My father and mother arrived on Sunday to drop off the paper at the hospital. My father was obviously excited. “I found a place that sells it for $6 instead of $10,” he said with pride. The $10 Canadian price of the NY Times vexed and mystified him on a very deep level. I knew the place where he’d gotten such a discount: the dimly lit convenience mart on Davie Street that had about a hundred hookahs in the front window, all decorated with dazzling sprays of rhinestones.
I told him the store had been closed the year before for selling black market handguns.
“Who cares if they sell monkey paws and goblin eyes?” he asked. “If I can save four dollars, I’m going to save four dollars.”
My mother sat down in the chair next to the bed. She unearthed a piece of candy from her enormous purse and began to noisily unwrap it. “Butterscotch?” she asked.
“Sure, I’ll have one,” I said. She went through her purse again.
“What do you mean you’ll ‘have one’ ?” my father asked. “Since when do you like butterscotch?” My father eyed me suspiciously, as if I wasn’t his son at all, but a replicant trying to pass as his son. I had never liked butterscotch. On Halloween night when I was a kid, I’d put all types of candy through the mouth-hole of my Frankenstein mask—even wretched candy corn—everything, except butterscotch.
“I had a stroke,” I said. “I don’t know what I like and don’t like now.” The doctor had said that my brain was healing, that it would likely continue to heal for years. He said that, because of the stroke, things would be different for me now, though he couldn’t tell me the ways in which they’d be different. He said that it’s difficult for doctors to assess what parts of the brain are damaged, and tougher still to anticipate how the brain would eventually adapt to work around those damaged parts. “Imagine potholes in a road,” the doctor said. “Your brain has to learn to drive around the potholes.”
The doctor showed us an MRI of my brain. I remembered thinking, That’s it. That’s everything right there. The MRI looked like a grey-green lake at dawn; a gentle spattering of rain had fallen across it. The raindrops represented the damage. They stretched from one side of the lake to the other.
I was honestly eager to discover the ways in which I was different now. Imagine being told that, while you were away on vacation, your house had been inadvertently torn down. But on the bright side, a helpful construction company had built a replica of the house. The rebuilt house was not exactly the same—but it was close.
“Welcome to your inadvertently-torn-down-then-rebuilt new home!” the realtor in this scenario would say as he handed you the keys.
You’d unlock the front door. You’d walk inside. You’d think things like, Was the dishwasher always here? Because I sort of remember it being over there. No matter. At least I have a dishwasher. Hooray!
Few things frightened me in a genuine way after the stroke. I saw things more calmly now, and more reasonably now. My childish fears were, for the most part, gone. I’d hung by a thread over the deepest abyss there is—how do you surprise, shock, or frighten someone who has been through that?
You don’t. Not really.
I found a spider in my apartment a few months later, after my stint in rehab. I didn’t kill the spider. I let it go its own way. I didn’t consider it again. It was out of character for me to let the spider go, and even more out of character for me not to think about it again.
Old Scott would have killed it, then, once it was dead, considered Scotch taping it to my front door, to serve as a warning sign to other passing spiders who might have been thinking about coming inside. “THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU COME IN HERE,” the dead spider’s Scotch Taped body would say. Or, if I’d let it go, Old Scott would have imagined the spider unfurling blue prints of elaborate plans that were designed to kill him. Old Scott would have imagined the spider collaborating with other spiders. “Let’s put a web here, at ankle level. This will cause this guy to trip. And once he’s on the ground? Boris, you know what to do.”)
But New Scott? New Scott let the spider go and didn’t think about it again.
“Maybe he likes butterscotch now,” my mother said. She found another one in her purse and handed it to me. I removed it from the cellophane, then popped it into my mouth. I tumbled it around a couple of times. It clacked against my back molars, sounding like billiard balls. It began to melt. A hot, sweet buttery flavour began to expand just above my tongue.
“What’s the verdict?” my father asked.
“I don’t know if I like it,” I said. “But I definitely don’t hate it.”
My mother laughed. “I have a new son,” she said. “One who doesn’t hate butterscotch anymore.”
My father wondered what else I might like now. He pulled his note pad out of his shirt pocket and handed it to me. “Write a few things down on here,” he said.
He was always big on note pads. When we were kids, if we ate something in the house, we had to write it on the notepad, otherwise known as “THE LIST.” If my father wanted Spanish peanuts, and went to the cupboard and discovered that we were out of Spanish peanuts, he’d go to directly to THE LIST, which was positioned on the end of the kitchen counter. He’d go to THE LIST to see if the person who ate them—as he was supposed to do—had written down that we now needed more Spanish peanuts.
If Spanish peanuts were on THE LIST, great. If they weren’t? Then there would be lots of yelling and commotion for awhile.
THE LIST was also an goldmine of comedy for me and my brother. Dad’s spelling was embarrassingly bad. Here was a man who, for more than a decade, terrorized us with his size, feats of strength and penchant for cruelty, and, for the life of him, the poor guy could not spell. His repeated attempts to spell the word “bananas” made my brother and I double over with laughter each morning.
Bannas. Bannannas. Bannanas.
This went on for years.
I remembered finding the words “SPEIDER SPRAY” written in dad’s handwriting on THE LIST. My brother and I laughed about it for years. We still laugh about it now.
Though he couldn’t spell, he was still bigger and stronger than us. He’d eventually lose that advantage, too. My brother and I were both over 6-feet tall by the time we were 16. Dad found himself living with two sons who were a full head taller than he was, and who were obviously smarter than he was. The larger we grew, the more cruel and unreasonable he became. My teenage years were a nightmare. Took me years to know what I know now. Once I did, I pitied him. He was an asshole, sure; but what a nightmare that time must have been for him, too.
Dad’s eyes were grey and harmless now. I took dad’s beloved notepad from him. “Write whatever you want on there, and your mother and I will bring it to you,” he said. I’m left-handed, and my stroke-related numbness manifested mostly on the left side of my body. My handwriting was shaky and uneven. I wrote down various types of candy (BUTTERFINGER), ice cream flavours (COOKIES AND CREAM), and snack foods (KETCHUP CHIPS). I handed the notepad back to him.
My father studied my handwriting. “Looks like his appetite is starting to come back,” he said.
“That’s a good thing,” mom said.
“It is a good thing. He looks like a skeleton that figured out how to wear clothes,” dad said.
“We just need to fatten him up a little, that’s all,” mom said.
At the bottom of the list, after all the candy and food items, I’d written the word HUSTLERS. “What the heck is this?” my father said. He lifted his eyes off the page and settled them on me.
I looked back and him and smiled.
“What did he write?” my mother asked.
Dad didn’t show her. Instead, he shook his head, then closed the notebook. He returned it to his shirt pocket. He smirked and exhaled through his nostrils at the same time.
“Your son’s a real comedian,” he said to my mother.