The Answers Under the Stairs


My dad’s easy to understand if you can find the right record.

He only spent a few months serving in Viet Nam before they transported him from the rivers to a mental institution back home. There were a lot of papers and counseling sessions to follow the shock therapy and it has been told by my grandmother that Dad would often answer their questions with his undamaged knowledge of rock and roll lyrics.

“I told them that I wanted my son back but they were concerned because he often spoke using a lot of words from the music he listened to. I had to explain to them that it wasn’t a side effect from the war; Bill had always been that way.”

Growing up, I’ve been aware when Dad was honoring a quote even if I wasn’t familiar with its source. I walked past notepads on the fridge with impulsive scribbles don’t you know that you are a shooting star, and saw the sideways sentences on the calendar, sometimes sad: you can’t always get what you want. A napkin left in the living room,this could be the last time.

Anything could trigger his warehouse of rhymes. In the middle of dinner we might hear: I looked at my watch, I looked at my wrist, then I punched myself in the face with my fist. And somehow, this was never weird.

“Spring has sprung, the grass has ris. I wonder where the flowers is?” and I’d just roll my eyes at him and walk away.

My senior year of high school, I stumbled into the forbidden area of the basement and knocked open his AA folder. Tarnished papers were filled in essay form, going on and on about the horrors of war. I opened envelopes with rainbows and stick figures that I had colored and Mom had mailed. Instantly I made the connection to always vaguely remembering being very young and feeling like my dad hadn’t come home for some period of time. There were a lot of things about the past that I’d never thought to question.

“…so many regrets…I would buy beer instead of life insurance…”

“…watched my friends…to know I should have…then I would never have caused the accident…”

“And I don’t think I can take it cause it took so long to bake it and I’ll never have that recipe again.”

Exploring until my vision was blurry, I wondered if a tragic reality was worth having ruined the simplicity of strange and beautiful riddles.

Last night I journeyed to the deserted area again, this time returning with an armful of rot and black mold – ruins from almost twenty years ago. My dad lost a lot of self-medication and suffered great heartbreak from this, so I’ve taken the liberty of inspecting albums that were swallowed in The Flood.

I pull mismatched, brown circles from sticky, decayed paper and pieces of Zeppelin and Frampton crumble onto my lap. Then I rub them down with wet wipes until the vinyl is black and its grooves are clear enough to explore. My hands trace over the areas nicked in supposed clumsy drunkenness. Maybe he took them wherever he went and some other person at a party went to change records and dragged the needle an inch across the record. Or maybe that’s just what some of them look like after they’ve been played a thousand times.

Miraculously enough, they’re working.

My goal is to restore a great deal of them and fold up new paper sleeves to surprise my dad with. And as always, I’m coming across mysterious clues where marker has emphasized or pointed something out that I can’t quite make sense of…

title or description

Until I’ve found the right record.


7 responses to “The Answers Under the Stairs

  1. My dad likes to say stuff like “Spring has sprung, the grass has ris. I wonder where the birdies is?” and “They’re coming to take me away, ha ha, ho ho, hee hee,” etc. at random times, too. Just sometimes, though.

    Or that song “I’ve got a love-ly bunch of coconuts…”
    But I think my dad is just a silly, silly man.

    Thank you for writing that.

    • Interesting fact for you:

      “They’re Coming To Take Me Away”, by Napoleon XIV, is a 45 record that hangs on my wall with an orange label. Interesting part is that the flipside has the label printed backwards, and plays the song backwards. How nutty is that. :)

  2. An eccentric old painter lady I help out sometimes said once: “Spring has sprung, the grass has ris. I wonder where the birdies is?” She had more words than this too, which I’ve recorded somewhere. It was the first time I heard this phrase/verse. Do you know where it comes from?

    A beautiful post, by the way. I recently inherited a dozen boxes that belonged to my grandmother. She spent the last thirty years of her life in the geneology hobby. These boxes mostly contain details regarding long dead folk who aren’t much more than fictional characters to me. Two months ago I discovered folders containing letters from immediate family… most notably my mother. Mom had written these letters near the end of her hardest years: alcoholism, attempts of suicide, and an eating disorder. On the lighter side of things, my grandmother also kept a letter/drawing from one of my aunts who decided as a young girl that her mom was a “meanie” and she was going to run away and never return. Very adorable!


  3. This was a very poignant entry. Thank you for sharing it. Considering I’m so far from home, it was especially touching because I find myself missing my dad after reading it. This is the longest I’ve ever been away from him (I’ve been in California for almost a month now) and I see a lot of him in what you have shared about your own father, right down to brief service in Vietnam.

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