Memoirs of the Living Impaired
By Douglas James Troxell
(Recap: After shunning the afterlife to watch over his young son, a deceased father struggles to deal with being a passive observer in his family's life. He watches as his wife remarries and his son turns to drugs and self-destructive behavior. At the end of Part II, Laura's unexpected pregnancy forces her to rethink her decision not to send Jason to college until he cleans up his act).
Laura enrolled Jason at our old alma mater, Westshire University, a small in-state liberal arts college. It was where Laura and I met and fell in love and started our life together. It was two hours away so he could still come home for the holidays but far enough he wouldn’t come home every weekend to have Laura do his laundry. Plus, since he was the child of alumni he got to go at a discounted rate so if he tanked hard the hit would be minimal.
As much as I worried about Jason out in the world on his own, I was just as concerned about what was going to happen to me. Neither option was ideal. The boy didn’t need me anymore. He was starting his journey in life. He didn’t need his dead dad tagging along. On the other hand, I didn’t want to hang out with Laura and Nick and their new baby (a boy). They were going to call him Nicholas Jr. if you can believe that. There was part of me that hoped my name would make the final list, but it was never even mentioned.
Out of the two options, I decided I’d rather stay in the house. The house was safe and familiar. I’d get my basement back. I could hide, fade out over long stretches of time, maybe pop in when Jason visited. I could rest. I just wanted to rest. Of course, I knew that it really wasn’t up to me.
Jason graduated and later in August he packed up his Honda and drove out west. Laura and Jason did not go with him. The send-off was cordial but tense. Nick gave Jason some money and told him to keep his grades up and stay out of trouble. Laura hugged him for a long time. Then she told him she loved him and sent him on his way. No tears. She was seven months pregnant.
Me? I stayed behind. I’m not proud to say I was glad to see the kid go. I hated seeing what he had become and it sickened me that I was starting to hate him, too. Being apart would be good for us. He could find himself, leave his hang-ups behind. Start over. I feared a large part of his issues was my constant presence in his life. All I had wanted to do was protect him, but I had been holding him back. Besides, I was tired of watching the kid destroy himself.
The house was quiet again. The basement returned to its peaceful state. A lull settled over the house as if a great storm had passed and the sun had finally emerged. I was at peace.
One minute I was listening to the quiet vibrations of the washing machine in the darkness of the basement, the next I was in a small room and two people were screaming at each other. One of them was Jason. His eyes were bloodshot and his nose bloodied. The other was a pudgy kid in pajama pants and a wifebeater. They were engaged in a screaming match, but I couldn’t make out what either was saying. Jason rushed forward and tipped over a dresser. Pairs of jeans and socks and underwear spilled out. Jason picked them up and tossed them around the room. There was a wildness in his eyes. Jason’s roommate told him he was crazy and wisely left. Jason continued to tear the room apart until campus security showed up. I didn’t even try to calm him down. Instead I screamed back at him. I knew what being there meant. There was no going back. I was stuck there with the kid and since he wasn’t going back home, neither was I. He had robbed me of my sanctuary.
Jason’s roommate moved out, which was appropriate since I had moved in. To anyone else it looked like the kid had a single, but now he was never alone. Dead or not, no father should have to live with his eighteen-year-old son. He rarely went to class and masturbated more than any human being should. He’d go out drinking at dorm parties any night of the week and bring back girls who could barely stand. On the weekends, he’d sleep into the late afternoon and go rock climbing by himself, taking ridiculous chances jumping gaps and trusting loose rocks to hold his body weight.
Time passed. Laura must have had her baby, but Jason didn’t return home. He didn’t go home for his birthday either. Just got drunk with some friends and threw up in his bed. As far as I could tell he never visited home and Laura and Jason never came out to see him. Even during winter break, he remained on campus with me while everyone else in the dorm returned home for the holidays. I understood why Laura and Nick didn’t visit, but I didn’t agree with it. The boy was lost.
I tried to fade out as much as possible, but Jason’s emotional roller coaster kept me tethered to the land of the living. The days were long. The nights longer. Things bottomed out near the end of March. Jason brought a girl home, this petite little thing with a nose stud and big brown cocker spaniel eyes. The girl was hammered beyond belief. Jason basically dragged her to his bed. He was plastered pretty good himself. He threw her down onto the mattress and fell on top of her. Her eyes rolled to the back of her head. He began to take off her jeans.
“Don’t,” she slurred. “Don’t…”
But he didn’t stop. He heard her. I know he heard her. He kept going. She quietly sobbed as he slid inside of her. But he didn’t stop. He didn’t stop.
I could barely look at him after that. Some nights I’d sit in the empty bed on the opposite side of the room and ream him out while he read. He was into Nietzsche and nihilism and all that “nothing means anything” bullshit. I don’t even think it was for a class.
“I stayed here for you,” I told him. “I gave up eternal paradise for you! And this is what you’ve become? You disgust me!”
But he kept reading.
It was on a cool and rainy early April day that Jason went for a climb at the nearby state park. He knew his days at college were numbered. He’d fail out at the end of the year. Laura and Nick couldn’t afford to send him to another college. None of the parties involved wanted him back at the house. Of course, if the cocker spaniel-eyed girl came forward, he wouldn’t have to worry about having a place to stay. He’d have a place to stay free of charge—and I’d go with him to watch my son rot in a cell.
It was foggy out in the woods and the rocks were damp and moist. The winter still clung onto the first wisps of April. No one else was out so we had the woods to ourselves.
“Stick to the trail today, kid,” I told him.
Of course he didn’t listen. Halfway up the mountain he abandoned the trail. It was one of his usual routes that lead to a rock field. The kid wanted to run. He wanted to yell. He wanted to escape.
The rain increased to a steady downpour. The ground was muddy and the rocks slick. Jason threw his head back and screamed into the falling rain. Then he took off running. He pounded through the puddles and bounded over the rocks. He approached a gap of about three feet, a jump I had seen him make a dozen times. Only this time, he didn’t. The earth gave way. His launch foot slipped on the jump and his chest crashed into the rocks on the other side. The earth slid loose and the boy fell into the canyon with the loose earth and rocks crashing down after him.
I followed him the twenty feet down praying he had survived the fall. It was worse than that. He laid trapped under a large rock the size of a washing machine. His legs, his waist, and his right arm were trapped underneath the rock. He was still conscious but in bad shape. He panicked. He tried to push the rock off him, but he had no leverage. He screamed for help, but the rain muffled his cries and even so, who would have heard him?
My mind (or whatever I still had) raced. I tried to help move the rock, but nothing changed on that front. Someone would notice he was gone eventually, right? No. No one knew he had left and he hadn’t told anyone where he was going. It would be days before anyone noticed his absence. He never ran with his phone so that wasn’t a way out. I’d have to get help myself—somehow. I took off down the mountain but I only made it about fifty yards before I was right back at Jason’s side. I was as helpless as he was. The rules could not be broken no matter how dire the situation.
Eventually he calmed down and surveyed the situation. He waited for a niche in the rock to fill with water and then scooped it into his mouth. Like I said, he was a smart kid and Nick had taught him well. Rule #1 in any survival situation: Stay calm. After he had his fill of water, he waited. Every fifteen minutes or so he’d yell for help. I joined him so he would know he wasn’t alone. No one came.
“I’m going to die down here,” he said aloud. A soft whimper escaped his throat.
“No you’re not,” I told him. “Don’t think like that. Stay positive. Someone will come.”
I knew he couldn’t hear it, but he didn’t say anything that negative again. The light started to fade. The rain continued. The canyon had a half inch of rain in it and it continued to rise. When the sun faded the kid would be in a bad place. He made one last effort to move the rock, focused all his energy, pushed, pushed, pushed. The rock wiggled—but that was it.
The sun set. The rain continued to fall. Jason started to cry. His heavy sobs echoed off the canyon walls.
“I’m sorry, Mom!” he yelled into the air. “I’m sorry!”
He continued to mumble for his mother like a little boy. I stroked his hair and told him he’d be all right. I sang him songs I used to sing to help him fall asleep when he was a boy. I tried to will the rain to cease, but it continued its steady assault. When I ran out of songs I told him fairy tales I remembered reading to him as a child, but I could only remember bits and pieces. It seemed to calm him even as the canyon filled with water. He eventually passed out shortly after the moon passed directly overhead. I watched over him and every second the rain fell was an eternity.
The rain finally let up just before dawn. Jason woke up shortly after that. There was the terrible realization on his face when he realized he was still trapped in the canyon.
“Hang in there, kid,” I told him. “The rangers will notice your car. They’ll come looking. Just stay with me. You’re getting out of here today.”
He looked bad, though. His face was ashen and the light in his eyes appeared dim. His breathing was strained and labored. But the kid wasn’t done yet. The falling water level seemed to raise his spirits. He drank more from the divot and returned to his fifteen-minute routine of yelling for help and then resting.
“It’s a nice day,” he said to himself. “Someone will be out. Someone will hear me. Someone will notice my car and come looking. They’re going to find me.”
“That’s right!” I told him. “Stay positive. Stay calm. They’re coming.”
I noticed the blood just before noon. I hadn’t noticed it earlier because of the water. A steady drip-drip-drip falling on the rocks beneath Jason. The puddle was the size of a half dollar. That’s when I knew.
His face completely drained of color. He stopped yelling. His eyes struggled to stay open. I told him jokes to keep his spirits up. I could barely remember any of my old material, but I did remember some of the cheesy jokes I used to tell him when I was still alive. I thought I saw the hint of a smile cross his face.
“Hey,” I said to him. “What do you call a cow with no legs?”
He giggled. “Ground beef,” Jason answered. “Ground beef.”
We laughed together. Then he looked at me. My son looked at me for the first time in 15 years. And he smiled.
“Dad? Dad, is that you?”
I nodded. “It’s me, son.”
I took his hand and pulled him free from the boulder. We hugged. I felt his warmth and smelled him and his hair tickled my nose. I had my boy again.
Then there it was. The Light. It shone down into the cavern and filled the world with light. Jason looked at it and turned away.
“I’m scared, Dad.”
“I know,” I said. “But I’m here. I’ve always been here for you.”
I took his hand and we walked together into the Light. It had finally come back for me.
And the timing could not have been more perfect.