My dad keeps falling off of his roof. He’s a white-collared warehouse office man now, but most of his life he spent doing blue collar work and blue collar work allows for meals thick in meat and lined in fat, heavily starched. He used to lug a 70-pound tool bag through the arteries of navy ships pulling wire, mounting wire to metal brackets, connecting valves to make the communication systems run. His work clothes hung loosely from his fit body, his pale chest always covered with a white t-shirt stained gray with grease or oil. He would know the difference and the weight content of each. His arms from elbow down were tan as the back of his neck, the whites of his nails black. Now Dad is in his 50s, a man taking on the form and burden of an older man. He married my mom when he was 23, she 33 with us three kids. Dad’s sleeves were always rolled up.
On a Thursday, Ma sent a group text to my older sister, my younger brother, and me: At Sentara ER, Neal fell off roof, broken wrist, maybe head injury, blood all over. My sister never calls him Dad. Ma had just said on our last Sunday phone call, Your father intends on fixing the roof hisself this week. He don’t listen. I told him to hire a guy, that he’ll fall off that goddamned roof, but does he listen? No. Hell no. Can’t tell a goddamned man a fuckin’ thing.
When I received the text, I felt something well up inside of my chest. I rarely speak with Dad on the phone. Our lives and affections are always filtered through my mom and since Dad rationalizes his love — his emotion checking itself through the mind before releasing it into verbal expression and then translated through my mom — that type of love can seem mechanical. Solid.
I told my husband that Dad has fallen off of the roof again. I said it’s because he’s getting older, that he thinks he can do what a younger, more agile version of himself always could. My husband said, Wish we could have been there to help him. His weight bending over on that unlevel roof probably unleveled him.
What I fear is Dad’s getting old. I fear my mom’s getting old. But she’s cut out for what’s to come. Dad, in his own robotic way, is not. He says things like, We’re all gonna take the old dirt nap one day anyway. When he speaks of little children it is always as if he considers all children spoiled for reaching for something they think they can have without understanding that they can’t. He says, Sounds like that kid needs a beating. I don’t think he is joking. Mom says that people who don’t have children themselves are weird later in life — like they keep a spare room in their house for crafts or something that takes an allotted amount of time that she never had.
I think about losing my dad — the one who raised me — the one who keeps falling off the roof. If I had to lose one person who has thought of himself as my father, I would want to lose the biological one. I don’t know how I’d feel if I lost the one I love.
When I saw the text, I read the words on my phone — the message packeted and sent to my brain, the words dismantled into strands of somethingness unthreaded into long copper cables wound around and around and around my heart, the valves shut off by tourniquet.
A few hours later, after Dad had come to after passing out, he sent a group text to us from the emergency room. He is on a bed, in a hospital gown, a speaker with cords and buttons behind him. He has a 2×4 diagonal scrape across his cheek. He has bags under his eyes. His skin is puffed around the wrist bone, around tendon, sinew, around the first metal plate surgically installed from a different fall off the roof. Like a misplaced bracket, the metal plate presses up against his skin. Under the picture, he wrote, Oops. Laying shingles is gonna suck this weekend.
Janna Moretti freelances out of Gainesville, Florida while pursuing her MFA in fiction from the University of Florida. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Raleigh Review, Mobius: The Journal of Social Change, and elsewhere.