by Aaron Hicks
The family and the house fell on hard times, only to never recover again. What happened next was both unforeseen and yet expected. Poverty had passed itself down from generation to generation through the family. Weariness sitting deep within our souls, and defeat swimming in our bloodline.
I remember the days when we were huddled outside tending to the yard. Well… Daddy would be tending to the yard as I sat and sulked in the sun. Daddy was always fixin’ with the junk outside. He was soaked in his sweat and the July sun would be bearing down on him. He had been sparring with the heat all day, but it was ultimately a heavyweight fight he could not win. Daddy threw some strong punches himself as always, but the sun countered them right back. It would be around 2:30 in the afternoon when the sun would pick up intensity and fierceness. She would throw a strong haymaker and put daddy down for the count a many of days. I as always would walk over to him and hand him a cool drink of water from the sink.
“Atta boy,” he would say as he took a deep swig and handed the glass back. He returned to his work.
My Daddy, Melvin inherited our house and all the land around it from his father, and his daddy from his father before him. It wasn’t much but it was his. It was ours. We lived in the middle of Florida near Tampa Bay. The land surrounding us was a marsh and a wet swamp. It was the type of place to make an outsider’s skin crawl and make a Yankee flee back up north, but for us Florida boys it was home.
As Florida boys we were a different breed of animal. Growing up with daddy he taught me early on that if I want anything in life, I have to fight for it. Daddy said, “ain’t nobody gonna give you a damn thing in this life, you got to take it.”
“You young, and you black. That makes you talented and dangerous. Learn how to use it or they will use it FOR you how they see fit.”
When Daddy was little, he saw how his father would beat the living shit out of his mother while he watched helplessly from afar. He remembered growing up struggling to eat and had two rules for our house. No one lays a finger on family, and no one goes hungry.
He was always like this. That’s how he managed our life and his business. In our mess of a yard laid heaps of scrap metal and used cars. There was so much crap around the house, that you could see more metal than grass in our yard. Daddy would bring home broken cars and tools and scrap them to make money. He did this for 23 years now. The money wasn’t always stable, and the job wasn’t luxurious but when it was good it was good. It was a decent job to provide for our family and hopefully help him get back to his dream. His dream that was a nightmare for us.
Everything in the yard was fair game to be fiddled and fixed, but not that stupid boat. It was a 2007 blue and white speed boat about 20 feet long. It had a dirty white cream-colored cushion couch and an old toilet on board. Daddy said that boat would be fixed soon, and he would take me and momma out on it in no time. But he had been saying that since I was little, and I was 12 now. “A boat out of water is as good as a bird without wings” is what momma used to say about it. Daddy just ignored her and would carry on slaving on it in the little spare time he had to be fixed and back up like new.
Ever since I can remember Daddy had dreamed of the day, he could fix up his boat and take it out on the water. Daddy hated the beach. He said he could taste the salt in the air, but I think he would just say that when the sun got to him. He HATED the sand and couldn’t stand the sun for a damn minute longer than he had to. There was only one reason he longed for the sea and that reason was 20 feet dump that collected leaves and rust sitting next to our driveway.
I remember when he came in the house running and pulling momma outside to see it. We all came outside and got on top of it right in our yard. Daddy said he was the captain and I was his trusty first mate. The leader and sole member of his humble crew helping him navigate the seven seas. Mommy was his mermaid playing hard to get. She would smile and play along with all of us happy as it made her even forget all about her illness. When momma finally went under due to her illness and left us to go upstairs with God, daddy would get off work and go immediately to his boat. I think he even slept in it. He would begin to work on it as he drank his yak and smoked his stick. Then after a while he would pass out in the cold insides of it dreaming about who knows what then eventually come inside and get in the bed around 10 o clock.
I was supposed to be in bed but would sneak out of the bed and crack my door open to see him stumble inside. He walked like his back was broken and his soul was beaten as he muttered under his breath “take me to the ocean. “Just take me to you big blue.” Daddy’s words were slurred, and his breath was fresh with liquor.
One day I woke up and there was a thunderstorm outside. I got up to my window and saw daddy out with his rain jacket and his hat dressed down to his feet. He had his hands stern on the wheel and he was shouting and twisting and turning.
“Wilson grab the starboard side, Elliot man the post sailor we’re in for a doozy. Pray to the heavens that we make it out of this storm mates, or else the dutchman will have our souls for breakfast.” He would yet old drunken slurs of all kinds of nonsense. He had one hand gripping the steering wheel while the other was clawed on a long neck bottle of his yak. He went back in forth in the rain like that all night. As each drop of rain fell from the sky another tear from Daddy’s eyes would be shed.
It went like this for months. Eventually, things would go back to normal and Daddy would act regularly again. He was never truly back to his old self after Momma left, but he was stable enough to continue working and able to take care of me and the house.
No matter how bad things were, daddy held it together for the most part. That is until the day when he lost the boat. Looking back, it’s kind of funny. When daddy first got the boat, momma complained about it and how it would ruin the family, but the boat didn’t ruin the family until it was gone.
It was on a warm day in early August, a man came by wearing a brown, sand-colored suit and a white trim hat. He had a black leather belt with a gold buck and solid beige shirt. It was clear to us that he was a man of means, a man of money and for Daddy that meant trouble. This man approached the door and asked for daddy, so I went and brought him out. They both walked to the end of the driveway. As I watched from a far I couldn’t see their lips or hear their mouths, but we knew what was being said. The man in the white suit had sternest in his lips and disgust in his eyes. He looked at daddy in a way that would make a gator puke. Daddy was scared. I could see it all over his face.
Suddenly, their voices grew louder, and their words became clear.
“This is all WE have, all I have!,” Daddy yelled out.
“I’m fixin to take all of what YOU have if you don’t pay up boy.”
“You came to me two years ago crying, beggin’, and pleading for just a little cash. Said you wanted to get your car shop up and running. Isn’t that what you said?”
“So where’s it at? Huh? It’s gone. All of it’s gone, just like your wife. Your shop is gone, your wife is gone, and your ass is about to be gone if I don’t get my money.”
Normally Daddy would raise his fist to someone who would talk to him like this, but this time he didn’t. He knew he couldn’t touch this man and that he was not way over his head.
“Now you gonna pay me back. Every. Penny. Due.
Carson will be here tomorrow, and the boat is mine. I suggest you figure out how to get me the rest of my money…and fast.”
The way he was now, daddy was a fish out of the water, and the man in the white suit was a seagull swooping in to take him away.
After that day a big red truck came in and took daddy’s boat. It was lifted on the back of the truck and hauled away. With daddy sitting in the living room watching every moment of it. Many more of daddy’s cars and junk was hauled off in the next weeks as well. Daddy did everything he could, but he couldn’t stop all that was happening. I didn’t know what was worse losing everything or losing it in front of your child. One day the man in the white suit came back, and this time he had the police with him. This time he took the only thing we had left at the time, the house.
I pondered a lot of things in my time away from daddy. Like how his father affected his life, and why he made certain decisions. I wondered if he ever loved me, and much more. But what I thought about the most was his curiosity with that dang boat.
Over the many years in the past and present me along with momma and everyone else wondered why on earth daddy was interested in a boat of all things. As I grow older and older and reflect on his life, I think he loved the idea of the boat because he wanted it to save him. He NEEDED it to save him. Or at least he thought it could. He thought it could save his drowning marriage from going fully under, his wife’s drowning health, and his drowning child whom he couldn’t raise. Ultimately, he couldn’t save any of those things with and without the boat, including himself as he drowned in his own blood.
Normally when a person drowns it is from too much water entering the body with a lack of air. But for daddy it wasn’t the water going in, it was the blood pouring out as the hot lead lay jammed in his skull. It was ugly, and it was tragic, but it also made sense. Like daddy used to always say to his first mate, the captain must go down with his ship.
Aaron Hicks in an up and coming writer from Wilmington, North Carolina. He is a graduate of Western Carolina University with a Bachelor’s in Entrepreneurship and a minor in English. With his work Aaron aims to excite, stir the imagination, and most importantly tell a great story.