Picture it–(Sicily, 1947)–just kidding, it was probably around 1980-1981. I was roughly three or four years old. I lived in a tiny place in the frozen tundras of Alberta, a province in the great forested wilds of a country named Canada. The town was called Tin Town. Tin town was basically rows upon rows, huddled up to the street, of small mobile homes with some geniuses idea to use metal sheets on the roof and outside. Metal sheets, guys–I don’t know if any of you have stuck your head inside an oil drum while someone cranks out a drum-beat from Pantera upon it, but it’s pretty much what it sounds like whenever it rained, sleeted or hailed.
These were the “lower ranked” military housing, set below the much more majestic actual houses on a far off hill where I assume the higher ranking Canadian military families all drank expensive water and had expensive parties or something.
It is night. (Remember: you’re picturing this with me.) Our tiny little tin coffin is darkened and silent as the night cloaks all in stillness. My father–a long time sufferer of a horrible back and gout-ridden feet, often slept on the couch at night as it was more solid and more supportive than the bed. In our tiny little metal box, my room was at the very end of a short hallway that looked right out through the kitchen and into the living room; facing the living room’s large picture window. Below the picture window was the couch. And on that couch was my father, arms crossed over his chest, feet crossed at the ankles and grey-wool sock covered feet peeking out from under a blanket. I knew he was fast a sleep because it seemed as if he were sawing the winter’s worth of aspen trees for kindling. AKA: Holy mother of Odin, my father could out-snore a drunk bear.
And so, like most three-to-four year olds, I had gone through my list of Things I Could Do To Avoid Going To Sleep such as the number one hit: I Have To Pee, and, I Have to Pee Again, as well as, Read Me Another Story! and my favorite, I’m Hungry! as well as the other not-as-well-known usual night time favorites. Having annoyed the living fuck out of my parental units so much that they fell asleep, exhausted, obviously ignoring my needs–I felt rather betrayed. And upset. And so, I began:
“Dad!” I called quietly at first. Because everyone was asleep and I learned at an early age startling your father from a deep sleep often meant he was up on his feet looking for danger before realizing where he was.
No response. Just snoring.
“Dad!” I try again, a little more volume than the first time.
Again, no response. But…his snoring had stopped. That lit a fire of hope within me that I had woken him up. And so I got really excited!
“Dad. Dad? Dad. Dad. Dad. Daddy! Dad. Dada. Daddy! Dad?? DAD!! Dad! DAAAD! DAAAAADEEEEEEEEEEEEE.”
Silence. But no snoring. So I thought I better but some real meaning behind it.
Deep breath: “Daddy!”
I heard my father groan as he began rubbing his socked feet back and forth (they pained him so much even then, that he’d often–and still does–last I saw him–rub them together desperately as if that would help.) Then the snoring recommenced.
I, in my toddler persistence and stubborn glory could feel my will rising in the scrunchy-frowny-face I began to make. I was obviously fucking dying okay, and nobody was responding to me and that was very frustrating. So I took a huge lungful and sharply cried:
The snoring stopped. It ended on a snurrzzle-cough of surprise as I could see via a night-light my father twitching to awareness.
“What?” he curtly replied. And before you feel the need to call him out for being short with me then, remember: I had been annoying them all god damn night asking for things and not settling in bed, and I got up balls early in the morning and was a horrible, horrible handful of a child. The kind of child that you need at least 8 hours of sleep and four pots of coffee to handle.
“I’m thirsty!” I say, as if I were proclaiming myself wounded and in the desert obviously on my last legs.
“You just had a drink an hour ago. Go to sleep.” And my father–who is the most talented of Being Able To Sleep ANYWHERE At The Drop Of A Hat, started snoring again.
Well, I thought. That’s horrible. This is horrible. Here I am, about to cross over into the great unknown after death, and my father wouldn’t even let me have a drink of water! This wouldn’t sit well. No sir, not with me, let me tell you. And like any evil possessed toddler, I waited a good five or so minutes to let him get back to the good sleep while I gathered my powers of Satan and then–
“DADDY!” In my most piercing little girl voice.
–I don’t know if you have kids, or have been around kids, but children have this secret Dune inspired voice power where they can take their sweet, sweet little voices and make them a weapon of mass ear drum fracturing. I watched as my father twitched so hard he nearly fell off the couch.
“Go to sleep!” He said in his I’m about to lose my shit with you, spawn, voice.
“I said: go to sleep.”
“I’M THIRSTY!” As if saying it twice and with more emphasis would transfer to him just how important my need for a glass of water was. Life and death, old man–he was standing in my way. I would never grow up at this point. I would die in this bed. Thirsty. So, so thirsty.
“I. Said. Go. To. Sleep, Melissa Middle Name Lastname, and if you call out Dad one more time—”
Listen. When parents use your Full given name at any time in your life as a kid (assuming you had the joy of having them) you knew shit was about to go down. And by shit, I mean Big Trouble, okay? It was a warning code for parents everywhere to give to their offspring to let them know they should probably stop pushing the Explode button before mom and dad actually went Super Nova out of being sleep deprived, hungry, frustrated, and on the verge of becoming monks. The use of my Full Given Name was much like using the power of any Demon’s name–I was silent.
For a while.
I began to think about what he said. Again, like any demon in a contract with a summoner, I rolled over everything that was written in my Full Given Name contract bid to shut the hell up and go to sleep. I began searching for that one loophole in my toddler mind that would free me again and….I got it. I got it!
I took a deep breath and cried out with all my power: “MISTER NOSEWORTHY CAN I PLEASE HAVE A GLASS OF WATER!”
Silence for a heartbeat from the couch. And then I heard a strange sort of sound. A soft snuffling, muffled by a hand. The snuffling soon grew to what I thought might be my father choking down his rage when I at last realized he was laughing. He was chortling madly.
“G-g-go get your glass of water,” was all he said. For you see, my friends–he had said, “and if you call out DAD one more time–” and my terrible mind had worked out how to skip pass the ass whoppin’ and get to the water drinking.
I’m 36 now. My father lives in Calgary, Alberta, and I live in Florida. There’s a lot of time and mileage between us, but ask my father to tell the Water Story and he never forgets. He gets this big, big grin on his face as he tells everyone how I wheedled out of getting in trouble and actually made him laugh while getting the drink of water I wanted.
I miss him.