“Dad…you don’t look any better. You’re wasting away. You should just go back to the hospital. Make something up, so they take you seriously, like you’ve been having chest pains, or something.”
[I haven’t been on here in a while and I want to apologize for that, as its been like 9 months—long enough to be born anew. I originally thought I might take a month or so off, so that I could acclimate to the new job, which is going well—much better than the last job. However, between there and here I lost someone very important to me…my dad. This post is about him and, by extension, myself.]
My earliest memory of my dad (I was around 6 at the time and very precocious) is one where he gave me a Hess truck. He and my mother had split up before I can even remember, and the details of their break up are a haze of he-said, she-said snippets I’ve accumulated over my lifetime. What I’ve come to know about my dad, is that I’m not the first child that he’s walked away from or been pushed away from. I have a half-sister somewhere in Florida, that he never really talked about, and I never really questioned him about. Knowing my father as I do…I think that he always assumed that a child is much better off with their mother and, being the most non-confrontational person I know, he would simply walk away. However, now that I am a father, and I know that I would walk through the fires of hell to be with my son…I’m left a little saddened that my father didn’t. The Hess truck took batteries and my dad said was a collectible—something that becomes more valuable the longer you hold onto it. As young as I was, I remember thinking that it wasn’t Christmas or my birthday, but he has this present just sitting there…waiting…on the off chance that I might come for a visit; my father, who I had no memory of until that very day. Maybe, I thought, him and my mom had conversations that I didn’t know about, that my mom knew this whole time how to get a hold of him, where he lived and that he was just a short car ride away, but it was on this nondescript day that I met the man my mother said was my father and that I learned inanimate objects grew in value because most would be mistreated or thrown away, so those kept and taken good care of became rarer and more precious.
The next time I remember seeing him I was around 8. It was night and he had come to my house for a short visit. I remember it being night because he jokingly said that two motorcycles were coming up the road and that I should stand in the middle of the road, between the motorcycles. I knew that it was a car, but I slowly walked towards the road anyway, trusting this man, my father, would stop me out of some undefined bond we shared. He did stop me, then he promised to visit me the following week for a longer period, and that following week I ended up sitting outside on my plastic three-wheeler, by myself, until the streetlights came on and my mom dragged me into the house. I think at some point during that day of waiting, my mom talked to him on the phone and yelled at him within earshot, and I worried she would scare him off entirely, but I knew that he must have had good reason to not come and see me…he must.
Fast forward, again what felt like years, and my dad is staying at my cousin’s house on weekends. He worked up north, wearing a Tyvek suit and scrubbing agent orange out of ceilings, and on the weekends he was ours. My cousin was more like a brother and he lost his father to a drunk driver when he was almost too young to remember, so we shared my dad. My cousin has pointed out that my dad served as an anchor for us during turbulent times. You see, most of the adults around us were dealing with what life had thrown at them by self-medicating, and the drug of choice, more often then not, was alcohol. The time we spent with my dad was even keeled. We’d go to arcades, movies, or just sit around his room and play Dungeons and Dragons. He gave me the book Dream Park and though it took me a year to read, it was the spark that got me to be a lifelong reader and aspiring author. It was funny, that his first parental action was to limit my soda intake, which at that time was pretty high. I was at once caught between wondering how he could expect me to listen to him since he was never there and happy that he cared about my well-being. I was around ten years old at the time.
These days seemed to go on forever, as the summer vacations of our youth often do. Nothing stays the same and he eventually moved out and at one point lived in the YMCA and with friends at another point in time. The chronology is foggy at best. I never really visited him when he was at the ‘Y’ and he acted uneasy about the place when it was brought up, but me and my cousin visited him regularly when he lived with his friends, continuing the tradition of arcades and D&D. In fact, it was my introduction to D&D and the resulting increase in my vocabulary that got me tested for and admitted into the Gifted and Talented program in the 5th grade. The best thing to come out of being in the G&T program was knowing that I’m not the only goofball/weirdo/nerd out there, and the worst was never feeling like I’d accomplished what I should’ve.
I moved out of the city to live with my cousin and his wife, as I was going down a dark path in high school and probably wouldn’t have graduated. Years later my dad would end up moving out to the piece of land I was on, out in the country, in the trailer out back. We shared common interests like movies, books and photography. He was a much more prolific reader than myself, but never attempted to do any creative writing. I went to college and majored in English Writing Arts and Psychology and I usually follow that up with the joke, “Now I can write stories and know just how fucked up I am for having written it.” He was always my biggest fan and encouraged me to keep writing, which was why it was so hard to get back in the swing after he passed. Every time I write I think about him and how he will never see my son, his grandson, grow up. He loved living out in the country, as going to a nearby nature center, with walking paths, so he could take pictures was his favorite thing to do. We spent many a warm, sunny afternoon playing hacky sack. He always held to the idea that just because you’re getting older doesn’t mean you have to act like it. He was truly young at heart.
I ended up moving in with my then girlfriend, who is now my wife, and my dad and my uncle moved halfway towards where they worked—a drug store warehouse. This house he moved into was condemned and they moved back to the city of Syracuse. The house that was condemned was eventually demolished. It also happens to be on my route to my new job. It serves as almost a daily reminder of my loss. I work 2nd shift, so many times I find myself driving home late at night with tear-filled eyes.
Near the end he was losing his breath very easily, and having a great deal of cramps in his legs while trying to sleep. Then he started losing weight. He came up for a visit and he had me touch in between his shoulder and neck and there was no muscle…just a hollow impression. He went to the hospital due to his difficulty breathing and didn’t tell me, not wanting me to worry. I happened to call while he was at the hospital and he said they’re running him through tests.
Later on he said that his lungs were clear and his heart was fine, which was what he was worried about most. His doctor ended up diagnosing him with Myasthenia Gravis. He said that it was caught early enough that a treatment program would work well. The last time he visited me, when he was standing out in the driveway, getting ready to go back home, he said that he was proud of me. Now we always hugged when he left, but for some reason, probably his weakened state, he slid into his car. I was standing behind him with my arms raised thinking we would hug, but figured he was tired out from walking outside. We exchanged ‘I love yous’ and he drove away. A couple weeks later my uncle called me, voice trembling, and told me that my dad had collapsed on the bathroom floor from a massive heart attack. I cried so hard and for so long that my eyes dried up and felt like sandpaper. He was cremated and sprinkled at his favorite nature center. I’m trying to strengthen my relationship with my uncle, who is kind of a recluse. My uncle gave me my dad’s laptop and I’m writing this post with it. He also gave me his Nook color, and I have begun reading the books that my dad has read. For me they’re like a trail of breadcrumbs or a treasure map that will lead me closer to him. With every sentence I read, that he has read, I will be making neural connections that he had, shaping my mind a little more like his. He was always loving, humble and young at heart…despite having had a shitty childhood where his mother left him and his father remarried a prototypical wicked stepmother who denied him the very joy of reading the comic books she would buy—his favorite thing. It seems his not being there will serve as bookends for my life, but I’m reading him into my mind and soul.
I opened this post with an imagined conversation that I’d wished I’d had with him the last time I spent time with him. It plays out in my head over and over. “Dad…you don’t look any better. You’re wasting away. You should just go back to the hospital. Make something up, so they take you seriously, like you’ve been having chest pains, or something.”
I’m forever wounded but have healed enough to begin writing again. It is what he would have wanted.
I love you dad.