I’ve Missed You
He stood in the doorway of his golf getaway condo looking sad and alone. “We need to do more of this,” my father said. “I’ve missed you.” He was on the good side of a six-month remission of brain cancer, playing golf as often as he felt well enough, hopeful enough, to give it another go. I’d just spent Saturday night and Sunday morning (at his resort church with the sweeping view of the lakeside community) with my dad. We played Gin Rummy.
He’d found God, or more accurately, Jesus, during his spiral into treatments, setbacks, and continuous prayers. I’m not sure which was working better, the surgery, the drugs, or the prayers. We’d just gotten back from a vanilla Presbyterian sermon on the mount. He was enthusiastic about Jesus. We’re all enthusiastic about Jesus, except when someone is dying. Then our anger and our pleadings begin to get in the way of our servitude and sacrifice.
I hugged my father in the doorway. “I know Dad. We do.”
“Last night was fun,” he said. “Do you want to play a round of golf before you go back to town?”
“Sorry, Dad, I can’t. I’ve got schoolwork today.”
We hugged an extra long time. I could feel his frail body sigh as he shifted some of his weight to me. “I love you,” I said. I stepped back. Tears in my father’s eyes. He couldn’t say anything. There was nothing to say. Two weeks later he was back in the hospital for the closing arguments between himself and God. Jesus, it seems, was not interceding effectively on my dad’s behalf. Even as he lost the ability to speak, you could see the flames in his tear-filled eyes. Sad, afraid, yes. But the rage underneath was palpable. He curled tighter into a small skeleton of a man, over the four days it took his body and his anger to let go.
Standing beside my father’s hospital bed with my sister, we caught each other’s eyes and tried to offer support. “This is hard,” I mouthed. We were standing on either side of the bed, each with one hand in our hands. My sister just nodded. She couldn’t speak through the tears and hissing/ticking/beeping machines. A shudder passed between the three of us as my dad shivered in a spasm of contraction. He was contracting into a small child. He was packing up his life and soul for the final journey home.
“He’s like a child,” I whispered to myself.
Only a few people were circulating by my father’s bed. His wife was in New Orleans with her boyfriend, Rod. It was gross, unacceptable, and better that she was away. Her anger was not tempered by death. She was dark and snakelike. She loved the color green. Her contact lenses were a new variety that hyped the green in her eyes. SAM, was her nickname. My dad would yell her name, “SAM!” when they were drunk at the dining room table, until the cancer-fighting meds removed the comfort of the Cutty Sark from my dad’s last days. He could not drink.
For the first time in my adult life, I was 20-ish, my dad was sober. He wasn’t happy about it. But he was most unhappy as the fragments of his wonderful life began rushing past him into the dark drain of death. He could see and touch the material world for a bit longer, but he was being rubbed out. Taken for his sins. Paying for his abuse and bad actions over the course of his short life.
My dad died with more money than he could ever use. More success as a businessman (doctor with his own practice) than I could ever hope to achieve. And, since I had declared my inability to follow his path to medical school, I let go of any hope that my dad would recognize my talent as a writer or a poet. I read one of my short stories to him, a few years before the brain cancer struck, and he appeared confused.
“You’re going to be a writer?” he asked. He didn’t mention the fucked up family in the story. Or the angry father. He just didn’t get it. I quit sharing my college awakening. I was finding my voice. Just as I was losing my dad, my biggest subject, I was finding my craft with words. I knew I had none that could reach my father in his departure from the planet. So, I leaned into just spending time with him. Appreciating him. Loving what I had left of him.
And then he was gone.
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