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Published October 21, 2015

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Falling Down

by Kevin Munley

Maybe mom was right. Maybe he had damaged his brain with beer and
destroyed his heart with cigarettes.  After watching him sleep like a suckling
pig for hours and then throwing up all kinds of bright greens and yellows into
our toilet like a bewildered beast, I never touched the stuff. My childhood
was shit because of it.  You wouldn’t touch the stuff either if you saw your
old man falling down the stairs screaming at invisible demons.

Sure, it was difficult for me when I first got to school.  Everyone wanted to
know why I didn’t drink.  Some guys in particular can be pushy. You know
how those jock types can be?  It makes them feel uncomfortable if others
aren’t drinking with them. Jana was good about it though.  She didn’t ask.
We’d just do dinner and a movie and let the rest have their keg parties.
Eventually I told her about my family. But despite her support, I started
hearing this voice at night.  With Jana beside me, I would try to sleep and
a whispery hum would distinctly resonate between the buzzing of the dorm
room heater.

My son. Patrick, my son.

According to my dad’s case manager, he was off his medication again,
which meant another lengthy hospital stay.   My mom hadn’t spoken to him
in years, but I still kept in touch— keeping emotional distance, of course.  I
had his case manager’s number and she kept me informed of his progress,
or lack of progress.

I had to see him today though.  I had to. I know it’s crazy, but before my
mom, before a psychiatrist, and even before Jana whom I trusted and loved
so much, I had to talk to Dad.  I needed to talk to him about that whispery
“Patrick” I hear in my ear. I needed to find out what he hears.  I had that
ugly word in my head for days now, and I kept going back to it like a dry,
unscratchable itch:
schizophrenia.  Even the mumblings of that word make
children cry and dogs whimper.  Jesus Christ, my family…

The psych unit was typical of them.  People in robes wandered in and out
of their rectangular rooms like ranched cattle.  The nurse’s aide that led me
down the hall was a giant with a neck that would put a bull's to shame.  He
could and should be working as a bouncer somewhere.  But instead he was
here to restrain this unit’s regulars and bounce them off the walls at his
leisure. I’d ask him how my dad was doing, but I got the sense he didn’t
know or care.

The common area was empty except for my dad watching some awful talk
show. He was wearing those stupid hospital socks that keep you from
falling down; his feet were up on another chair as if he were the
Goddamned prince of the psych ward.  I never understood those socks; it
was like some depressive somewhere had tried to commit suicide by falling
down.  If all the pills and booze hadn’t killed my dad by now, he had little to
fear from a fall.

It was just me and him, which was perfect.  As I pulled up a chair beside
him, he barely looked away from his show -
Maury or Montel or something.

“Hey Dad.  How are you?”

He gestured toward the trashy rednecks yelling about a paternity test on
the TV and asked, “Do you think this is about me?”

“It’s not about you, Dad.” But he didn’t look convinced, his eyes glued to the
spectacle.  There was a deep sadness in those eyes, which oozed down
into dark flesh pockets underneath.

On the screen, a heavy-set woman was screaming at her husband that their
child was his.  "Just look at his face and tell me? You’re the only one with a
nose that crooked!’ she screamed, her fingers flailing in dangerous sweeps
around the stage.  The audience loved her for it and hooted and hollered
approval. In the background, between the estranged couple, their child was
on a live feed.  The camera cut to the kid’s nose to illustrate the point; the
audience loudly cooing at his cuteness.  

My dad wiped away tears from his eye.  Was he moved by this child’s
situation?  I couldn’t recall him ever this being emotional over me, who he
should have lost to DCF hundreds of times in my youth.

The supposed father of the baby didn’t look impressed by the nose
evidence.  He pointed and screamed about the difference between his
forehead and the child’s.

“You sure they didn’t write it about us?”

“Nah, it’s a reality show. Dad, you know those voices you hear, are they
ever about me?” Pretty direct, I know.  But I’ve found this kind of directness
worked well with Dad.  Often, if I wasn’t upfront with my questions, he
wouldn’t catch the drift and we’d get nowhere.

“They’ve got me on a new medication in here.  I don’t hear the demons now.
I still hear the monsters.  But the demons are gone. Do you think that’s your
mother?  You know your mother slept with a monster.” A big, wild beast of
a woman was welcoming the other possible father of the baby onto the
show.  In seconds, the two men were on each other, pushing and pulling like
a pair of rabid roosters.

“What the fuck, Dad?”

He turned to me with fire in his eyes now.  The sadness was gone, if it ever
was there.  Here it comes.  Whatever comes out of his mouth now is sure to
be a pearl of schizophrenia.  I grew used to these little psychotic fortune
cookies of wisdom in my youth.  

“Don’t swear and don’t call me 'Dad.'  I’m not your dad.  It’s that monster
that crawled out of the basement and laid in bed with your mother. He
fucked her and then you popped out.”

On the screen, Maury or Montel opened an envelope and, as if it were
Oscar night, the result of the paternity test was announced.  The winner
celebrated by spiking his chair to the ground and dancing demonstratively.
He thanked his family and friends and was led off stage by the host. The
father sat quietly, while the mother continued to scream, “I told you so.  I
told you so.”  A child was being thrown to the wolves, and it was captivating

I didn’t have much to say to the old booze bag after that. My dad was
whispering to himself now about monsters and demons and I sat there
listening myself.  Maybe I could hear what he was hearing too?  Was it
Patrick, Patrick”?  I heard fuck all, just the sounds of his quiet mutterings.
It was pointless to visit him.

My dad’s psychiatrist was nice enough to talk to me before I left the
hospital.  We talked about my dad’s progress and he told me about new
trends in schizophrenia treatment.  They wanted to try him on this new drug
recently approved by the FDA.  The doctor was very hopeful.  The old drug
targeted his depleted dopamine receptors, which they used to think caused
schizophrenia, whereas this new drug would target his misfiring glutamine
receptors, which they now think causes schizophrenia.  

On my way out I crossed paths with an array of patients shuffling through
the halls like the animated dead.  Their bodies were rotting from the inside
out from the Thorazine and Clozaril.  Maybe the doctors would try ECT if
that didn’t work?  I can’t believe that is popular again.  The doctors were
trying, but it all seemed so desperate.  I didn’t expect much from this new

Afterward, I walked down toward the lakefront.  The weather had brought
all the families out. Fathers were playing with the children; the men were
young and full of hope and care for their kids and the children were too
young to say otherwise.  The streets were filled with commotion and cars. I
couldn’t hear past the wall of sound created by honks and shrieks.  Only the
blue sky was quiet. I thought I heard from somewhere up high, “My beloved
son.”  But I wasn’t listening anymore. Jana would be waiting for me, so I
only lingered for a second and headed home.

Kevin Munley just moved to Chicago. Currently, he is working in the mental
health field.  In the past, he has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize for his
short story “Strangers on a Plane.”  Also, his screenplay “A Cask of Brandy
for Whitey Bulger” written with friend Christopher Connal made it to the
quarterfinals of both the KAOS and Scriptapalooza film contests.  He has a
double feature film column currently running on
Verbicide Magazine.
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