The men of my family were all ushered into the human world by a succession of strong Caribbean women, minimum wage surrogates who were not quite mothers and not quite not. There was, therefore, a certain appropriateness, an inevitable symmetry, that they should also show us the way out, starting with him. They are from the hospice, and they flutter around the recliner, massaging his hands, trying to get him to eat a little when he can work up the strength to swallow, keeping him from falling out when he tries to get up and forgets he doesn't have the strength to anymore.
"You are the grandson? You are so young, you are so strong."
I took the train up, first the Acela from Washington to New York-Penn. Inside it's all new and futuristic furnishings, laptop outlets and data ports. There is a quiet car, where cell phones aren't allowed, and that's where I sit. East coast post-industrial scenery, half of it, by default of the wrong side of the tracks, from the insulation of the pseudo-bullet train.
I didn't get off at Newark. I didn't go to visit my father, I didn't even tell him I was making the trip. He made his own trip earlier, and now I'm making mine.
When I transfer onto the LIRR train, the bills are crumpled and sweaty from my pocket, and the conductor stares at me like I spat in them, asks, "What is this kid, garbage?"
I sit by the recliner, and he recognizes me, which is enough. I hug him, gently, like he might break into pieces. They say he went down hill pretty quickly, that it's only been a few days that his lungs have been so full that he can only say a few words at a time, only a few weeks since he could walk. He finally stopped smoking cigarettes when he couldn't really talk, because at this point, it'd crowd the oxygen out of his lungs so much he might just suffocate.
"Just hold his hand, child. That's what he needs right now, just somebody to hold his hand."
That night I'm out back behind the pool. Sneaking a cigarette, in the same spot where he used to. The irony is unbearable, but I really need a smoke, need it down in my bones. God knows what would happen if they caught me out there, it would break everybody's heart. But you need a cigarette the most after a day like that, the sweat and the fearing what you'll see, and being ashamed because you're afraid, all soaking together. So what can I do?