Allergies aside, I’m guessing that at some point early on in their lives every kid wants a pet. After all, who doesn’t like that little ball of fur rolling around on the floor with a ball of yarn or the slobbering puppy who never hesitates to give you one of those doggie kisses? I’m pretty certain that when I was young, all of my friends, both boys and girls alike had either Snowball or Fido at home to play with when nobody else was around.
Sadly, I had to live my life vicariously through them and it wasn’t due to allergies.
See, for some reason, my old man hated animals. He thought they were just a pain in the ass and only served to further complicate an already complicated life. No combination of begging, tears or promises could sway him from his position and it seemed I was doomed to grow up in a house without pets. Since my elder siblings had already grown and fled the coop, things started to get awfully lonely in the borgo household.
I guess my father sensed my loneliness and in a rare moment of compassion tried to rectify the situation. I remember the moment as clear as day.
It was Christmas Eve, 1965 and I was all of seven years old. He had left work early and embarked on one of his infamous afternoon benders. He got back to the house around 7:00 PM and even though he reeked of stale booze and cigarettes the air he assumed was that of a conquering hero. In his arms was a huge crudely wrapped box with some half assed ribbons attached to it. He then said to me:
"Hey kid, get yer ass over here. Merry fuckin’ Christmas, you finally got what you wished for all those years and it didn’t come from no fuckin’ Santa Claus either. It came from me.”
With my seven year old heart pumping away like a jackhammer inside my chest I had to blink to hold back my tears. I remember thinking to myself “He did it, he finally did it. I love him so much for this.”
I tore off the wrapping and opened the box expecting to find that cute little ball of fur or slobbering puppy but what I saw was something entirely different.
It was a plant. A fuckin’ plant. For an instant I thought he was just playing some kind of twisted joke on me and that the real present would arrive after he got his jollies out by seeing the disappointment on my face. Sadly, that was not to be.
”Take it out and play with it, it’s yours. It’s better than an animal, you don’t gotta walk it or clean up after it and it sure don’t eat much or make a lot of noise. Have fun, I’m goin’ to bed.”
With that, he left the living room and staggered down the hallway to his bedroom and shut the door. My mom bore witness to all of this and I remember her saying:
”Don’t worry little borgo, he meant well, it’s just, you know, not in his nature.”
She then turned and followed him down the hallway and into the bedroom and I was alone with my thoughts. I remember thinking how much I hated the both of them and how I was going to hate that plant and all it represented even more.
After a few hours simmering away by myself I decided it was time to go to bed. I took the plant that was still in the box with to me to my room and stuffed it away in the corner. I was determined to leave it there and just ignore it until I was ready to take my revenge. I remember sobbing myself to sleep.
I awoke the next morning and something was different, for there, lying next to my head and still in its pot was the plant. I figured this was just another one of my dad’s ways of playing cruel tricks on the defenseless or unwitting so I picked it up and put it back in the box. I went down to breakfast and told him so.
”Real funny dad, putting the plant in bed with me, you’re a real comedian.”
He looked at me through his bloodshot eyes and an with open can of Rheingold beer at the ready said:
”What the HELL are you talking about?”
I just shook my head and left the table. It was Christmas morning and I could envision my friends opening their presents and sitting down in the bosom of their families with nothing but good cheer and holiday spirit engulfing them all. I was destined to spend this one alone.
This scenario played itself out week after week. I would go to bed alone, fall asleep and wake up with the plant sitting there next to my head. I figured it was still my dad getting his jollies out and decided that the best thing to do was to let it run its course. He’d soon grow tired of it like he did with most other things in life and his shenanigans would eventually come to end.
One night, after about a month or so of this I was getting ready to go to bed. I think I was somewhere in that place where you’re just about ready to go sleep but are still somehow awake. I sensed a presence next to me in my bed and before I could roll over to see what it was a little voice said to me:
”Don’t worry little borgo, you don’t know it yet but I’m here to help you.”
At first, I thought I was dreaming but the plant kept on talking to me and began to explain the wonders of the universe in terms that a seven year old could comprehend.
I was too excited to talk back or ask any questions and all I could do was lay there and listen before I finally drifted off to sleep.
The next morning I tried to tell my parents about the magical talking plant but they weren’t buying any of it. They figured it was just seven-year-old boy with a severe dose of a wild imagination. Day after day I tried to get them to listen but my pleas fell on deaf ears.
Soon, I began taking that plant with me everywhere I went. I took it to school, I took on errands and I took it over to my friend’s houses when it became time to go out and play. I even took it to the dinner table when it came time to eat. Nobody else ever heard it speak but I loved that plant more than anything else in the world. I gave it water when it was thirsty and propped it up on the windowsill so that it could absorb the rays of the sun.
This went on for months until one day in early May when my father came home early from his job. It seems he had gotten fired the first thing in the morning and decided to celebrate by going on yet another drunken bender. I figured the best thing I could do was leave the house in order to escape his eventual taunting and began to head out the door with the plant tucked safely under my arms. Before I could make my escape I heard him say:
”Come here kid; let me see what all the fuss is about with this damn plant.”
At first I thought that maybe, just maybe he had seen the light and would come to appreciate the plant as much as I did. He gently pulled it from my arms and sat it down on the table. He stared at for a moment before he said in a soft, almost cajoling voice:
Then, a little louder.
Then at the top of his lungs.
"I SAID SPEAK GODDAM IT”
I’m sorry to say that not every story has a happy ending. When no voice was forthcoming my father took the plant and smashed it against the wall. He then proceeded to stomp on it all the while yelling and cursing up a blue streak. He finally ended his tirade by dousing it with lighter fluid and setting it on fire before throwing it out the window. All I could do was sit idly by with tears streaming down my face.
He died of an alcohol induced heart attack a few years later. His funeral was sparsely attended and those that came and brought flowers were amazed when they withered and died immediately after laying them next to his casket. His burial plot is easy to find, it’s the only brown spot where the grass doesn’t grow in an otherwise verdant field.
Since then, I’ve had my fair share of plants but try as I might I could never get one to speak to me out loud. I can still hear what they have to say but it’s in a way I just can’t put my finger on.
That can’t keep me from still trying to listen though.