I don't remember when I first realized that Mike Maloney was not a normal dad.
I do remember his truck, the beloved grey Dodge Ram, and him in the driver seat playing Leann Rimes and Alison Krauss. He had a huge coffee thermos - the biggest one I had ever seen, and when the three Maloney kids were riding in his truck, one of us would hold it to keep it from spilling. It would almost inevitably spill though, and the floor was colored with the stain of black coffee.
He lived on a campsite, the type of place that that college kids or families would rent for a weekend, to live almost in the woods. Caught somewhere between civilization and the wilderness, not unlike himself. He had the back site - the farthest left in the backrow, and his one-room camper seemed rugged, and outdoorsy. It smelled like patchouli and outdoors and cigarettes. It was near the Bait-and-Tackle shop, where everyone knew him and everyone knew us. It was next door to a walk-up-restaraunt, where we used to get ice cream cones and jalepeno poppers.
For a time after he and my mom separated, he was pretty involved in our lives. Thinking about it now, I'm not sure if that was just the way it appeared to a ten year old - I wonder how I'd see it now. He'd pick us up in that grey truck, and drive us to go fishing at City Park or out by his place in the woods. He'd insist that I put my own bait on the hook, and if I caught anything he'd help me to take the fish off. Many times he'd take us to get pizza at Godfathers, or to McDonald's where we would all "pool" our fries.
Those were good times with Mike Maloney, and they are good memories.
But there were bad times, too, and bad memories.
I remember pretending to be asleep when the cops came over one night to haul him away. I don't remember being afraid of him, but I certainly knew that if he arrived it wouldn't be a good thing. I remember us once having a garage sale (maybe it was before our move to Cedar Rapids) and before the sale began my mom told me that if he showed up, that I should grab my brothers, go inside and lock the door behind me while she fixed the situation. Sure enough, before the day was over, he was there, and we were inside with the doors locked. I don't remember the outcome of the event, but somehow my mom managed to calm him down, weather the storm, and keep the trouble at bay.
The soundtrack to my childhood is not Raffi or Beauty and the Beast (although, we listened to those too!). It's songs like "Free Fallin'", "Mr. Jones", "Fields of Gold". I can't hear any of those without thinking back to the time spent on Koser Avenue and the simple happiness that we had there.
When my mom told me that she was going to meet a friend in a "similar circumstance", I assumed she meant a female friend. As she told me, we were standing in the living room, by the door that led to the kitchen.
I had no idea how much that evening would change the rest of the story.