The last time I saw my father was on Monument Square. It was a Friday. I was thirteen years old. My school and my father’s office were within walking distance of the square, and so every Friday afternoon at four we met there in front of the monument and then walked to one of the nearby restaurants, where he had a martini and I had a soda and we talked and drank until my mother joined us there for dinner. I was a few minutes early that day, and since I was standing in front of the monument with nothing better to do, I decided to read the plaque on its base. I’d stood there next to the monument dozens of times, but had never bothered to find out who it was supposed to memorialize: it could have memorialized a guy named Monument for all I knew. But it didn’t: the plaque said it memorialized George Washington, whom the plaque called “the Father of the Revolution.”
I should mention that my father and I had been talking a lot those days about what I was going to be when I grew up. Except he’d never put it that way, exactly. Instead he’d kept saying, “I worry about what’s going to happen to you, Charlie. I worry about it so much.” He said this in the morning before we both left the house. He said it at night as I was in bed, waiting for him to say good night to me and to turn off the light. He said it at random times, on random days. He said it before he and my mother had their fights, and after them, and sometimes in the middle of them, too: I’d be upstairs in my room, trying to read or trying to sleep, and I’d hear their angry whispered back and forths from downstairs in the kitchen (they always seemed to argue in the kitchen) and in the middle of it my father would cry out, “But I worry about what’s going to happen to Charlie! I worry about him so much!” Anyway, this had gone on for months and months, and so the subject—what was going to happen to me, what I was going to be when I grew up—must have been on my mind when I was standing there, in front of the monument of the Father of the Revolution. Because when my father came up behind me and asked, “Hey, what are you thinking?” I said, “I was thinking about how I’d like to be the Father of the Revolution when I grow up.”
My father made a hissing sound between his teeth and said that probably wasn’t such a hot idea.
“Why not?” I asked, and turned to face him. It was February, and there was a good bit of snow in my father’s gray hair and on the shoulders of his black overcoat, too, even though it wasn’t snowing that hard, and besides, my father’s office was right across the square from where we were standing. It made it seem like he hadn’t come straight from work, like he’d been walking around for a while. His face looked red and chapped and he smelled like wet wool and cigarettes, even though, as far as I knew, my father didn’t smoke. I expected him to whack me gently on the shoulder and say, “Hey bud,” like he always did on Fridays when we met in the Square. But he didn’t. He just stood there, a foot away from me, and looked at me gravely, as though he were seriously considering why I shouldn’t, or couldn’t, be the Father of the Revolution when I grew up.
“Because,” my father said, hooking in his thumb in the direction of the monument. “There’s already a Father of the Revolution.”
“But if there weren’t,” I said.
“But there is,” my father said. “And besides, I bet the Father of the Revolution would be a little bit paranoid, a little bit touchy when it comes to the subject of other people wanting to be the Father of the Revolution.” I looked up at the monument and saw the Father’s sword, and the fierce expression on his face, and his fierce rearing horse, and thought that my father might be right.
“I’d probably rather be the Grandfather of the Revolution, anyway,” I said, picturing my grandfathers, kind, leathery men who read the newspaper in the morning and who, for the rest of the day, played card games—Rook, Tile Rummy, Pitch—that no one else had played for fifty years. They seemed happy, is what I’m saying, the kind of men who you wouldn’t mind being when you grew up. But my father shook his head gravely and said, “I bet the Father of Revolution killed the Grandfather of the Revolution so that he could be the Father of the Revolution in the first place. I bet the Grandfather of the Revolution is an even more dangerous thing to want to be than the Father of the Revolution.”
When my father said this, I thought of how my mother sometimes called him Eeyore when they were fighting, and sometimes even when they weren’t. It wasn’t at all unusual to hear, in the middle of one of their whispered kitchen arguments, my mother saying loudly, “Why do you have to be such an Eeyore all the time?” and my father saying, “Because you make me that way,” and my mother saying in a high braying voice, “Eeyore! Eeyore!”
“Okay,” I said, ready to give up on the subject and go get our drinks. “Whatever.” But my father took a step closer to me and put his gloved hand on my arm and gave me a begging look that said, “Please, please don’t stop.”
And so I looked around the Square to see what else I might want to be when I grew up. As I said, it was snowing, and windy, too, snow devils swirling around our feet and the base of the monument, and so there weren’t too many people walking around the square. But there were the usual vendors standing behind their tables with the folding legs: the white couple in matching dashikis selling their canned preserves and jars of pickled vegetables, the man trying to get you to sign his petition in favor of light rail, the man with the watch cap and the long white beard who was peddling what his handmade sign said was handmade rope. There were coils and coils of the rope on the table in front of him.
“I guess I could be the Hangman of the Revolution,” I told my father.
He seemed to consider this for a minute, and as he considered it I considered him. As I said, his hair was gray, but he still had most of it and it hung down over his forehead and over one eye in a way that suggested youth, even if it was just the memory of youth. He had lines coming out of the corners of his eyes and mouth, but they hadn’t yet begun to drag his face downward. They didn’t make him look old, yet, but they didn’t exactly make him look happy, either. “I just don’t know how to make you happy anymore,” my mother would say during their fights. And maybe that’s why I always liked meeting him at the Square every Friday at four and having a drink afterward: because it always seemed to make him happy.
“I just don’t see it,” my father finally said, and then went on to explain why it wasn’t really plausible for me to be the Hangman of the Revolution: because the Hangman no longer hanged people, hanging people was by now probably considered an embarrassing relic of an earlier wave of the Revolution. No, nowadays the hangman would probably use an enormous hypodermic needle to inject Enemies of the Revolution with something lethal. “And you know how you are with needles,” my father said. He was right: I was not so good with needles, I did not like needles one bit, I tended to make involuntary little retching noises when the subject of needles was even raised. “Not that I blame you,” my father said. He then admitted that, for my sake and for the sake of my inoculation records, he’d always acted like getting stuck in the arm with a needle was no big deal for him, and that there was no reason for me to act like it was a big deal, either. But really, he now said, he didn’t much care for needles himself, didn’t like way the metal shaft, or blade, or whatever you called the needle when you weren’t calling it a needle, gleamed in the overhead light; didn’t like the way the nurse or doctor had to flick the needle before using it; didn’t like the way a drop of the fluid hung there, quivering, from the tip of the needle until it fell onto the latex gloved hand of the nurse, or in this case, the Hangman of the Revolution, who no longer was allowed to hang people, and who I definitely would never grow up to be. “Can you imagine being executed like that?” my father asked. His voice and eyes were far away, and I could see him still seeing that needle. “It would feel way too clinical and also way too graphic,” my father said, “like you were being executed by the dentist who was also the pornographer.” A man and a woman in fleece vests were walking by with their cups of to-go coffee just then, and when they heard my father say, “executed by the dentist who was also the pornographer” they stopped blowing on their cups and looked at us weirdly before moving on. “Can you imagine executing someone like that?” my father asked.
“I guess not,” I said.
“So, being the Hangman is out,” my father said.
“When’s Mom meeting us?” I asked.
“I don’t think she is, bud,” my father said, although I already knew this without his telling me. My mother hadn’t met us for dinner on a Friday night for a long time, so long that it’d begun to seem like maybe she’d never met us, that it was something I’d only imagined. Just that morning, in fact, before leaving for school, I’d asked my mother if she was meeting us for dinner on the Square later that night, and she smiled sadly and ruffled my hair and said, “I don’t think so, honey. Besides, I think your father has something he wants to talk to you about.”
And I suppose I knew what my father wanted to talk to me about, too. Because the night before all this, during the last of my parents’ kitchen fights, I’d heard my father say, “I just don’t think I can just stick around and see you be with someone else.” He whispered this, but it was loud enough for me to hear, and it was also loud enough for me to hear my mother whisper back, “Where are you going to go?” and then my father whisper back, “I’ll let you and Charlie know when I get there,” and then my mother whisper back, “So that’s it, then,” and then my father shouted back, “But I worry about what’s going to happen to Charlie! I worry about him so much!” and then my mother said back, flatly, “If you were so damn worried about him, then you wouldn’t . . .” My mother didn’t finish the sentence but she didn’t need to: I knew what she thought my father wouldn’t do if he were so worried about me, and I know my father knew, too, because he said to her in a strangled voice, “I know,” and then the next day, after he’d told me I couldn’t be the Hangman of the Revolution, he asked, “What else of the Revolution do you think you might want to be?”
Why are we still talking about this? is what I wanted to say. Why don’t you just tell me you’re leaving, already? But then I noticed something about my father’s eyes: normally they looked wet, like either he was about to cry or had just stopped crying; but now they were dry, and bright, like he had this really great idea and wanted me to have it, too. And after thinking for a few seconds, I thought I knew what the idea was: as long as he, and I, didn’t know what of the Revolution I was going to be, as long as he didn’t know what was going to happen to me, he wouldn’t be able to stop worrying about me. And if my father wasn’t able stop worrying about me, he wouldn’t be able to leave me, either.
“What about the Voice of the Revolution?” I said.
My father nodded, then held his chin, like he was considering this or pretending to consider this. “No,” he finally said, “you’re way too quiet.” Then, he made a circular motion with his right index finger to tell me to keep going. I did, and in this way, the possibility of my being the Poet of the Revolution, the Strong Arm of the Revolution, the Conscience of the Revolution was raised, each in turn, and then dismissed. Each time he decided I was ill suited to be this or that of the Revolution, my father seemed to get more and more hopeful, and I did, too. By the end, I was looking wildly and happily around the Square for ideas. “What about the Horseman of the Revolution?” I said, looking at the monument, and then was sorry I did, because my father’s eyes seemed to get wet and the corners of his mouth dropped. I knew what he was thinking: about how, when I was eight, I’d ridden a horse at the county fair and the guy leading the horse around and around the paddock by a rope said, “Hey, you’re pretty good at this. You could do this for a living.” I’d be a terrible Horseman of the Revolution, I wanted to tell my father. And then: please don’t leave. But then he looked away from the horse, and at the man behind the card table asking people to sign the petition in favor of light rail, and my father’s eyes got bright again. “Except there are no more Horsemen of the Revolution,” he said, cocking his head in the direction of the guy and his petition. “No Ironhorsemen, either. The Carmaker of the Revolution has seen to that.”
After that, neither of us said anything for a while. I just stood there, watching the monument and the snow and thinking of how easy it would be to go on like this forever: to meet my father in the Square every Friday and reaffirm that he still had to worry about me, that he still had to stay, no matter what was going on with my mother, no matter who she was with, no matter how much pain it would cause him. Our talks about all the things of the Revolution I could not be would be part of normal life—that’s what I was thinking, and that must have been what my father was thinking, too, because he finally asked me a normal question: “How was school today?” he wanted to know.
“Not so good,” I admitted.
“Don Treadway called me a retard,” I told him.
“A retard,” my father said—not like he was outraged, but like he was thinking about it, and then I was, too. I was thinking of what it would be like to be the Retard of the Revolution. I could see myself, after all the years and waves of the Revolution, and still my face would stay unlined, my hair still brown and full, my smile still empty and innocent. Every Wednesday, I would go to the pool—to the YMCA pool in the winter and the outdoor public pool in the summer—and stand ankle deep in the shallow water in my garish flowered trunks and watch the babies splash around with their mothers, watching and watching the babies for so long, and with such an obvious expression of longing on my face, that it would make the mothers uncomfortable and about to get out of the pool and go complain to someone, when I, the Retard of the Revolution, would wade over to them and ask if I could hold their babies. “No, I don’t think that’s such a good idea,” the mothers would say. And that would not bother me. I would just shrug and wade away, seemingly as unaffected by this rejection as I had been by all the triumphs and terrors of the Revolution that had happened up until then, all the triumphs and terrors yet to come. I could do all that. I could be that person, and my father couldn’t, and that was why I could stay, and that was why he had to leave.
“Oh, don’t cry, bud,” my father said and he hugged me and I let him.
“I’m not,” I said, because I was trying not to.
“It’s okay,” my father said. “You’re going to be okay.”
“I know I am,” I said. My father let go of me. He looked at me for one long last time, then kissed my forehead, and told me he loved me. Then, he turned and walked away, and I never saw him again.