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~ Corine Fairbanks
My father was born in 1922. He had been the ranch
foreman and care taker of Eagle Canyon Ranch for
almost 30 years. Except for illegal gambling with
roosters, he was a law abiding citizen who had never
even gotten a traffic ticket. Daddy didn't smoke or
drink. He was diabetic, and watched his foods so
he didn't have to take insulin shots. He would slick
his hair back with baby oil and talk about how he used
to look good wearing a Zoot suit. He was a World War ll
Veteran and also served proudly in Korea and the
Philippians. He had met my mother while stationed in
Panama. He had the gnarled toes and foot fungus to prove it. He was a self educated man that was kind to everyone. He read all the time or watched the news. He would go to the movies every Friday night and was involved in our little migrant farm working community. Daniel Madrid always had some spare change in case someone might ask. Everyone knew him to be a good man.
My dad loved kids and welcomed our presence. I would go with him to feed the chickens. I would sit on his lap and Daddy would explain the world to me and answer my endless questions. He would make me laugh. Every day he would pick us up from school and to pass time as we waited for my mother to get off work, he would take my brother and me to La Esmeralda store and buy us candy almost everyday. I loved him as true and bright as any little girl could love her daddy. Daddy was everything to me. He was big and strong. He was my ray of sunshine. He had a huge smile with hardly any teeth. In my child's eye, no one seemed to notice and mind; he could make anyone smile with his corny sense of humor and warm welcoming demeanor.
My mother on the other hand was the polar opposite. Mother was a berserker; once Mother tasted blood nothing could or would step in the way to stop her. The noises she made were just a level below screams. Even mumbling, you might have thought that she was screaming but on mute because the body language and taunt facial muscles still squinted in painful anger. In my little girl's head and I had no idea how the monster got there. She was omnipotent and her blinding glare illuminated my father.
Daddy was my messiah from her rage but he only delivered us when she was done and left the scene. Then he would put down the newspaper and rise to the occasion. He would quiet me down and nurse the wounds with hugs, kisses, and lots of candy. In my blurry vision and congestion, I was grateful. Smoothing my hair back he would whisper "Just ignore her Mija, don't get her mad". Sobbing, I would nod okay but I never asked how I could avoid getting her angry or how he could tune us all out.
I was 12 years old when our house burned down. My mother had a doctor’s appointment that day and we had been stranded over a friend’s house. My father had been home alone with plenty of time to get the essentials, or at least the money that was stashed in his room. Everything my mother worked and my father acquired was lost. Daddy did not believe in banks. My mother cashed her check and would hand it over to my father, who in turn would stash it in his room to save it or spend it.
As I watched the firefighters approach my mother, someone else walked along side with them- someone I didn’t at first recognize. He was bug-eyed and zombie like. They called it diabetic coma. My father’s hair had turned grey. His face had deeper lines, and his eyes were clouded with stress, with very little shine to them. We left the ranch, and I saw him pick up a cigarette. He was never without one after that day.
Over the years, his light was over whelmed with sickness. Lethargic and disinterested, he didn't have the energy or interest to save us from the screaming monster. No more candy store to help heal the bruises. No more jokes and laughter. His brightness was dimming.
Displaced from the 30 year position of care taker/foreman of a ranch, he became a dishwasher for a college dorm. Everyday after work, you could find him sitting there on the same spot on the couch, smoking his Kools or GMCs, reading the newspaper with the TV on. There were no pictures on the wall in the little one bedroom apartment. Stacks of newspapers and magazines full of dust and ash led the way down the brown carpet aisle towards the volume on the 19 inch color TV. The TV was constantly on, no one was allowed to turn it off.
One day the police came and took Father away for hurting a little girl. He denied it to our faces, keeping it short and saying he was being coerced to confess by the police. He was framed and was innocent. We nodded our head and went to court with him. On the stand he would look down and nod his head to fondling and side to side to penetration. He was gone for a long time. I was shattered, and like tiny shards of glass, I felt scattered in all directions.
Father came back. There was nothing left shining. The years that my father had been gone had dimmed my mother's rage. He could not generate any light of his own. I could not be around him. I didn't want to see him. I was ashamed, angry and disgusted. I think he knew it. I think Father felt it. Depression anchored Father. He talked about dying like he was still living out his prison sentence. He was going to be free soon. He couldn't wait, he said. Either could I, more for our own misery than for his. There he was; an old man, starting to lose his sight from the diabetes and smoking 3 packs a day on the couch. Day after day he would sit in the same spot, ashtrays spilling over and denying fresh air because he wouldn't let my mother open the windows or drapes. "I get cold! Your mother wants me to get sick and I get cold", bellowed the smokestack generating lots of smog. He embraced the floating toxins that engulfed him. He wanted to die and through marital rights, he was going to take my mother with him.
It was like that for a long time. I didn't know this man and I didn't want to talk to him. It was hard to visit but I would out of obligation. The conversations were always the same about 5 minute long. Unless I called drunk, then I would be lost in urgent ramblings, desperate to hear my daddy's voice. "Can I come home Daddy?" "Do you love me Daddy?” Via phone lines, I was transported back, to where I was 8 years old and I was on his knee "yes Mija, I love you, come home, everything will be alright". I had felt homeless for so many years, that his voice could soothe me to where I could picture the mirage. Relieved and back to being 25, I hung up and passed out. That is all I needed sometimes.
On October 24, 1997, the day of his 75 birthday the doctors said he had Cancer. His stomach, throat, liver and lungs were terminally infested. We were gathered around his hospital bed as the doctor explained that that Daniel could pass at any time. Father laid there listening. He was looking at all of us. I looked in his eyes and I saw it in there. I say a ray of light shining back at me. I recognized it and I wanted to cry out and run in to his arms. He just laid there with an embarrassed smile, almost apologetically looking at us. As if he was sorry to put us through this pain and that he was sorry that this was the route he wanted to take. The more that doctor explained his eyes became more alert and vibrant. For a brief moment, his eyes didn't belong in that body. Daddy’s eyes were bright and shiny...
Alive! For the first time in years.
He looked at me and I knew he had known that was happening for a long time. I knew that this is what he wanted and he was days away from his sentence finally ending.
After signing a release to not be force fed if his throat closed up, his diabetes soothed him with blindness and cradled him in a wheel chair because of the loss of use of his legs. Eventually, only a shell was left breathing as he slipped away to a place that only the mercy of morphine could offer.
My father died in his sleep at 1:30 am December 12, 1997. My mother said something had woken her up, like a door closing. She thought I had gotten up to go get something from the car for the baby. She said she didn’t notice me there sleeping on the living room floor with my infant daughter. “¡Corina! ¡Despierta! Su padre ha muerto” I slowly woke from my dream and went into the back bedroom. I had just kissed my father goodnight on the cheek less then 3 hours before and with that kiss, my father’s body had been lifeless even though I had heard him breathing.
After they had come to pick up my father’s body, my mother and I talked for a long time. I told her about my dream - the one I was having right before she had woken me up.
I told her that in my dream, I had heard the front door open, I thought I was awake, and I looked up and saw my father standing at the door way. Behind his silhouette, I could see the street lamp- his body blocking the light. I saw him bend his head, as if he was looking down at my daughter and me. I heard him say goodbye and then slowly turn towards the outside and close the door.