In November of 1998, your hands were frail, paper thin skin drawn tight over swollen knuckles. You had liver spots, although you were only sixty-eight, not old by today’s standards. Old is eighty-something. Old is for other people.
That day, you struggled to breathe and disdained the oxygen the doc wanted you to use full time, but smoking a pack a day for forty years had finally caught up to you. You thought because you’d quit the year before, it couldn’t hurt you anymore, but past mistakes never lose their power to injure. Echoes roll forward through the years.
You were glad we came, but you were so tired. I saw it in the hollows of your eyes. Even though you never yielded in your heart and mind, never doubted the doctors would find a way to save you, your body was giving up for you.
I knew you were gravely ill, but I didn’t want to deal with it. That’s how I function, push it back until I don’t have a choice anymore. On December 24, 1998, that flashpoint occurred. You collapsed while everyone was trying to celebrate the holiday around you, pretending you weren’t dying. Pretending we were full of good cheer and this was a holiday like any other.
But it wasn’t. And holidays would never be the same again. You stayed in the hospital on life support until January 2. I held your hand while you died.
In September of 1999, I bore a son and I named him after you. He was conceived the night we put you in the ground. You never saw him or held him, but he is your namesake.
Ten years later, it is your birthday. Remember how I always bought you a box of peanut brittle and two copies of the same book? Generally a spy novel. You liked Ian Fleming and John le Carre. I bought our books from a bargain table because I was a poor student back then. We would read the novel at the same time, and then discuss it. That gave us some common ground, something to talk about, because we didn’t have much in common otherwise. We were the only two people in the family who liked to read. Now I’m the only one.
I miss you. Ten years gone and I miss the way you fussed over whether I had jumper cables, if I had an emergency kit in the car and a pair of comfortable shoes. When I graduated college, you said you were proud of me. I’ve made so many mistakes over the years; I hope you still are.
Happy Birthday, Dad. I wish you a good book and peanut brittle, wherever you are.