Read A Wolf at the Table: A Memoir of My Father Online

Authors: Augusten Burroughs

Tags: #Biography & Autobiography, #Personal Memoirs

A Wolf at the Table: A Memoir of My Father (25 page)

BOOK: A Wolf at the Table: A Memoir of My Father
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I hadn’t told him, 
Because of you. Because I don’t want to wake up again and find you standing in my room watching me with that look in your eyes and something terrible in your hands.

I hadn’t said anything at all. I’d put the lock back on the shelf and we’d gone home.

I could see now, it wouldn’t have mattered. Even if he’d bought me the lock on that day so many years ago, it wouldn’t have made a bit of difference. Nothing could have kept me safe from him. There was no place to hide.

Page after page, as his life fell apart all around him, my father wrote down the prices of corn, gasoline, and long-distance telephone calls. A stranger reading the diaries would think: 
What an ordinary life.

What an ordinary man.

Even his personal diaries had been a construction, masking who he really was inside.

Only once did my father reveal a glimpse of his true nature.

On a page all by itself he wrote, “Augusten very distant tonight. Probably because of my games.”



I AM ON a book tour. In each city I am greeted by a media escort who picks me up at the airport and drives me to radio stations for interviews, the reading venue, back to the hotel in the evening. I am in Boston for two days. My escort’s name is Ginny and I’m fond of her. It has been a long tour and the herniated disks in my back have made it difficult.

A number of times I remind myself of my father: as I wince when I lean forward over the baggage claim carousel to pick up my bag; in the morning when I climb out of bed and feel like I’ve been in a car accident. My father has been dead two years. I expected to feel a wave of grief hit me after he was gone but it never came.

Ginny, though, takes my mind off my back and the fact that it has been almost two months since I have been home and I miss my family. Ginny is a tall, sweating glass of lemonade and as I sit in her car having no idea where I am—the suburbs, somewhere—I am laughing with my head thrown back. The kind of laugh that clenches your stomach and feels, always, overdue and like you will now live a year longer.

At the end of the day, Ginny tells me, “Tomorrow, I have another author. I’m going to send my husband to take you to your event at Harvard. I hope that’s okay?”

I tell her it’s absolutely okay. I look forward to meeting her husband.

She tells me, “He looks like Senator McCain. You can’t miss him.”

And when he arrives in his fashionably ramshackle 1970s Mercedes sedan, I see that he does, in fact, look remarkably like the senator.

With his oxford shirt, his collegiate blazer, khaki slacks, and navy and red diagonal stripe tie, he is the personification of Preppy Classic. Ruggedly handsome, he welcomes me with a firm handshake and a surprising almost bumbling warmth that takes me a little off guard. “Sorry about my car,” he says, swiping up a pile of folders and tossing them in the back. “Everybody tells me I should get rid of it but it still works. No reason to get a new car when this one keeps ticking.”

There is a sparkle in his eye and I don’t believe him. The real reason he has not traded the old car in for a new one is because this car is the real thing. It’s a little disheveled and extremely classy and the man looks good in the car. And this is why he drives it.

I smile. I like the guy.

I don’t pay attention as we take off for Cambridge, because I know I will never drive in Boston. Peeling down the streets, he takes sharp corners, just makes a couple of lights, and delivers us to the venue early and with supreme confidence. We park and start walking.

My event is in the bookstore. He opens the door for me and it’s always a little embarrassing when another man does this, but I walk through, thanking him. We take the escalator up and realize—wait, we’re in the wrong building. The event is next door.

“But you know? I think my son’s graduation robe might be here.”

We’ve paused on a virtually empty floor, most of the lights off. An EMPLOYEES ONLY sign blocks our way from entering the room to our right of this landing. I ask, “Robe?”

And he explains that next weekend, his son, Sam, will graduate from Harvard Medical School. “They give them green robes to wear at the ceremony, with their names stitched onto the front. I think they’re green. They were last year, I’m pretty sure. Anyway, this is where they store the robes before the ceremony. It should be just in here. But, well, never mind. We should head next door.”

He’s a little anxious. He keeps glancing over to the darkened room where the robes probably are.

I step around the EMPLOYEES ONLY sign. “Come on,” I say. “Let’s find the robe.”

IT’S A STORAGE room and now it’s filled with garment racks. The racks are filled with robes, just like he said.

“Are you sure you don’t mind? It’ll only take a second,” he says.

The fact that he is so humble, and hides so well his intense curiosity and longing, charms me. “Come on,” I say. “Let’s find his robe.”

They are alphabetized so the hunt is brief. We locate the letter of his son’s last name. We begin to hunt through the robes. Quickly, he finds the spot where the robe should be. But it’s not there. He checks the names of the robes on either side. It’s not there, either.

His disappointment is something physical I can feel beside me in the room.

“Oh, I’m sorry about that,” I tell him.

He’s chipper. He claps his hands together, though there’s a glisten in his eyes. “Ah, it’s okay, it’s no big deal at all. It’s nothing. Hey, the ceremony is next week. I don’t need to see the robe today, it doesn’t matter.”

And then, once more, he turns to check the rack. He slides one robe out of the way and checks the name on the robe beside it.

Quickly, I turn my back on him. The top of my head is about to blow off. I gasp once and tears spring to my eyes, fill them. Quickly, I cough, choke down the sob and I wipe my tears fast with my left wrist.

“Yeah, not here. Okay, shall we go, then?” he says.

I felt it.

The love, it was so strong. How can I possibly describe this love? It is a force of nature. It is great, like the dust bowl but wonderful instead of terrible.

The pride this man feels for his son, to graduate from Harvard Medical School, a doctor. The pride, this father’s. The love, this father’s. For his son. It is completely overpowering.

Never in my life have I felt anything like it.

Of course I know fathers love their sons. I have seen movies. I have watched TV.

I get it.

But until this moment, I have not felt it. And now, I have. And it is not even mine. It leaked out of somebody else and stained me. It was not intended for me. It is not mine. And yet, I felt it. There was so much of it, so much love, so much adoration, so much of everything that is fine and good and wonderful and 
 with the world inside this man that he could not contain it.

The grief I feel is crushing and as we leave the room, I follow him because my legs are shaking and I know if he were to look at me he would ask, 
Are you okay?
 and I am not. I am not okay.

Because I can feel what it is I did not have.

I never felt it before.

How can you really miss something when you’ve never experienced it? The longing is purely academic. It’s book knowledge.

But tonight, I felt it. I felt it, I felt it, I felt it.

And, God, what? What would I give to feel it just once, all for me?

As we descend on the escalator I am shaking as I sob silently. I inhale carefully so that I don’t make a sound. Tears have sprinkled the lenses of my glasses.

Out on the street, the sun hits us from its low angle and the sky is a fiery orange. Car chrome, earrings on the woman walking past—everything metallic blazes, reflecting the burning color of the sky.

Even though the sky is still bright, I can see the moon and beside it three stars, or are they planets?

I know that behind these three stars, in the darkness that is hidden now by light, are other planets and numberless stars. Whole galaxies, just like ours. Other worlds.

And maybe on one of them, there is another me. And I am wearing my green robe with my name stitched onto the chest. And I am standing on stage as somebody hands me my diploma and out in the audience, all I can see is the radiance of one man whose eyes are so shining blue they blind me. And he is smiling and weeping and he is my father and he loves me with all the force of the expanding universe. He looks up at me and he mouths the words, “Very much I love you.”


BOOK: A Wolf at the Table: A Memoir of My Father
12.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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