“I’m leaving your father.”
It’s Christmas Eve 2005.
I am in love with a man who told me, right before I got on the plane home to Chicago, that he loved me but didn’t “love” me love me. He is beautiful. He smells like Old Spice. I live in Los Angeles. This pretty much automatically means I am miserable.
Plus, I work in the entertainment industry. The thing about L.A. is that it starts off glamorous. All martinis and endless sunsets. But it ends up broken hearts and shots of cheap vodka at places with names like Jumbo’s Clown Room. Don’t ask me what my job was. It’s not that I am ashamed; it’s just that I don’t really know what I did. Mostly I picked up dry cleaning, picked up dog shit, and picked up my boss at two a.m. when he was too drunk to drive home. I guess it was kinda fun. Besides, what else was I going to do with my 20s? L.A. seemed as good a place as any to ruin my life. And just when I thought things couldn’t possibly get worse, I went home for Christmas. I had second thoughts on the plane and took two Xanax. I also made an SOS call to my friend Sasha from the in-flight telephone landing.
“Sasha I can’t do this. I can’t go home. My family is bound to act crazy and my life is already shit. “
“First of all,” she said, “How many Xanax have you taken?”
“One,” I lied.
“OK,” she said. “Take another one. Then when you land, have the cab driver take you to the nearest bar and do a quick shot.”
“Sash, I’m not sure that’s a great idea.”
“Got any better ones?” she said.
The answer was no, I really didn’t. I hung up the phone.
I take the Xanax. But I am too tired to stop at a bar. I go straight to my parents’ house. And now, as I listen to my mother, I realize that Sasha is wise beyond her years: the bar was definitely the way to go.
“I am sick of this shit. Since your father’s accident, it has all been downhill here.” My mom yanks off my coat.
In early-2005 my father fell down at Long John Silver’s–his favorite “fuck you diabetes!” late-night hangout. He fell and broke his back.
“He won’t stop with those painkillers,” my mom complained. “I can’t take it anymore.”
My parents have been married for nearly forty years. And although they have never been Cliff and Claire Huxtable, this divorce business is new.
“Mom … ”
“I mean all he does is sleep all day,” she goes on. “He was already a lazy son of a bitch and now it’s just … Well, it’s horrible … and that fucking sleeping bag!”
I don’t even ask about the sleeping bag.
She lights up a Benson & Hedges Ultra Light Menthol 100 and offers me one. I take it. Why not?
“Mom … ”
“What’s wrong with him? Why can’t he get it together? The other day, the other day, and I am not shitting you–he fell asleep while eating. Good Christ … He fell asleep right in his goddamned buffalo wings.”
“What is it already?”
“I don’t think L.A. is good for me anymore.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I mean things are pretty bad there, mom.”
“Are you pregnant?”
“No, Mom, things just aren’t going well.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that I’m really depressed. I think I might be having a nervous breakdown or something.”
“You think you’re having a nervous breakdown? Try living in this house with your father for one day, and then you’ll see what a real fucking nervous breakdown is.”
She clearly isn’t going to be of any help. I give up.
“Mom, I’m tired, I think I need to go to bed,” I say, stubbing out my Benson & Hedges Ultra Light Menthol 100.
“Fine, welcome home, honey; see you in the morning. Unless I shoot myself in the head, in which case I won’t see you.”
I leave my mother sitting and smoking at the dining room table and I go upstairs.
As I turn left to go into my childhood bedroom, I hear a noise coming from my parent’s room. It sounds like a mix between snoring and giggling. I’m afraid, but also curious. I step closer to the sounds.
“It’s me Jen.”
“Ohhhh, how exciting. Come on in!”
I am not at all prepared for what I see next.
My father–my six-foot-eight-and-a-half inch, 350-pound father–is on the floor bundled up in a sleeping bag. The mummy kind where only your head peeks out. I wonder where on earth he found a sleeping bag to fit him. Is there a Big and Tall camping store? Do they sell extra-long tents and ginormous canteens too?
The light from the hallway lights up his face. In fact he looks like he is just a face. The dark color of the sleeping bag fades into the carpet so my dad looks just like a big white face floating in the dark. It’s creepy. I go to turn on a light. My father stops me.
“No. Please don’t do that!”
“Why not?” I ask.
“She’ll see me.”
“Your mother! Shhh … She’ll hear you!”
“Why don’t you want Mom to see you? Plus, she lives here, Dad. I think she knows where you are.”
“No, here’s the thing … Here’s the thing. When I am in my magic sleeping bag, she can’t see me.”
What the fuck? Was I hallucinating? Here I was, home. Home to be taken care of, home to recoup, but instead I was in an episode of Twin Peaks.
“Dad, what’s wrong with you?”
“Nothing is wrong with me, except maybe that I am a little warm in here, could you unzip me a bit?”
I’m afraid to walk closer. What if he has a gun in that sleeping bag or something?
“In a minute, Dad. Why don’t you tell me what’s going on?”
“What’s going on is that my back was hurting so much that I decided that the floor was a better plan.”
OK, so far that makes sense.
“And your mother insists on never turning the heat on even though it’s winter in Chicago …”
He is right. My mom is a miser. She is of the mind that if you were cold in her house, the solution was easy: just put on three sweaters and shut the fuck up.
“So I got this here sleeping bag.”
Maybe my father wasn’t crazy after all.
“And then … Jen … I discovered that this here sleeping bag is …” His eyes darted around, “… is … MAGIC!”
Here we go, express bus to crazy town. At that moment my life in Los Angeles didn’t seem quite so bad. “What’s the big deal a broken heart and a dead-end job?” I thought.
“It’s magic,” he said. “Isn’t that the greatest?”
I look around the room. On the nightstand I can make out the outline of a pill bottle. I reach for it.
“No, no. Don’t touch!” my father yells. “Those are very important!”
Then my father seems to fall asleep. I seize the moment and grab the pill bottle and hold it up to the light coming from the hallway. Vicodan. My father is high on drugs!
“Dad, how many of these things are you taking?”
“These!” I say thrusting the bottle towards him, the pills inside clank around.
“I only take what the doctor tells me to take.”
“How many Dad?”
“Seven or eight a day.”
“Dad, the bottle says to take one pill every eight hours.”
“Look,” he said. “I’ll let you in on a little secret. Those pills are invisibility pills. They are the glue that holds my magic sleeping bag together. They save me from your mother.”
Oh God. What happened to my father? My father who has a PhD and was once a well-known child psychologist? My dad who used to pick up both my sister and me at the same time and dance with us to Paul Simon. Here he was, a giant, stoned mummy.
“Dad, these pills are really addictive. And here’s a news flash: They’re NOT making you invisible. I see you.”
“No, not invisible to all people, just your mother.”
“Oh, I get it, just Mom.”
This actually made sense to me. I realized that regardless of how crazy my father sounded, he really believed what he was saying. He really wanted to be invisible from my mother. And could I really blame him? My mother was ornery most of the time and could be downright mean. But these pills couldn’t be good for him, right?
“Dad, I’m glad you’re invisible and all, that really seems to be working out for you, but these pills are dangerous. You could overdose, you know?”
But my father was sleeping again.
“Huh? Oh, thanks. Just put the pizza down anywhere.”
“Dad, I am not a delivery man and I want this painkiller business to stop, OK? It’s no good. Tomorrow we switch to Motrin!”
“Whatever you say. Just pass me a slice, would ya?” Then he was out. Snoring away. “Good night, Dad. See you tomorrow. Merry Christmas.” I took the bottle with me as I went into my bedroom.
I tried to sleep that night but I couldn’t. I was dreading the next day, Christmas Day. All day with my parents. At least there would be plenty of booze. I could hear my mom downstairs cursing and banging pots and pans around as she cooked for tomorrow. I also heard my father gurgling away in the next room.
“So it’s come to this,” I thought as I tossed and turned. I’m twenty-nine, right on the brink of thirty. I have no real home. No real job. No boyfriend. A drug addict father and a terminally angry mother. How did this happen? Didn’t I go to college? Hadn’t I been in therapy for nine years? I wished things were different. I wanted a man who loved me exactly the way I was. I wanted a rewarding job. But mostly, at that moment, I wanted to be invisible. I looked at the bottle of my father’s pills on the nightstand. It was working so well for him. I figured, what the hell? A little invisibility couldn’t possibly hurt. Within minutes I was out like a light.
Christmas Day came and went. Just as my mother had predicted, my father fell asleep at the table. And just as I predicted, she proceeded to berate him even as he slept, oblivious to her rage. We drank wine out of a box and chocolate-covered cherries from 1990. Merry Christmas.
Two months later my father died of an overdose of painkillers. My Christmas Eve intervention didn’t stick. While I was there visiting I hid the pills from my father and made him sleep in the bed, sans sleeping bag. But I’m pretty sure that the moment I left, he was back at it. My father decided he wanted to be permanently invisible.
An Evanston, Illinois native, Jen Bosworth is an alumnus of Evanston Township High School and The Theatre School at DePaul University. Her numerous acting credits include the popular 90’s television series ERand Early Edition and a starring role in a Steppenwolf Theatre Company production of The House on Mango Street.
Jen’s solo show, “Why Not Me…Love, Cancer and Jack White” recently made its East Coast debut at The 2013 New York International Fringe Festival and garnered stellar reviews from Time Out New York and Curtain Up, among others. The show opened in Chicago in 2012 and is set to tour this great country of ours in 2014.
Bosworth is a mainstay on Chicago’s thriving live lit scene and can be seen performing all over town. She lives in Evanston, Illinois with her husband, who is a skateboarding lawyer.