Playing Possum

Playing Possum

Adrian drove back to his hometown to visit his mother and aunt. It was Mother’s Day.

Though his mother had never been a mother, it was still Mother’s Day, so he decided she needed to visit. And since his aunt, in his mother’s absence, had been far more of a mother to him growing up, he decided it would be best to see her too.

He decided if there was time he’d try to stop and see his father. He needed to do that since he didn’t see his father very much. But Adrian’s time was limited. He had at least 2 visits to make and he needed to get home to mow the grass before the rain. Beginning late in the afternoon, it was predicted to rain for a few days and the grass really needed mowing.

Adrian visited his mother and she talked a lot. She kept him there for an hour more than he’d planned, but it was Mother’s Day – her day – so he capitulated.

At his aunt’s, she talked a lot too. Each time Adrian made an excuse to leave, she had more to say. She’d been a mother to Adrian when his own mother had abandoned him, so the least he could do was stay and listen, which he did, watching the outside as the sky to the west grew darker.

He finally told his aunt he needed to leave. He said he needed to get the grass mowed before the storms. Otherwise, he said, it’d be mid-week, after all the predicted rain, until he could do it, and mid-week wasn’t going to be a good time.

He left his aunt’s and thought about his father. He knew if he visited his father, he too would want to talk for hours. He knew too that if he explained the need to get home, his father would be upset for only spending a fraction of the time with him that his son spent with his mother and aunt, even though it was Mother’s Day.

Adrian left town, telling himself it would be alright. He left town over the speed limit trying to beat the rain. He left town reasoning his father’s birthday was in a few weeks. And then Father’s Day would be around the corner too. He decided he’d set aside a complete day or two for his father. He decided his father would get his own time and attention, just as his Adrian’s mother and aunt had on Mother’s Day.

Days later, Adrian felt uneasy over his father. It was a disquiet that had built from the time he’d left town. It wasn’t guilt for not visiting his father. Rather, it was the potential for a brewing storm that he knew loomed should his father catch wind of Adrian passing through town without a visit.

To ease his concern, Adrian wrote his father an email. He explained how his father’s birthday was coming up and he wanted to invite him to spend a day together going anywhere and doing anything his father might like. Adrian made that offer, though he knew what his father would want. He’d want Adrian to go and visit and sit with him all afternoon as his father would talk through his loneliness and separation from the world. Through speaking, his father would meander through his isolation with the many tales already told about his past, sprinkled with some wearisome observations about the present for some added spice. Adrian knew his father hadn’t done anything or gone anywhere in months. And even with his son’s offer to facilitate a single thing of interest or a pleasure of his father’s choosing, Adrian knew it would be rejected.

Adrian made the offer and decided, dreadfully, to do whatever it was his father wanted.

A week passed. Then two. Then three. There was no reply.

His father’s birthday was approaching, so Adrian decided to make the call he’d balked at for weeks.

He finally called and nobody picked up, so Adrian left a message.

A few hours later his father returned the call.

Adrian, being a coward, decided not to address the reason for his father not responding to the email. He pretended it didn’t happen. Instead, he dove into his father’s birthday and reiterated the offer to go anywhere and do anything his father wished for his special day.

“I don’t know,” his father said about where he might like to go or what he might like to do with the gift of his son’s time and attention.

Adrian said, “Okay. Then, I guess I’ll let you go to think about if for a while. When you come to a decision, please message me or call me back. I’ll be waiting.”

Before Adrian could end the call, his father asked, “You haven’t wondered why you haven’t heard from me?”

“You’ve been busy?” Adrian said and hoped.

“No. I found out about you going over to your aunt’s and not coming over here. You couldn’t give me 5 minutes of your time?”

Luckily, Adrian had prepared for the storm. He smelled it coming since Mothers’ Day.

Adrian didn’t ask but he imagined his father sneaking around to see if he could find his son’s car parked at either his aunt’s or mother’s on Mother ‘s Day. The idea made Adrian feel sick, but he knew his father well enough to know it was likely. He didn’t ask if that’s what happened cause he didn’t want to accept his father as that kind of person any more than he wanted to accept the kind of person his mother was and had remained in thoroughly neglecting him as a child.

Adrian went on to defend everything. Against his will, he’d been lured in. He went on to explain how the day under scrutiny was Mother’s Day – not Father’s. He explained about the grass and the rain. He explained how it was a lie that 5 minutes spent with his father would have been enough. He explained how, for his father’s birthday and Father’s Day, Adrian was willing to offer him far more than either his mother and aunt got.

“Well, you know,” his father said, “It may not have been the right thing to do, but I didn’t communicate with you or your aunt for so long as a sort of experiemnt.”

That was the thing Adrian had feared all along. And it pained him even more that his elderly aunt had somehow been pulled into the charade – the manipulation – as a mostly innocent bystander. But Adrian understood. He understood how his father felt wronged by his son. He understood how that, in turn, shone the light on all who were wronging his father in similar ways, including his own sister who never called or checked up on him enough either.

“I wanted to see how you and your aunt would react.”

Adrian understood immediately that if his aunt had reacted to the deception any differently than he had, his father would have said so immediately. That way Adrian would know right away just how wrong he was compared to someone else. But that was never revealed, so Adrian understood his aunt must have reacted to the deception the same way, most likely for the same reason of understanding the man’s true nature.

“You were upset, so you played dead? You wanted us to think you were dead?” Adrian asked.

“Just goes to show how I care about you and your aunt, but you don’t care about me. Don’t even care if I’ve been sitting here dead for weeks. Just goes to show I could be dead and nobody’d care.”

The sickness at the attempt to emotionally manipulate and deceive overwhelmed Adrian. He knew beforehand it was likely. But this admittance was the difference between someone describing a horrific event and actually seeing a photograph of the carnage. Adrian tried flushing it down by ending the discussion as abruptly, yet politely, as he could think to.

Adrian told his father to think about what he wanted to do for his birthday. Adrian said he wouldn’t be messaging back to find out. Adrian told his father he’d have to be the one messaging his son back. Adrian hung up that afternoon, knowing his father thought he’d won.

Years later, Adrian’s father died. He died on his couch, barefoot in a tank top and shorts. By the time he was discovered, his body had begun to decompose. When the police got there, he was bloating and stinking and his moist skin had melded into the fabric of the couch. In order for the body to be removed, it had to be cut out of the couch.

Word got around that Adrian’s father had been dead for weeks before his body got discovered. People said it was horrific and questioned how such a thing could happened. People questioned how a father could be so neglected.

Adrian always says, when his father decided to play dead that first time, it was a big risk. It’s a strategy you only get to employ once since, once it’s out there, everybody’s caught on to the deception. There’s no catching them off guard again. They’re wise to the possum’s trick after seeing the it get up and scurry off after the attack. What Adrian and his aunt leaned was that any crisis, like the possum playing dead, was most likely a trick for leading the subject in a much different direction.

Adrian’s father played possum that first time and it didn’t really work because both Adrian and his aunt knew his father. They knew him unlike how most people knew him – that he was the kind of person that would play possum. He was the kind of person that would gladly do something like that to the people he was supposed to love and care about. He was the kind of man that would gladly punish them for the way he’d been hurt – for the way he’d suffered pain and felt injury – without considering first how much of the hurt might be unreasonable or self-inflicted.

So, when he finally died and his stinking corpse had to be exhumed from the couch, all Adrian could say was, “Well, he never should have played possum in the first place. That was a really bad bluff.”

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