**Author’s Note–I wrote this during my Creative Non-fiction class in my freshman year of college, so about four years ago. Over the next few weeks I’ll post more of this non-fiction essay. It’s important to remember as you read, that the events written may not be exact since I wrote from memory and used a little imagination. This is why it’s creative non-fiction. I hope you enjoy the essay as much as I enjoyed writing it.**
The garage door suspends from the ceiling, so Dad and I can watch the changing colors of the late August sky. We’re sitting near the opening, since the garage is cramped with useless junk—two folding tables, an old air compressor, boxes filled with mystery objects, and the lawn mower tucked at the edge of the mess. Pushed against one wall is Dad’s wooden workbench, littered with my doodles and random thoughts from the many nights spent out there talking with him. The workbench was as much my own record book as it was a throne for Dad’s beer cans, shot glasses, and whiskey bottles. The mini fridge housing his beer was only a few steps away from the workbench, allowing for easy access when his footsteps slurred.
As we sit on duct-taped lawn chairs, wispy trails of bitter smoke drift from Dad’s cigarette to settle in the fibers of my sweater and sweatpants. After spending the day hidden away in my room furiously scribbling down a scene for my story, I want to smell the crisp summer air. I take in a deep breath… releasing it in a soft cough as a hint of acrid smoke invades my lungs. I’m hoping Dad will share a story between beers. If we talk long enough, something might spark a memory he’ll only share with me.
Dad leans against the pale wooden trailer in the driveway. His thin jacket rustles each time he lifts his hand for another drag. His trimmed beard glitters with its red and orange whiskers in the setting sunlight. I’ve only ever seen his clean-shaven face in military photographs. We share the same shade of blonde, though, his is starting to thin and show silver. He asks me what I’ve done on one of my last days of summer break before I begin high school as a “wimpy” freshman. I sit back in the lawn chair, re-envisioning the scene I’d been writing all day. I trip over the words that rush from my mouth about my heroine desperately fighting her way in a battle to save her friend from slaughter. The tension and beauty of the scene on the page is lost with each fumbled word, but Dad listens patiently. He always encouraged my passion for writing, not wanting me to waste my life in a mill like he did. A somber smile reaches his lips as I describe the scene where my heroine’s friend is about to be killed, and there’s nothing she can do to stop it. That one detail sparks his memory.
He’s quiet a few moments, then brings me back to his reckless junior-high years. “It must have been early spring. Ice was still clinging to the waking Fox River. My buddies and I were hiking along the bank in Kimberly. The water swells onto the banks, letting icy water spatter my ratty sneakers. Thomas Erdman, my best friend, was leading our band of miscreants to an old wooden bridge over a small opening in the river.” There’s a hint of longing in Dad’s old grey-blue eyes. Maybe he wishes he was still hiking along the banks of the river, longing for the adventure his youth had given him. Understandably so, considering that all he does at his job is sit around waiting to fix electrical problems. But then, when he does repair something at work, there’s a sense of adventure because anything could go wrong: high voltage could shoot through his body, frying him on the spot. Every time a job arose, he’d worry about the aftermath of his electrocution, what his family, and daughter would do without him. That feeling was never one he had to deal with when he was a reckless kid climbing river banks.
“We stopped at the edge of the bridge, our collective breaths turning to crystals as it hung in the air. I could tell Thomas was nervous about crossing. That bridge looked older than America. Water was splashing up to our feet from the speeding current just inches below.” Dad paused to take a swig of beer.