Father’s Day in Iverhill: 1:35 a.m.

Terry Wallis didn’t want to come back.  Not now.  Not for this.

But the nightmares of what happened nearly forty years ago were still haunting him.  Haunting him over and over, the whispers and the screams and the fists and the traumas.  He thought it was all done.  He thought he was gone.  He thought he could sleep through the entire night.

Then came the phone call.

Forty years after he barely survived childhood… and the insomnia started again.  Twenty-five minutes to two in the morning.  No one should wake up this early unless the house is on fire or they’re expecting Santa Claus on the roof.

Forty years later, an adult Terry Wallis was driving back up the Northway.  Back to the Adirondack logging town of Iverhill.  Back home.

He swore he would never come back.  Not since the 1970’s, not since the horrible, vicious childhood he lived through at the Pines of Iverhill Mobile Home Park.  His father Robert might have stayed all night at the 9N Bar and Grille had it not been for last call.  And when Robert finally got home…

Terry could hear him pulling into the pebble-encrusted parking space next to the mobile home.  How he drove home without getting into an accident or spending the night in the drunk tank, Terry never knew.  Terry could hear him enter the house.  At seven years of age, Terry feared for his life.  He covered his head with a pillow and hoped he could muffle all the noise away.  But Terry heard his father arguing with his mother over something Terry did or didn’t do.  That he didn’t put his toys away.  That he left a dirty dish in the sink.  That he came home late from watching an Iverhill Robins baseball game.

If Terry was lucky, that was all he would hear.  And if he head a door slam, that meant that his father had trudged all the way to the back of the trailer and went to sleep.

If that was all that happened, those days were few.

More often, Terry’s bedroom door would fly open, the light would go on, and suddenly the little boy would yanked out of his bed – either by the arm or by the hair – and physically beaten.  Slapped.  Punched.  Made to go out to the kitchen and wash a dirty dish.  Made to go to the living room and pick up his toys.  Made to explain why he wasn’t home twenty minutes after school ended.

Terry tried to find shelter.  The only place he felt safe was at Wilson Field, the home of Iverhill’s minor league baseball team, the Robins.  He befriended some of the players there – his favorite player was center fielder and home run hitter Eugene Raveler – but no matter how many times he tried to stay away from the hurt in his household, his absence only made things worse.

That summer of 1973 was a summer Terry tried to forget – tried to force out of his mind – but it wouldn’t leave.  It was burned into his skull with every drunken punch he absorbed from his father.  Every curse word he heard.  Every alcohol-fueled taunt and torment.

Terry knew what time his father came home.  No matter whether or not his father “visited” him at night, Terry could see the tiny wind-up alarm clock next to my bed.  More often than not, the time read twenty-five minutes to two.  1:35 a.m.

Northway exit 13N.  Saratoga Springs.  I can turn my car around if I want to, Terry thought.  Turn back.  I don’t have to do this.  I can go visit the harness track and bet some money on the pacers and the trotters.  There goes Exit 13N.

He never took the exit.

Terry kept driving.  He kept thinking about the alarm clock.  Of all the things he could have kept from his childhood – he kept the broken alarm clock.  He reached over to his car’s passenger seat.  Yep.  The brown bag was still sitting there, and inside was the clock.

It was August of 1973.  That night, something happened.  Robert came home late from the tavern.  A fight broke out, this time Terry’s father and mother started screaming at each other.  This was different.  Usually the pattern was his father would scream, his mother would cower, and then at some point Terry would get spanked or paddled or beaten.

This night was different.  Maybe it was because his mother finally said she was done.  And that she was leaving and taking Terry with her.

Bedroom door burst open.  The bedroom light snapped on like an angry sun.

Terry tried to get under the covers and hide.  Suddenly he felt a grip on his left arm.  And then a hard yank.  Out of bed he fell with a thunk.

Begging.  Pleading.  Don’t hurt me.  Please Dad, don’t hurt me.

Robert’s fists weren’t listening.  After a few solid punches, the last of which knocked Terry to the floor, Terry tried to climb back in bed.  Tried to hide.

Please turn the light out, Terry whispered.  Please.  Please go.  I’ll be good.  I promise.  I’ll be up for school in a few hours, I won’t make you mad at me –

Terry looked.  The alarm clock was gone.

And in the span of a few seconds, Terry saw the alarm clock.  Saw and felt it – as it bounced off his temple.

The next couple of days were a blur – he woke up the next day at Otswego County Medical Center, his head wrapped in bandages.  A few days later, Otswego County Social Services came to the trailer and took him and some of his belongings away from his parents.  He later heard that his favorite baseball player, Eugene Raveler, confronted Robert Wallis at the 9N Bar and… that’s probably why Social Services actually TOOK Terry out of the house, instead of just coming for a visit and leaving, as they had done in the past.

Terry spent the next few years with a foster family in Iverhill – Christopher and Theresa McCarling, who although they had already raised one foster child, treated Terry with love and support and affection.  He stayed with them, went to college in New York City, graduated with honors and became a successful architect.

But the alarm clock was still in the bag.  And Terry was now driving past Glens Falls.

In fact, it was his foster father, Christopher McCarling, who called Terry and told him the news.

Robert Wallis was at Otswego County Medical Center.  His alcohol-scoured kidneys were failing.  If he lived for another few days, it would be a miracle.

“You don’t have to do this,” Christopher McCarling said to his foster son.  “But if you have anything you want to say… or do… this may be your only chance.”

And the insomnia would kick in again.  1:35 a.m.  He woke up that night, a cold sweat pouring over his body.  His heart was pounding faster than a hummingbird’s wings.

In the car, Terry rehearsed everything he wanted to say. “Hey Dad, thanks for beating the crap out of me when I was a kid and completely screwing up my adult life because of it. Thanks a lot. And I’m sure when you go to Heaven, God’s going to forgive you for everything you ever did to me. Yeah, Dad, you got away with it.”

He thought some more. Every mile on the Northway reminded Terry of another sleepless night. And even in the safety of the McCarling home – away from the trailer parks and the alcohol – Terry couldn’t make the hurt disappear.

There’s the exit. Iverhill, Iverhill Valley, Route 9N. I could keep driving, Terry thought. Plattsburgh is nice this time of year. Maybe I could drive all the way to Canada.

He touched the turn signal. The right arrow flashed on his dashboard.  Can’t back out now.

Another half hour of driving. He hadn’t visited Iverhill in decades, but he still remembered every bend and twist in Route 9N. And there were the signs. Welcome to Iverhill. DiGi’s Diner. 9N Bar and Grille. The Church of Most Precious Blood. The Iverhill Arena. Why is there a ShopCo where Wilson Field used to be, shouldn’t ShopCo be on Red Pine Road?

And then a turn down Blue Spruce Street. Otswego County Medical Center.  Looks twice as big as I remembered, Terry thought.

Terry could feel his heart pounding like a kettledrum. Every step – from parking the car to turning off the ignition; his trip from the parking lot to the visitors station – seemed thick and cloudy.

“Can I help you?” asked the nurse at the visitors station.

“I’m looking for a Robert Wallis – I understand he’s here. I’m his son Terry, I’m here to see him.”

The nurse looked at her computer. “Wallis. Wallis. Room 25, third floor. Ask for Dr. Olson.”

A short elevator ride.  The door opened up.  Third floor.  Terry’s feet felt like they were made of tree stumps.  He took a few steps.

Room 25.  And there he was.  Robert Wallis.  Asleep on whatever medication the intravenous drip fed into his arm.  A white-coated elderly doctor was in the room, examining the medical chart.

“Excuse me… I’m looking for Doctor Olson?”

“That’s me,” the elderly physician replied.  “How can I help you?”

“I’m Terry Wallis.  Robert’s son.  What can you tell me?”

“Thank you for coming,” Olson replied.  “He’s stable.  His kidneys have failed.  He maybe has a couple of days left to live.  I can’t sugarcoat it.  I can leave you for a few moments if you want to spend some time with him.”

“No,” Terry interrupted.  “I can’t.  I’m sorry.  My father did a lot of damage to me when I was growing up. And I still don’t know how to feel about all of this.”

“I understand. This is never easy for anyone. There is a grief counselor on call here, I can give you his number if you want.”

“Thanks. I may need that. Olson. Doctor Olson – I used to know an Olson back when I was a kid. We had a baseball team back in the 70’s, when I was growing up. The Robins. They won the championship back in 1973, and then the team folded. They had a relief pitcher, a Clete Olson. But Olson’s a common name, you probably aren’t related to him. Sorry.”

“Clete Olson?” the doctor replied.  “Hit a home run to get the Robins in the playoffs and then pitched scoreless innings to win the championship?”

“You know him?”

“I should. He’s me.”

“You’re Clete Olson?” Terry exclaimed.

“Well, today it’s C. Jordan Olson, M.D., but yes that was me.”

“Oh my God, I used to go to all the Robins games 40 years ago, I remember all the players, Zach Phillipstern and Smokey Dulieau and Gene Raveler – Gene Raveler was my favorite player.”

“I remember him. Center fielder. He played for the Robins for years.”

“Yeah. He got me out of a very bad situation. My father used to beat the crap out of me, and he helped get me out of there and into foster care.”

“Wait – you’re little Terry Wallis?”

“Well, not so little any more,” Terry replied.

“Okay, you lived over at the Pines of Iverhill trailer park?”

“Trailer number 8.”

“Yes, I remember it now. You used to hang around the ballpark, and Gene Raveler kept an eye on you, made sure you didn’t get into any trouble. And then one day something happened to you, and – hold on, I’ve got to remember this, it’s been 40 years – yes, Gene and your father had a fight at the old 9N Bar, and for the rest of the season Gene and the team made sure you’d be safe.”

“Yes. My father abused me. That may have been the day when he threw the alarm clock at me. I still have a scar,” Terry replied, pointing to his head.

Dr. Olson looked at the scar. “Yes. It’s healed over, but I can still see the indention.”

“After the season ended, the team went away and I never saw Gene Raveler again. He saved my life. He gave me hope, he let me know that the world isn’t a complete mess just because I was born. When I got out of that house, it was like I entered a new life. Do you know what happened to Gene?”

“Um… yes, I remember. I think he went to a team in Georgia and played there for a year or two, and he may have also played a season in Japan. We used to keep in touch, but I was on my way to the major leagues, and one day we just stopped writing to each other.”


“Yes. After my playing career ended, I went back to something I always wanted to do – study medicine – and once I got my medical license, I returned here. I really enjoy this little town. I do.”

“But what about Gene?” Terry asked.

“Oh yes, Gene. I had lost contact with him, but someone gave me his address in Ohio. I wrote there, and his daughter wrote me back. I’m sorry. Gene passed away years ago. He had diabetes – never told anyone, never kept it in check – and one day, he had a heart attack.”

“Gene – he’s gone?”

“I’m sorry. I wanted to tell him that I had finally passed my medical boards – I wanted to invite him to my White Coat ceremony – and I never got the chance.”

“But – that’s not supposed to happen. He saved me. He saved my life. And I never got to thank him – forty years later, I never got to thank him.”

“Terry, I’m sorry.”

“It’s not fair. It’s just not fair. He got me out of that house of horrors. He saved my life. He’s gone. And the bastard that says he’s my father is still alive today.”

“You can’t think like that.”

“Why can’t I? Do you know what it’s like to go into that hospital room and see him laying there without any repentance for what he did? I’m sorry, Dr. Olson. I want my father to die – I want him to die today, how horrible is that for me to even say out loud? What kind of a miserable son am I, I want my father to die – and I want Gene Raveler to come back?”

“Terry, this is part of the grieving process. There’s no outline, there’s no manual, each of us deal with this in our own separate way. But that doesn’t mean that anything you say right now is bad or evil or hurtful or painful. It’s just your emotions that are pouring out right now.”

“But I just can’t forgive him for what he did. I can’t.”

“It has nothing to do with forgiveness. You have a lot of anger inside you. A lot of resentment and hatred and hurt. If you don’t detach those things from your heart and your mind and your soul, you’ll never escape your pain. There’s no way that Robert Wallis can do anything to you now. You have to stop thinking that he can.”

“But what can I do? How can I change this?”

Dr. Olson picked up Robert Wallis’ clipboard and looked at the medical notes. “You have many options. You’re a good kid, Terry. And it looks like, despite everything you went through, you’re a good man now. And you need to continue the healing. Don’t let anything your father did to you ever hold you prisoner any more. Sometimes we think that the bullies and the abusers won’t ever get their justice. That they’ll escape scott-free. But you and I both know that if you’re going to seek any sort of justice on your own… the best justice is to never give your tormentors any posthumous victories.”

“Posthumous victories?”

“It’s something my father taught me. And I’m going to pass it on to you. Don’t let those baggage you’ve been carrying for the past 40 years continue to shackle you. Listen, Terry, it’s been great seeing you. If you speak to the McCarlings, please pass my love and support.”

With that, Dr. Olson put the patient chart down on a counter, and walked down the hall to continue his rounds.

Terry walked back over to the bed. His father was unresponsive. Quiet. Peaceful. Laying on the bed.

The paper bag, still containing the broken alarm clock, was still in Terry’s hand. How easy it would have been, Terry thought. How many times did I lay there, unprepared, only to get grabbed out of bed and beaten within an inch of my life. What a big man, Terry thought. Big man who can beat a 7-year-old boy. Yeah. That’s a fair fight.

Terry opened the bag and pulled out the alarm clock. It still said 1:35, the hands permanently fused into the fractured faceplate. Terry gripped the alarm clock. He looked around. If he threw this alarm clock at his father, nobody could stop him in time.

“Dad, it’s Terry,” he whispered. “I know I haven’t come around to visit, and you know why. There’s no one in this hospital room except you and me. No one. I don’t know if you can hear me, I don’t know if you’re even alive. Dad, what you did to me was something no father should ever do to his son. But if you ever loved me, if you ever felt anything in your heart about my existence, then please do me a favor. If there is an afterlife, and if God Himself does exist, then once you get there I want you to find a man named Eugene Raveler. He was my favorite ballplayer, he played center field for the Robins. And if you find him, I want you to tell him, ‘Terry Wallis from the Pines of Iverhill trailer park sends you a message, “Thank you.”‘ And if you can do that, Dad, just that one thing, when the day comes and I discover the afterlife, then the first thing I will do is look for you – and forgive you. Do this for me. Please. If you ever loved me – ever – grant me this one request.”

Terry looked at the alarm clock one more time.

And as he left the hospital room, he dropped the clock into a trash can.