It was the day before Christmas, and I was sitting in the kitchen doing a crossword puzzle in the newspaper. They had one once a month, and they were really hard. If you were the first one to send the completed puzzle back to the company, they would give you $50. It was incentive to get you to read the paper, but it was incentive for me to get to college. Every cent I earned got me that much closer to a real education, and away from my family. At that time, even though my parents were divorced, my father still came around every week or so. Usually he was drunk, but he got sober once in a while. He was an amazing dad on those rare occasions; he took me to the movies, to play golf, and even taught me how to play chess.
But that day, when I was at the kitchen table, and the phone rang, he was undoubtedly drunk. I remember it like it was yesterday, and no matter how hard I try to forget, the memory always comes sweeping back, stronger each time.
My mother was upstais with a hangover, sleeping it off. I raced to the phone before it woke her up. Those few moments a day where she was asleep or passed out gave me some peace and quiet to do the things I wanted, and the last thing I wanted was to wake up the beast she became when she was woken up in the middle of a nap.
"Hello?" I said into the receiver. At first there was just a lot of background chatter, and then there was heavy breathing. I wasn't frightened, though, because my mom called me many times from bars when she was too drunk to drive herself home, and those calls sounded exactly like that one.
"Hello? Is anyone there?" I asked again. I was just about to hang up when I heard a husky voice, a familiar voice I hadn't heard in a few weeks.
"Hey there, baby! How's my suga-pie?" I recognized it immediatley, the nickname he used for me and only me.
"Hi daddy! Where are you? It's been weeks! Mom and I miss you. And it's almost Christmas!" More background chatter. I heard his roaring laugh through the phone, and pulled it a few inches away from my ear.
"Oh, right. Well suga-" more drunk laughter, "-I'm actually not gonna make it back in time for Christmas mornin'. I'm not gonna make it back at all!" This time a soprano laugh joined in- a woman. Anger started to blossom inside of me.
"Daddy, where are you?" I asked again, firmer. "And who is that with you? Do you need me to come and pick you up?"
I was already reaching for the keys on the dinet when he said, "No suga, stay where you are. You need to listen to me now, ya hear? I ain't comin back." I waited for the 'until' or 'but'. It never came. "Are you listenin? I am leaving you and your mama. Okay? I just need my space." He hung onto the word 'leaving' like it was the only thing keeping him from falling flat on his face. I knew he was really drunk, and I knew that he wasn't thinking straight, but his words sent my heart into a frenzy.
"Come on, daddy. You don't mean that," I insisted in a small voice.
"Goodbye, suga," he said. The phone went dead, the tone a flatline on a heart monitor. I held the receiver for minutes after, as if waiting for it to ring again, to hear his normal, sober laugh fall through the phone and tell me it was all a big joke. But the flatline continued, and the phone was dead.