Once More to the Lot
I don’t remember walking. The steps from bench to podium were gone from my memory. But I remember my shoes; strappy sandals on their maiden voyage. Surely holding blisters in their fake black leather, I cursed the closet I left in California and the one I had pieced together something passable out of that morning, before I went to the courtroom where my father was being sentenced for a conviction found a month earlier. It was now my time to speak.
My tongue seemed bigger than ever before, swelling with nerves, over-salivated and numb. My voice trembled like low blood sugar hands.
Character reference was only a term I had written on an index card during my pre-law days. Now it was two sheets of white paper inked with words I had melded together in the stinging hours of the night before. And still I couldn’t believe I was standing there or that my dad was sitting there, and every eye was burning holes into my body, like a smoker in bed ashes his cigarette into the sheets.
The three minutes I spoke did the heavy lifting of the three hours it took to learn his fate. I felt the pressure in my chest, like my heart could have been squeezed out of my throat at any point. And when I started to choke up, my heart felt trapped, stuck between my body and the floor. That feeling was familiar. My heart always felt trapped in Alaska; the place where I feel misunderstood, the place where I was standing in a courtroom trying to convince a judge of the righteous man who is my father.
I returned back to the wooden bench that felt much like a church pew, but unholy. From there, I looked at my defeated dad. I stared at him, the collar of his maroon flannel button up lipped over with his peppered hair, recognizing him and unrecognizing him over and over within a ten-minute span. I could see his right-hand reach to his chest. He was unbuttoning his shirt, adjusting the heart monitor that stabilized the chambers, the inward and outward flow responsible for his life. An old man, I thought. My heart hit the floor, throat unchoked, letting tears slick cheeks. My old man, I thought.
When I was eight, he brought me to Wisconsin alone. A six months post 9/11 trip, flying from Alaska to the Midwest with a young daughter would be challenging. Going through security, I was separated from my dad, ordered to pull down my pants and expose the metal that fastened the waistband, ensuring my child hands had no terror plots. I looked up in panic, scanning the room for my father. I felt helpless; hopeless. The same feeling washed over me in that courtroom 18 years later.
He was painted in the media as a terrorist of his own plot. Without being involved or ultimately hurting anyone, he was found guilty of reckless endangerment. An attempt to clean land that he had witnessed a rape on, a parcel that had been defecated, urinated, and masturbated on, strewn with needles, used condoms, stomach linings soaked with poison expelled, bloodied tampons, and God knows what else. It is true: no good deed goes unpunished. The powder was Zappit 73, a chlorine like substance for cleaning pools. Spread on the ground, it triggered a response from the local authorities. The same authorities that had not shown up when the screams and blood of rape were spread on that very ground a day earlier.
I had kept this hidden. When your father faces prison time at the age of 68, it becomes the kind of secret that deteriorates your hope. Insidious and festering inside, I wouldn’t dare let anyone know the truth until I was ready.
My childhood was the type of unique no one would wish for, unless they knew. I grew up in a warehouse in Anchorage, Alaska. Everything was industrial grade: the carpet, the ceiling, the acres of land we called our own. At one point in my childhood, the word industrial became synonymous with life. It was what I knew. It was who I was. And my dad worked up the hill from our warehouse home at a place we called “the lot”. And he built a staircase from our yard to the lot, ensuring his children would see him during the workday, allowing them to finish homework in his office building or cry about the school day to their dad.
We had no grass — only pavement, a massive driveway that was our playground. My sister and I would make colossal chalk drawings for our parents on their anniversary. It was where I learned to dribble a basketball, where I homed in rollerblading skills, and where I peed my pants from laughing with my older brothers during a game of pick up soccer. The gate that separated our driveway from the road is now permanently closed, a lock hangs as a white flag to the crime that overrode the area.
My baby teeth days were filled with laughter, a type of lofty carelessness that disappears with age. Still, some memories are stained. I knew what rape was before I knew how to do multiplication. Its screams scratched through my childhood bedroom window during the early hours of a summer morning. It was still somewhat light out, as the Land of the Midnight Sun promises, and I woke my dad with my tears, shaking him before he rose, laced his shoes, and traversed the hill to the lot. He called the police. No response from any authorities. The woman could not remember if she had given consent. No charges pressed. No consequence or repercussion except in my memories.
My dad rarely says, “I love you”. Not an emotionless man, he has his ways of showing it. The lot, where his business was, and where I spent my youth, was an expression of his love. It is the background to photos that now collect dust in boxes. It was the place where my education was earned, where I learned to drive. It is being sold now. The area surrounding it has become overwhelmingly unsafe and the sentencing my father received last month, while I was in Alaska, has stressed an already financially unstable situation to the point of bankruptcy. The lot, itself, has lost its value, driven down by the inundation of social services that push trash, filth, and crime into the fence. Nobody wants it.
When I imagine my life from where I am sitting now, I don’t see my own children raised in a warehouse nor do I see them growing up in Alaska. I’m sure they will never know what a dusty Anchorage night feels like, the fireweed lining the potholed roads. And it is my hope they are never exposed to a hypodermic needle outside of a hospital; that one does not stab through their flip flops as they are gleefully running the street where our home is.
When I go back to Anchorage, my dad takes me on what we call a “property tour”. In my earlier years, it was exciting to see what was changing, but now it is met with a groan. I rarely want to go. Still, I put on my seatbelt and anticipate the ride into the area that was once dubbed “Anchorage’s Homeless District”, the place where I grew up, the place I called home — and the lot. Illegal campsites under trailers, empty bottles scattering the ground, human feces in old flower planters I had painted with my siblings when our hands could barely hold brushes.
We had made that place beautiful and it will always be home.
There will come a day when I bring my children to Alaska with me. I foresee it being worse than it is now, maybe even completely unrecognizable. And they will groan, their city lives in the Lower 48 completely ignorant of the place I once had loved so much. And I will tell them of my dad, their grandpa, who rarely said I love you, but showed it in every way he knew how. Once more to the lot.