a very long time. I could’ve told her that last night, before anyone had arrived, I went to see him in his hospital room. That he sat comfortably on his bed, one leg crossed over the other, like nothing had happened. That he smiled when he saw me come through the door. That he patted the bed, gesturing for me to sit down beside him, like he was any other father preparing to impart advice onto his son. And that in a calm, reasonable voice wanted all of us to know: small robberies aren’t as bad as large ones, so taking just the head isn’t a big deal because the head weighs only eight pounds and is really only a fraction of the entire body.
But how do you tell your sister that? How do you tell her the warmth within her father has turned cold? That the man who tucked her in as a child, who told her bedtime stories in which everyone lived happily ever after, the man who protected her and kept her safe, the one who videotaped birthday parties and Christmas mornings and her practicing pirouettes in the living room, the one who kissed skinned knees and let her shave his mustache as she stood on the counter over the bathroom sink, is now a stranger? A monster. How do you tell certain things? You don’t.
Photo: Drone and Moon by Don McCullough