The Year We Disappeared (9 page)

BOOK: The Year We Disappeared
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I looked down at the doll in my hands and tried to find an outfit for her. But I felt sick to my stomach. Why would Mom tell us that Dad was okay if he was really going to die? I tried to tell myself that Lauren was just a bossy know-it-all, because she was older than me. She wasn’t always right.

Later that night, Mom came back to Uncle Joe’s house after Grammie and Uncle Brian had left. Lauren and Cassie were already in bed. Ever since school had started for Lauren and Cassie, the slumber party in the playroom had ended. Now Eric and Shawn and I slept downstairs while Lauren and Cassie were in their own rooms.

I could hear Mom talking and walking around in the kitchen, then she came down the stairs. “You guys still up?” she asked softly.

“Grammie was here,” Shawn told her. He had been sitting up in his sleeping bag, reading

“I know,” she said. “Grammie came to see your dad today.”

Then, before I could stop myself, I blurted out, “Lauren said Grammie was crying because Dad is going to die.”

“God!” Eric rolled his eyes. I wasn’t sure if he was mad at Lauren or me.

Mom shook her head. “Your dad is not going to die. In fact, you guys can see him tomorrow,” she said. “If you want to.” She looked at us and we all nodded.

“Then I need to tell you some things so that you’re ready to see him,” Mom said. She sat Indian-style on the rug by our sleeping bags. “Your dad will have a lot of bandages on his head. You might see some blood on the gauze, but that’s nothing, he’s fine,” she told us.

My brothers and I were silent as she went on. “He can’t talk, but he is able to write notes if you have anything you want to ask him. He’s also really tired. He might be asleep when we get there, we’ll see.” Mom took a deep breath. “The worst thing you’re going to see tomorrow are the tubes. There are a lot of tubes going in and out of your dad—on both of his arms, his stomach, his face, and his throat. I don’t want you to be scared,” Mom said, looking directly at me. “Okay? There are going to be a lot of tubes and
machines. The machines make a lot of noise, so you have to speak up so that he can hear you.”

“Okay,” Eric said, nodding. When Grammie had been at the house earlier, I overheard her telling Eric that he was the man of the family now, and that he had to be there for my mom, be someone she could lean on. His face was like stone now—strong, no emotion.

Shawn’s eyes were big and his feet were moving around in the sleeping bag like they did when he got nervous and agitated. “Did his face get hurt from driving off the road or from getting shot?” he asked.

“Well . . .” Mom started to say something, then stopped herself. “It was probably both, but mostly getting shot,” she finally said. I could tell she was about to cry. If he was going to be okay, then why was she so sad? “It’s going to take some getting used to, how Dad looks now,” Mom went on. “So you have to give yourself some time to get used to it.”

Something wasn’t right with what she was telling us, and I knew it. She was lying. He wasn’t going to be okay. That’s why Grammie was crying, why Uncle Brian wouldn’t talk to us. Lauren was right. I started crying

“Cee, it’s okay to cry now, but don’t cry tomorrow. You’ll make your dad feel bad, and we need him to feel good so that he can get better, okay?” I could tell she was done talking to us for the night. “Now go up to the bathroom and wash your face,” she told me. “You’ll feel better.”

I went upstairs to the bathroom crying so hard I couldn’t catch my breath. When I tried to breathe in, the air caught in my throat. I hated Lauren for being right. Tubes and bandages and machines—my dad
going to die, and even Mom was lying about it. I hated everyone, everyone, everyone.

I went into the bathroom and slammed the door hard. Then I opened it all the way and slammed it again, harder. I sat on the floor and cried, waiting for my aunt or uncle or mom to come yell at me for slamming the door, but no one did. After a few minutes, I looked in the mirror over the sink at my blotchy face and red eyes. I stared at my face for a long time. I was still freckled from the summer sun, and my skin was brown, my hair bleached blond. I looked just like the girl I had been last week, but I felt so different. I didn’t understand why the anger I felt didn’t show on my face. I wanted to scratch myself and put a mark somewhere. I ran my fingernails down one cheek, but my nails were too short to leave a mark. After staring at myself for a few more minutes, I splashed some water on my face and went back downstairs.

The room was dark, and Eric and Shawn weren’t talking so I guessed they were asleep. I laid in my sleeping bag and sniffled back tears until I drifted off.

When I woke up the next morning, Lauren and Cassie had already gone to school. It was the day that we would see Dad. I was feeling better, but when I went upstairs and into the bathroom, I saw my red, puffy eyes and I remembered crying myself to sleep. I felt a little babyish and ashamed of myself, and I hoped
no one else would notice. I went into the kitchen and found Mom sitting with Eric and Shawn at the table. “Hey, lazybones,” Mom said to me. She was drinking a cup of coffee. Her skin looked gray.

“Do you have any money?” Eric asked me.

I said no. I hadn’t thought to bring any when we came to my uncle’s house a few days before. “We’re going to put our money together and buy Dad an
magazine,” Shawn said. “And maybe some other stuff, too.”
was a science fiction magazine that Dad loved. It had lots of weird illustrations and creepy stories in it.

I felt bad that I didn’t have any money to chip in. “That’s okay,” Mom said. “I have to give you guys your allowance anyhow.” She looked around for her purse. We hadn’t done our chores—like making our beds and cleaning up the yard—in almost a week, and that was the way we usually earned allowance. But Mom seemed not to care.

We drove to the hospital in Uncle Joe’s car, the three of us kids crammed into the backseat, where I had to sit in the middle. My uncle took us to a store where we could buy Dad his favorite magazine. I picked up a bag of M&M’S and put those on the counter too.

Shawn grabbed the bag. “He can’t eat those, didn’t you hear Mom? His face is all messed up!” He stuffed the M&M’S back under the counter before the cashier could ring them up. I had forgotten that Mom told us Dad couldn’t eat for a while. But I
was too embarrassed to admit it. I reached down and picked up the bag again. “They’re for me.” I scowled at Shawn as I put them back on the counter.

“Nice, really nice. We’re supposed to be getting stuff for Dad,” Shawn pointed out. I felt tears stinging my eyes, but I wasn’t about to let him see me cry again today. After we paid for our presents, I stuffed the bag of M&M’S into my jeans pocket. I was going to give it to Dad anyhow and just tell him that he could hold on to it until he could eat again. The other stuff we had gotten him was from the three of us, but this would be from just me to him, and I knew Dad would like that.

chapter 10

RIDING with Don Price in the summer of 1970, I was advised about local politics, local untouchables, local bad guys, and other pains in the ass I’d be interfacing with if I was going to make a career as a local cop. There was a guy in Falmouth Heights who was a lawyer known as “the Suer.” He parked his car wherever he wanted. “You leave this one alone,” Don said, pointing out the guy’s car to me. If a police officer ticketed or towed his car, the Suer would immediately bring a personal lawsuit against that officer. He might lose the suit—in fact, he always did, or it was dismissed outright—but until then you were tied up legally until it was settled, which was just an annoyance. I didn’t see how this could affect me—I was a cop doing my job; this guy was parked illegally and should pay the consequences. Don said, “Some hornets’ nests are better left undisturbed, but you do what you want,” and left it like that.

Don also pointed out local deadbeats, bad actors, and the fray—guys who were likely to be involved when we had a theft, fight, or drugs. One we’ll call Artie L. had worked out a scheme in the mall. He’d step behind a car backing out of a parking spot and get knocked down. Then he’d put on a limp and ask for twenty dollars just to cover getting his clothes clean. Quite a few tourists paid the bum to avoid the legal and insurance headaches involved in a pedestrian accident. Artie was stopped for a traffic violation early one morning with a glove box full of bottles of Valium with no prescription. He was eventually put away on charges of being a “habitual criminal”—a title reserved for those stupid enough to get caught so often that the court just sends them away permanently.

We had a town drunk, Jimmy Agardy. Jimmy spent a night or so every week with us, then went to court the next day, paid his fine, and went on with his drunkenness. On one occasion, I was in court on another case when Jimmy was brought up on his usual charge. The clerk pointed out that it was his two hundredth appearance. In honor of the occasion, the judge waived the fine. I saw Jimmy frequently during my nine years on the force and never saw the guy eat anything. Somehow he lived on booze. He was never belligerent or violent, just falling-down drunk all the time. We actually kept a pint bottle in a locker for him. In the morning before taking him to court, he’d shake like a dog shitting razor blades, so a little bit would get him stable enough to make his court appearance.

There was also an unspoken rule that you didn’t mess with anyone related to a police officer or a city official. Unless they’d done something you couldn’t overlook, they were pretty much untouchable. But it would take me a while to get to know all the names and faces, as I learned pretty quickly one night that summer. I was patrolling town in a cruiser and saw a fight going on outside a diner—a group of maybe four or five guys. I grabbed one perp and caged him in the back of the cruiser, during which time a few others managed to run off. When I went to cuff the guy who was left behind, he started yelling, “Get the guns!” to his friends, who had run off. Naturally, I radioed for help, and when backup arrived, it was made clear to me that the guy yelling for the guns also happened to be related to someone on the force, so he walked. But I still had this other guy cuffed in the cage, and he’s yelling, “Monty! Help me! Get Monty!”

Monty was one of the cops on the force, a huge Cape Verdean guy, about six foot two, two hundred and thirty pounds, with enormous hands. An amateur boxer in the service, he was about forty when I met him and had gone a little soft, but not much. Monty was a local and had the local attitude, which meant keeping an eye on the Southy bums and letting everyone else get away with everything else. This was a problem because it seemed that Monty knew or was related to just about everybody in town. There was a rumor that he retired with the same motor vehicle citation book he’d been given as a rookie cop. Since you could normally expect to write at least one citation per shift, the idea
that Monty still had his original book suggested he was heavy into things other than traffic tickets.

I told the guy in the cage to shut up and he could see Monty down at the station, where I brought him and booked him on disorderly conduct. By then my shift was over, so I went home to sleep. Polly knew that I had to work again that night, and I’d told her before not to wake me unless Jesus Christ himself came to the door. Well, on this day she woke me up at noon, when I’d had about three hours of sleep, and said, “Monty’s at the door for you.” She looked scared.

I threw on some sweatpants and a T-shirt and went to the door. Monty was there in civvies, even though I thought he was on duty at the time. “I want you to talk to my brother,” he said. “You arrested his son last night and he wants to know why.” Monty didn’t look happy. Now, I was no shrimp. I’d had my fair share of fighting—I’d boxed with prisoners at Norfolk Prison when I was in high school and taken a little karate. But Monty was a big guy—he had forty pounds on me. So I didn’t trifle with him, just stayed calm and said, “Let’s go.” I was pissed that I had to defend my actions, but surprisingly when we got there, both Monty and his brother listened to my side of the story and agreed that the nephew was in need of a little straightening out. He was about to head to UMass, where he had a basketball scholarship, and his dad was hoping that maybe this arrest would scare him straight and keep him in line when he left home.

Later that day, Monty was back at my house. He had a
bunch of clothes with him—nice stuff—suits, coats, pants—things that fit him a few years ago. He said, “You remind me of myself about twenty years back, so I thought maybe these things would fit you.” He left the clothes, most of which turned out to be too big for me.

Monty knew or owed favors to so many people in town that when you pulled over a local, they would say, “So, you know Monty?” This was supposed to convey to the officer that you shouldn’t issue a citation—they were connected to Monty, and you didn’t want to piss off Monty. But since I’d staked my ground with Monty early, and held firm, this didn’t really work with me.

Back then, the regular officers on duty wore what we called our “Smokey the Bear” hats—a ranger-style hat with a wide brim. The RACs wore a military-type cap with a short bill at the front. The chief of police, John Ferreira, had a standing order for years to “don your chapeau” upon exiting the vehicle (the hat was too tall to wear in the cruiser). Who knows why this was important to him; I guess he thought it gave his officers a more official look.

When you pulled over a local, they knew the difference between a full-time “real” officer and a temporary summer special by the hat you were wearing. The first couple of years I was on the force, I’d carry an extra hat in my cruiser, the kind worn by the summer specials, and sometimes pretend to be an RAC so I could plead ignorant and wouldn’t have to give in to favoritism. That, and I actually enjoyed wearing the RAC hat and listening
to some of the ranting and raving the locals would give a summer special. “What the hell are you doing pulling me over? Do you know who I am? Why don’t you go grab some tourist and leave us alone? You’re only a RAC—where are you from, Southy? Don’t you know Monty? You might want to ask Monty before you write that ticket, son.”

BOOK: The Year We Disappeared
8.24Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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