When my uncle called to tell me that my father had died, he said he felt that I should be the one to go and get his personal belongings from where he had lived. I was curious and interested to find out who my real father was and what he was all about, and I knew, without question, that this would be my only, and last chance to make these discoveries for myself.
I had never seen a crack-house or halfway house before, let alone ever been on Skid Row, nor had I ever been exposed to such an extreme group of derelicts as the ones I found where my father was living. This was a pretty hardcore group, like something out of a bad movie. I was in disbelief as the pimps, prostitutes, bums, drunks and drug addicts asked me for money as I slowly walked through the flickering lights of the stale-smelling hallway toward the room where my father had apparently lived for two years prior to his death.
The clerk at the front desk provided me a key because I had a copy of the hospital paperwork showing that he had died. When I finally made it to my father’s room, I unlocked the door and stood there quietly looking at the damp, smelly, dirty and very tiny one-room dump with nothing but a couple of empty bottles of booze in the trashcan. At that very moment, I could not help but feel sorry for my mother. It was like déjà vu, because this was exactly how he had left us fourteen years earlier when I was just a toddler.
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As I stood there alone in the dark room, sad and disgusted, collecting my thoughts and trying to remotely understand just who this man had really been, a woman suddenly walked in wear- ing a torn and dirty blue robe. A skinny white woman who was probably in her late twenties, she reeked of urine and alcohol and was obviously on some sort of drug. She stood there with glazed eyes, somewhat off-balance, and then opened her robe and exposed her naked self, asking me if I wanted to have sex or get a blowjob for ten dollars. I grabbed the plastic crucifix that was hanging on the headboard of the small dirty bed that my father had slept on and got out of the building as quickly as possible.
I kept that crucifix and the one-dollar bill that he had on him when he died until I began the process of writing this book. After holding on to these possessions for almost thirty years, I recently gave them to my mother. She put my name and my sister’s name on the dollar and put it away with the crucifix somewhere safe. My mother cried when I gave these things to her and commented that he could have been so much more if it weren’t for the drugs and alcohol. But it goes to prove that if you are going to play with the devil, you’re going to get burned. I know several people, both men and women, who have told me they have it all under control. Many of these same people have lost everything they ever worked for: their houses, cars, jobs and, sadly enough, even their families—and for what? Don’t be a fool; you can’t control drugs or alcohol. They will always, no matter what, take control of you.
This piece was ecerpted from From the Barrio to the Board Room (Writers of the Round Table Press, 2008)