Communication has never been my father's strong
suit so it wasn't until mid-August that his children found out he had
lost his job in July. My dad's apartment complex requires a two month notice
and as luck in my family runs his lease had just renewed for another
twelve months six days earlier. Cleaning my dad's
apartment was a bitch. It was stifling hot, before we could clean
anything we had to wend our way through all the shit my dad thought was
worth keeping but never took care of. Probably the most frustrating
thing was that my dad didn't seem to get that we were trying to help.
Regardless of how many times us kids explained it, he refused to accept
that moving to a smaller place meant that he was going to have to start getting rid of things.
The Thursday before Labor Day weekend my sister Beth was the one who ended up helping me pack up my dad's living room. Around ten-thirty
we decided to call it quits after we ran out of patience and packing
tape. My mother's family turns to alcohol while my father's family
tends towards sullen sobriety during times of trouble. That night I was
ready for the bar and so was Beth who rarely drinks. Descending the
porch stairs with more garbage for the dumpster we ran into a couple of
my father's neighbors. The guy who used to live immediately below my
father is a man with one and a half legs who talks your ear off. Given
my current mental state I was in
no mood to chat but I gave him a half-hearted smile when he offered me
an ice cold beer.
Standing next to my father's neighbor was a man I had never met
before. Younger than my father or his neighbor he was probably about
thirty. His shirt said 'Real Men Marry Doctors' and had I not been so
tired I might have smiled at him. Neither my sister nor I drink beer.
I'm allergic to it and my sister doesn't care for it. I wanted to get
going but my dad's neighbor wanted to know what was going on with my
father so I stood there resenting every nod of my sister's
pretty blonde head as she conversed with him.
A quick glance at my cell phone told me it was going to be midnight before I got home. I had to work
early the next day, my whole body yearned for a cool shower, ibuprofen
and half a bottle of wine but my dad's neighbor kept on talking so I
stood there listening. Beer was offered to us several times. Each time
we refused, I think my dad's neighbor and the guy standing next to him
felt guilty that they were drinking and we weren't. The man holding a
beer set his off to the side when we finally said goodbye. Halfway down
the stairs a hand grabbed my elbow. Startled I turned to face the man
who had previously been drinking beer.
In the man's hand was a small scrap of paper. The man said it had
fallen from my purse but I know the contents of my purse and that sheet
of paper was not in it when I left my father's apartment. Ungraciously
I thanked the man who had given me the note. One of the disturbing
things I found in my father's apartment was a copy of a book he's been
trying to write. Holding the yellowing sheets in my hand I had a vision
of myself five decades from now, in the future I
saw my own life empty of people who saw me as anyting other than a
liability and their responsibility.
The other day I cleaned my purse out. Inside my wallet was the note I had forgotten about. Today my father can do very little for himself.
His physician says he has lost weight. His hands lack the strength and
dexterity to pull blankets up for warmth. December in Wisconsin is a
cold affair. Cold can be crisp and lovely, I love the brittle white
frost that covers the earthy complexion revealed by fall. Every so
often I find myself re-reading my father's handwriting. That too has
changed as his disease progresses. Soon he will be unable to
write anything at all. Were it not for the man holding a beer I
wouldn't have the following poem:
Withers the flower, its blossoms fade
Likewise its petals, once on parade.
Shriven the river when drought draws near
Searing the lifeblood we hold so dear.
So brief falls the star across the sky
A shower of sparks & then goodbye.