, April 2021

It had taken two extra months of summer sessions, but Carl finished his bachelor’s degree within four years.

He’d been home at his mother’s house nearly two weeks when he finally called his father. The last time they spoke, Carl had asked him for another $200 to make it through the last month up at school. His father suggested he find a job. Carl hung up on him.

This time, his father congratulated him, without enthusiasm, and with sarcasm. This was followed by a long, uncomfortable lull, during which Carl listened to the subtle deviations in the phone line background noise, including what sounded like a cry for help way off in the distance.

“Well,” Carl finally said, “do you want to go to lunch or something?”

“I presume you expect me to pay.”

“I haven’t found a job yet.”

* * *

They met at the Taco Bell on Merrick Road in Merrick, the approximate midpoint between Carl’s mother’s house in Massapequa and his grandmother’s house in Franklin Square, where his father, since the divorce over a decade ago, had been living in his childhood bedroom.

Carl ordered two Chilitos, two soft tacos, and a Mountain Dew. His father ordered two crunchy tacos and a Diet Pepsi. They sat at a booth overlooking the parking lot and the Burger King next door. Neither unwrapped their food.

“So,” his father asked. “Are you even going to try to find a job?”

“I’ve already been on two interviews in the city and I faxed out 24 resumes yesterday.”

“If you had graduated on time, you would have started this process two months ago and probably would have had a job by now.”

“I worked my ass off to graduate in the summer so I wouldn’t have to do another full semester, which you would have had to pay for half of. I thought you’d be happy to be off the hook.”

“Yeah, off the hook alright. I’m still paying for your sister’s college, which already looks like it’s headed for the five-to-seven year plan, and I suppose I’ll have to pay for your brother’s too, if he makes it through high school. Off the hook. It sounds like you’re the one who’s happy to be off the hook. Now you won’t need me anymore. Not even a thanks for all I’ve done to pay for your education. Just like your mother. Such a disappointment. And what was your major again? English? What the hell are you going to do with that?”

“Did you just call me a disappointment? After I just graduated college? Oh, thanks for paying for half of it, by the way.”

His father didn’t respond.

“You’re right,” Carl said, sliding out of the booth. “I don’t need you anymore.” ▪