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Trauman - Colorless, Odorless Gas

Trauman - Colorless, Odorless Gas

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Published by Ryan Trauman

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Published by: Ryan Trauman on Nov 29, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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05/22/2014

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RYAN
TRAUMAN
Colorless, Odorless Gas
Isitbeside him now
in
the frontseat
of
ourhugestationwagon.
My
father
isexhausted andweeping.
For
the first time,
I
am
a ghosthaunting
his
sorrow.His brown hair
is
a littlelongfor 1979. A poorly-trimmed mus tachestretchesbetween hisround cheeks;theyareflush with blood. He's been laughing too much tonight. Heknewbetter. Inside the house hisprettywife andthreechildren sleep.Hewaits andthinks. Hecan
feel
thetears returning.
He
is
trying not to think aboutsomething.It's
in
the back
of
his headand
is
darkandhazy. What littleshape
it
has
is
theshape
of
dread. Theshape
of
Illy
bodygrowingtallerand stronger andasking ques tions. He doesn't understand; he has noanswers.
It
's
gettingdarker.My father is drunkand gettingtired.
He
rests his foreheadonthe
steering wheel.
He
hastheimpulse to move, buthisbody
is
too tired. He
knows now thathe shouldn'thave closed thegaragedoor.Thedarknessat the back
of
his headslowlydrifls to thefront.
He
hasonelast,slowheave
of
adrenaline,as herealizes what's coming,
but
nothing happens.
Now
there's more black than light. Then no
li
ght.Andthennobreath. Onlythe
engine continues
to
run
,
pouring
the
poison
onto
the
garage
floor
until
it
spills overthe doorjamb into the house.My father's death wasan accident.Itwas
my
mother who,
2S
years
ago
,
foundhimdead
in
our
orangestationwagon.
An
alcoholic
with
a
his-
tory
of
depression,
he
pulledinto our attached garage, slippedthetrans
mission into park,
closed
the
garagedoor,
and
fell
asleep.
What
poor
lu
ck-
in
thatbrief secondbefore turning
off
the ignition-tofall asleep. No oneknowswhattime hearrivedhome that night,but
by
thetime mymother foundhim,ourhouse had filledwith enough carbonmonoxide
to
almosttake uswithhim.Iwas only four atthe time, mybrother eight, and mysister still aninfant.Iwoke slowly
in
the hospitalthenext day,staring out from behind aclear
green oxygenmask. Iwas more sick
than
anyone
else
in
myfamily,
and
for awhile the doctors didn'tknowif Iwas going tomake it.Waking
to
304
 
theantisepticfiuorescence
of
my
ho
spitalroom,Iwastoogroggy
to
panic
and
tooconfused
to
ask
why
everyone was crying.I remember people
corning
and
going
beh
i
nd
my
mother
as
s
he
sa
t
in
a green vinyl chair
across
the
room,
s
taring
at
me
and
crying. No one
knew
what
to
do
.No
one
ever
doe
s.
I remember most
of
them put their handsonhershoulder,rested them there fora while, and she wouldput her handovertheirs.No one could reallyhug heras she sattbere
in
tbatchair; shedidn'teventhink togetup. That wasthe first time Isaw a certainlook
in
my mother'seyes which,
over
the
next
fifteen
years,
would
regularly
visit
her
.
Even
yearsafter
her
death,it's that lookwhich stillhaunts me. She wasstaringat me,but
it
wasmore likeshe was staringthrough
mc
.
Her
eyes were open wideenough
to
show
both the
top
and
bottom
edges
of
her iris,butthose eyes weren'tfocused on anything,and they didn't move.Shemust have blinked,but not
in
my memory. Maybe
it
wassomething likeshock;
it
wasmore likea superpower, as
if
she couldsee
through
everything-a
suspendedstate
of
revelation
where
the
answer
to
some sec
ret
must
have been revealed.
Or
worse yet,
that
therewas
no
answer.Isaw thatlook many timesafter thatday.Once over a lunch
of
grilled cheese andtomatosoup
in
amuch tooquiethouse.Duringa
C
hri
s
tma
s
Eve
se
nnon
at
our
small
Lutheranchurch.
Again
in
ahalf-lit
kitchen fifteen years after
hi
sdeath.Each timeIsaw
it
onherface,
it
wasasthoughshewere back
in
that
ho
spitalroom on a chilly September afternoon.Ican only imaginehowdifficult
it
must havebeen forherasherfami
ly
and friends slowlyleft myroom,leaving her toexplain a father'sdeath
to
a four-year-old.Iwas confused.Icouldn'tremember looking forward
to
anyholidaysatthis time
of
year, yet allthese people werecoming andgoinglike
it
wasChristmas
or
Easter.Myfather was
conspicuously
absent.
For
so
me
reason this didn
't
strikeme
as
unu
s
ual
,
but
I
askedabout
him becausemy motherwas soupset. The first few times I asked,she said nothing,only crying. Shetold me thesimple story
of
how heaccidentally
fell asleep
in
our
stationwagon while
it
was
running
in
the
attached
garage. She struggled withher tears,which startedmecrying.
"Now
he
's
gone
away,"
s
he
said,
"a
nd
you
won't
get
to
see
him
for
along
time
."
"Wheredid he
go?"
Iasked."He went
up to
bewiththeangels," shetold me.
!t
's
beenmore than25 yearssince thataftemoon, butIcanstill rememberthe conversation clearly.
It
just didn't makeany sense. "You meanwith God andJesus?" Iasked.
"Yes,
with God
and
Je
s
us."
"
When is he
coming
back?"
305
 
This timeshebroke down for a long cry."He
's
not coming back.You'llget
to
seehim whenyou goup to heaven."She struggledtosmile.
Even
as
a young
boy
,I
was
interested
in
spiritual
questions.
"You
mean
whenI dieT'I
was
struck,not
forthe
last
time,
with
a
suddenmix
of
fascination, longing,
and
terror.
"Yes," shereplied;she wasinconsolable. As therewere
no
more
answers toany otherquestions I might have,she pulledmeclose and we both sobbedforalongtime.Ididn'tknowwhyIwas crying.Iwas alittle afraid
of
whatever
it
was thatshewas afraid of, andI knew Ishould
feel
thesamepainshe was feeling. Totellyouthe truth, though,I didn'
t.
What Ifelt was confusion.Likemost other four-year-oldsraisedas aMidwestern Lutheran,I knewall aboutJesus; hewas great.Hewas skinny,hadsmooth,shoulder length brown hair,a perfectlytrimmed beard,and always wore a confi dentand caring expression.Iespeciallyliked that he lived
in
heavenwherehe floatedaround on clouds and exchanged stories with God andthe angels. Hespentthe rest
of
his time listening
to
ourprayers,attendingtheservices
of
ourlittlechurch, andreuniting everyonewhohad died. Unlike God,theangels,
or
the Holy Spirit, hewas aman.Even after
he
died
,
he
still
looked
after
us,
easing
our
suffering
and
saving
usfrom
sin.
I
couldn't waittomeethim. Icouldn'tunderstandwhy,
if
myfatber was
with
Jesus,
everyone
was
so
sad.
What I
didn't
question,though,washowahealthy29-year-oldman could accidentally fall asleep behindthewheel
of
a car running
in
hi
sowngarage. From a child'sperspective, thestory wasquite plausible.I doubt
if
I hadevermade the hour-longroadtrip north
to
Fargo without a goodnap.There weremanytimesmy parents had towakemefrom adeep sleep as weunloaded thecar
in
thatvery garage.I had no reason to ques tion myfather'Sintentions.Wehad recently movedinto anew house,big
ger
than
our
la
stone,
to
accommodate
my
sister'srecent birth.He
was
just settlinginto hisnew
job
asthegeneralmanager
of
the machining
plantwhere
he
worked,
and
his
lifeseemed
to
be
as
good
as
ever.
My family hadonlymentioned theevents
of
his death
in
passingsince that day,but fifteenyearslater, Iaskedmy motherabout
it
again.I hadcomehome fromcollege onenight to find hercrying
in
our kitchen. Sheexplainedthat mystepfather, whom shehad marriedadozenyears earlier, hadonce again embarrassedher
in
front
of
herfriends. Thatnightthey had beenat a smalldinner partytogether.Apparentlysomeonesaid some thing
di
sagreeabletobim,andhe leftwithouttellinganyone. She could offerthem noexplanation forhisabsence. She wasmortified.What
embarrassedher
mostwas
that no
one
felt surprise
at
his leaving,only
sympathyfor her. Thiswas one
of
the few timesIsawher break down, and throughher tears, shelamented, "Yourdadwouldhave neverdone 306

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