January 19th, 2016
People think because I don’t turn myself in that I hate sick people.
My father has to lean against a door frame to stand up. “You changed your hair,” was the first thing he said to me this morning. “I like the color.”
“Should you be up?” I asked. Every time I see him he’s lost weight. If I don’t visit often enough, I struggle to recognize him.
“I heard your key in the door,” he said pushing against the wall to turn himself around. He sort of let himself fall towards the steps, catching the banister with enough grace to make it look like it was on purpose. And it probably was. It’s just watching someone rely on their own frailty to get by never feels natural. Clutching the banister, he began pulling himself up the stairs. I ran to help him but he heard me start up the steps, managed to get his hand out, “I’m fine.”
It took him almost two minutes to get up the next five stairs. How he managed to be standing there as I approached the front door… He must have been sitting in front of the door waiting for my eventual return.
My dad built a patio on his roof, and he led me out to where he looks out over traffic on the 8 West and the dry canyon beyond. “Have you seen it again? What did you think?”
My Dad taught me the difference between an AT-AT and an AT-ST at a young age. He made it clear which was Salacious Crumb and which was Bib Fortuna. “It was the third time I saw it. I don’t have anything new to say. The more you see it, the more it feels like you’re watching Episode IV.” Ironically, he also taught me something is better left unplayed with, that it maintains it’s value and lasts longer if you keep it in it’s box.
Is that irony? I’ve actually been confused about that since someone told me Alanis Morrisette got it wrong, too.
Dad eased himself into his lawn chair. I could see pollen dust, bits of dried leaves in the afghans that he’d wadded there and was now rolling himself into. “I saw Empire Strikes Back more times than I can remember when it was in theaters. Every time I felt differently about it.”
“Why don’t you go see it with me?”
“I don’t go to the theaters anymore,” he said, catching his breath. After a few moments he turned his head to face me, his eyes still closed. “Are you safe?” He pulled a few deep breaths and took his arms onto his chest for warmth. “Where you’re sleeping…” There’s a basket near the sliding the glass door. I pulled out a faded purple afghan my mom’s mom had made for him. This was cleaner than the other two, which I imagined probably had little spiders and the tiny bugs that get into anything that’s been left out for too long. When I tried to take them from him he locked his hand until I simply took the third afghan and laid it across him. “…are you safe?”
“I think so,” I told him, straightening it out.
“When was the last time you talked… to her?”
“It’s time to let it go, Dad.”
“You can’t fight what you feel, Andy. You’ll lose in the worst way.”
“And I can’t put my love before my health, Dad.”
His eyes slowly opened, “Is that what you think I did?”
There was no way to tell if he was being sensitive or I was projecting. Rather than figure it out, I let my knees buckle a bit and I landed at the end of the chair he was on. “I have too much to keep me up at night without worrying about things I don’t control.”
“I’m not saying anything other than just allow yourself to acknowledge… how you feel.”
“I do that, Dad. I do that too much.”
Dad shimmied his way up the gradual incline of his chair, until his head was held up by a pillow. “Are you disappointed in me… because of how I ended up?”
I pushed my face in my hands and took a breath, “I just got here, Dad.”
He waited for a response before reaching over to his mini-fridge where he keeps his medicines and poured two red, plastic cups of lemonade. My dad thinks that that carbonated lemonade covers the taste of citron vodka. I don’t know why, especially with how much he uses.
“Have a drink,” he said, settling back into his chair. I walked over and picked it up. “Everyone I see is going outlive me.”
My hold was weak around the brim of the cup as I fought back the urge to crush it in front of him. He drank like he was unaware of what he’d said. “I don’t… I don’t always know how to respond to the things you say. Do you feel like I expect an apology from you or something?”
“I’m not apologizing. I didn’t say I was ‘sorry’. I did… If I had to choose between this and living to be eighty years old with your mother, I’d choose this.” My eyes closed and I turned away.
I hate the view from my father’s house, no matter how much can be seen. It’s ugly, characterized by the congestion of the highway and perpetual death that turns the San Diego hillsides brown. But even when he didn’t struggle to keep his eyes open, my dad would sit up there and stare happily for hours. “What I want you to understand is that there’s nothing here that’s unconsidered. And I have made peace with all of it.” His words were soft and strained, like a runner who has exhausted themselves but not ready to quit.
“I just came to visit.”
“Parents have things their children need to hear,” he said. “I worry about you… alone. I worry you need guidance and you don’t… bring yourself to ask for it.” He was wearing himself down.
I took a big drink from the cup, trying to ignore how much vodka he’d put in it. “Are you ashamed of me?” I asked, lowering the cup. I looked back at him, “Are you ashamed of my decisions?”
“I don’t know,” he said without hesitation.
“Well, there you go.” I rose and walked to the edge of the patio, sat down and my legs hang over the roof.
“Tim said he had to pick you up the other night.”
“Is that what you’re ashamed of?”
He heaved something I think was supposed to be a laugh, “You ask hard questions.”
“You say fucked up things, Dad. And they make me ask questions I never expect to ask.” I told him. “Yeah, I called Sunday. I called looking for you.”
“I’m not… going to be able to there for you… much longer, champ.”
“I don’t really know what I was thinking. You were just the number I called.”
“He said you were pretty beat up.”
“I’m sorry, how does this relate to the ‘shame’ question?”
“You didn’t return my calls the next day. You didn’t… answer my texts.” The next day I was in community service. If they see your phone, you don’t get credit for the day. But, no… I wouldn’t have responded, anyway.
“I might not be able to be there for you much longer, either, Dad.”
“You control your fate, son.”
“What makes me so special? What makes me so different than you, waiting for… whatever is going to happen?” I looked over at him. He wasn’t able to keep his eyes open anymore. The shimmer from his white, pasty skin shrunk my pupils but I tried not to wince looking at him. “Should I get you some suntan lotion?”
“Why? Am I going to get cancer?” he asked.
I looked back over the highway. It was eleven in the morning and the road had already slowed, cars begging to bump into one another, each desperate to be somewhere else but no one getting anywhere. “If I knew that my blood would cure you, I’d turn myself in. If I knew I could go in and let them run some tests and they’d let me back out… I’d turn myself in.”
“How do you know they wouldn’t?”
“I sleep in my car, Dad. I live off money my mom sneaks away from her husband. I don’t see my friends anymore because I don’t trust them to not try and hurt me. I have very little, Dad. Very, very little. None of this is fun for me. I do it because I know there’s no alternative. I am as at peace with my world as I can be.”
“The shame I feel…” he slowed to a stop. At first I thought he was asleep, but he’d rolled on his side and was staring motionlessly. “Maybe I should apologize,” he said.
I didn’t know how to respond. So I didn’t.
My Dad was quiet for a while. “Did you see Saturday Night Live… where they did an Undercover Boss with Kylo Ren?”
“No, Dad,” I said. “I must have missed it.”