“Come on, son. Let’s go home.”
Looking up through the lens of his drunken stupor, Eric Thompson could just barely stabilize the figure of the man who had been masquerading as his father for his entire life.
For thirty one years, Bill Thompson played a part never meant for him, and Eric could not even begin to comprehend the reasoning for what he had done.
“I’m not your son.”
Knowing well that such words were powerful enough break any man, the weaponized sounds that were hurled at the man whose identity he never before questioned left Eric in immediate shock at the recoil.
A slightly flinching gaze betrayed the quiet strength of the man standing above him in the parking lot of Pete’s Pub. Was it fear? Shame? With the headlights of the still-running Oldsmobile baring naked the façade of a man so familiar yet suddenly foreign to him, Eric saw the words tear him apart from the inside, even if his face didn’t show it. The pain that Eric felt inside had now infected the man who raised him his whole life.
For a moment that seemed an eternity, nether of the men said anything to one another. Neither man could even bear to look at one another for a time as each of them processed the reality of the situation. It seemed as if saying these four solitary words had torn open a door that could never be shut properly again. It became unhinged, and in that moment, so had Eric.
How could his parents hide this information from him for so long? What does this all mean for Eric, who had always been so proud of the similarities between him and his father? Even when his father and mother divorced many years before, he still considered himself very much his father’s son. How could he even come to grips with who he was anymore? He feared what it meant for his identity now, now that he had no idea who his father was.
His real father was just some guy, who just happened to come to this very bar. Not even a local, according to his mom, so he had no way of even knowing the man’s name. But it didn’t matter. His whole world was now a twisted version of the reality he had known.
“Can I have the lighter?”
The words spoken harkened back to a time when Eric was just a boy, playing with things in which he didn’t fully understand the danger. His tone was just as it had always been back then. His words were calm, even with the hint of sadness shaking the cadence of his speech. It was the same voice Eric had always known. It was the voice that strengthened him and encouraged him and gently corrected his behavior as he grew into the man he was today.
And yet, the man he was today was a stoned, drunk and angry child, vindictively attempting to burn down the bar that had been the cause of all of his pain. Had he not fallen and became unconscious while violently shaking the gasoline tank against the exterior wall of the pub, he might have already burned the place down. Instead, he was himself soaked in the stench of the gasoline, liquor stink exuding from every pore. He bore his shame like a crown when he handed Bill the lighter. With the other hand, Bill grabbed Eric’s arm, pulling him to his feet.
As Bill carried Eric toward the car, Eric looked back at the soaked concrete, stumbling as he went. Yet Bill never let him fall as he put him in the front seat of the car.
Eric wondered what words the man would have for him. Surely he would scold him for being so stupid. How could he have thought this was a good idea? Maybe he didn’t. Maybe he was just letting himself lose control to match the fact that he felt his life had spiraled out of control.
It was a short car ride back to Bill’s house. When they arrived, Bill walked Eric inside and helped him take off his soaked garments, drawing a warm bath for him.
Eric let his mind struggle with itself for nearly an hour as he sat in the tub, slowly coming to his senses. He knew now that he had gone too far. This man didn’t deserve the way he had been treated. He had done as he had always done with him, he had been good to him and guided him to the right way of living. He never hit him, he never did anything to tear him down. He only built him up. But Eric had repaid him with words mean to kill him.
Getting up and drying off, he knew that he would have to face the music in the morning when Bill woke up. He took a deep breath and opened the door.
Sitting against the wall on the other side of the doorway was Bill, silently listening to make sure that Eric was all right in the bathroom. At that point, Eric knew who his father was. Even though neither men spoke the words, they forgave one another. And it was never a question for Eric who has father was again.