The Spiders and the BoxRishi BThe first time I heard Harry Chapin’s ” Cats in the Cradle” was the first time I saw my dad cry. My dad was my hero. A burly man with a thick stubble and two scars down the side of his face, my dad was the most hardworking and toughest person I have ever met considering Mom had passed away just after I was born. He had my dream job of driving eighteen wheelers for a living and spent weeks traveling cross- country delivering frozen burger patties.
He wasn’t home all the time but I guess I would also do anything in the world to drive one of those trucks; I hoped to be just like him. I mean, we were already practically the same person. We both loved the Cubs, wore our hats backward and best yet; we both had huge collections of baseball cards. I never saw his collection because they were tucked away in a tattered shoe box on a shelf that was protected from my curious hand by two colossal spiders who had spun a sea of translucent webs around the mysterious box. My dad had to have all the legendary rookie cards of Hall of Famers such as Jackie Robinson, Babe Ruth, and Ted Williams because he never wanted to trade with me. I guess if I had those cards too I wouldn’t want to trade them to anybody either, or maybe he was just as afraid of the spiders as I was, but that couldn’t be possible because my Dad wasn’t afraid of anything.After thirty-three days without hearing his voice, I woke up to the sound of his heavy boots thumping down on the creaky downstairs floor and the rays of sunshine beaming on my face. As if it was Christmas, I dashed downstairs and found my dad sitting on his chair with a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other and watching the replay of last nights walk-off Cubs game.
I rushed to give my hero a hug, holding onto him as long as I could as he hugged me back using his massive shoulders. While he was away, I started to learn how to play the keyboard and had nearly mastered the simplified version of “Ode to Joy” by Beethoven and began to play it on my keyboard to impress him. Every time I messed up a note for that song I always glanced back at my dad to see if he heard it, however very rarely did he ever notice; the cubs were in the bottom of the ninth and his attention was focused on the game.Trying to impress my dad, even more, I said with a misguided confidence that I could play any song in the world, saying ” Dad, I bet I can play your favorite song; I’m a pro at this keyboard thing; What is it? “His attention finally shifted towards me and with a slight nod he said, ” I can help you with that one.” A soft smile creased his scruffy face, exposing a network of wrinkles under his weathered eyes as he got up from his recliner that was now seldom used.
My dad walked over to an old cabinet and ran his finger in and out of the ridges of the sides of the hundreds of old CD’s he had collected over his lifetime. His finger came to a halt as he carefully picked out a dusty orange one that wore a man with a classics 70’s mullet with a finger that pointed towards my father. A slight twitch in his hand shook the cuff of his collared shirt as if a wave of hesitance had washed over him bursting the mood of the joyful tune I had just played.
The sound of a man strumming harmoniously with his guitar rickashayed off my skull as I was swept up into the catchy melody. As I was caught in the folktale style tune of the main verse, my dad abruptly left the comfort of his chair.”Where you goin’ Dad? ” I asked.He didn’t reply, and after twenty minutes he arrived back with a box of tissues and eyelashes dampened by salted tears.”Is everything ok? Are you crying because of the song?” I asked, stunned of what I was seeing.” The pollen is killing me today, you think I would really cry over a goddam song. You fool ” my dad said while he dabbed his face and grimaced as if annoyed by the question.”Dad its winter, I don’t think there is pollen in the air until spring because that’s when trees and other plants begin to bud and stuff.
That what Ms. Cathie said in science last week.””Your fuckin kidding me right? I don’t give two shits what this Ms. Cathie has to say about pollen.
If there is no pollen right now then why the hell am I having an allergic reaction to it right now?Jesus Christ, you make me want to get drunk. Go get me a beer.” My dad said has as his eyebrows scrunched up in disdain.”Dad there is only one left,” I said as I tossed him a brew from the kitchen.
In mater of seven hours since he had arrived home, he had gone through nearly fifteen beers.You see, when my dad was home he went through racks beers as if it was an abundant source of water. I always thought that beer was a freaking elixir because he loved it so much, but when I tried it I nearly gagged at its bitter taste. God that guy is tough for liking that gross stuff.”Dammit, I got to go to the liquor store.” My dad said as he overcame the gravity of a more than a dozen beers and his big gut to get up from his recliner and walk out towards the door.”Wait, Dad!” I shouted ” Can you hear me play Cats in the Cradle before you leave.
” hoping desperately that he would stay.” I’ll listen to it after I come home. This is important.” My dad said as he shut the door behind him leaving me devastated.I never had the chance to show him my song. Later that night, the sounds of sirens and flashing lights flooded the small dead-end street where I lived.
A policeman came knocking on my door to tell me that my dad was not the hero I thought he was but a drunk driver who had nearly killed a family of four after driving on the sidewalk. My vision was blurred through tears in my eyes as I sobbed silently while the police officer, a man I had never met, gave me a hug. I wish it was my dad instead. I wished that he called me from jail to tell me everything would be just fine. I wish he had the time to listen to the song I wanted to play for him.
I wish he cared for me as much as his booze.Without any family member within six hundred miles of Chicago, I slept alone with the realization that I would not be waking up to the sounds of my dad boots anytime soon. Three days after my father was incarcerated, the government forced me to leave the house I had been living in all my life and move in with my Grandma who lived all the way in Minneapolis.I only felt the need to bring four personal items to Minneapolis: my Cubs hat, my keyboard, a picture of my parents before I was born, and Harry Chapin CD.
As I was walking down the upstairs steps for the final time, I noticed something unusual on my dads’ shelf. The spiders protecting my dad’s box were nowhere to be seen. As if their sea of webs was just an apparition, not a single strand of silk remained. After years of wondering the contents of this mysterious box, I hauled up a chair from the dining room to get my eager hands on some legendary baseball cards. I was shocked to see what was inside. Instead of being littered with rare baseball cards the box contained four items, a whiskey glass, a switchblade, a CD of Harry Chapin’s Cats in the Cradle and picture of my Dad’s father taped to the underside of the box with a hundreds of little “Fuck you” scribbled on it in my dad’s chicken scrawl. My dad never mentioned his father but I realized he had become just like the person who he despised, a person who caused pain to their sons.
With a lump in my throat, I pulled out the picture of my father out of my pocket and slipped it into the box and closed the lid making a vow to myself that there would be no more spiders protecting this box ever again.