February 25th, 2016
“Your Dad can’t be here,” Tim told me as I crawled into car. That was two months ago, but I hear it like it caught in my ear. Behind me… I wasn’t sure how many people were chasing me through the streets that night. I was losing consciousness, struggling to hold it together. “You can’t be bothering him every time you need help.”
“You changed your hair,” was the first real thing Tim said to me last night as we sat down to dinner. It was sort of a diner atmosphere, so he yelled it across the table. “Why did you pick that color?” Nothing about it was conversational.
“What’s wrong with the color?” I shot back. He was wearing a polo, probably the same thing he had been wearing all day. Which was fine. But my Dad wore nice pastel blue button-up and shiny black suspenders. Everybody looks dumb in suspenders, but he always gets so excited to wear them. I was just happy to see he had the energy to dress up.
“You look like you’re making a statement,” Tim said.
My Dad reached over and put his hand on his leg, “You know what they say about cigars.” The server returned to the table, placing a glass of white in front of Tim and red in front of my father. He set a murky brown IPA in front of me. “Okay, guys,” Dad said raising his glass. “To my boy, who has overcome the worst few months he’ll ever know.”
I don’t know if Tim begrudgingly met his glass to mine. I don’t always read him well. But he avoided looking across at me, focusing instead on the pictures of food standing in the center of the table.
A bit of wine rushed over Dad’s lip, running down his chin and landing on the cuff of his left sleeve. He didn’t say anything like, “Damn it, why did I wear this nice shirt?” or “Every fucking time” like Martin used to say my mom when little things happened. Dad’s lower lip pushed up, his brow curling down and then he quickly smiled.
“Oh, well,” he said. “I guess worse things have happened.” He laughed comfortably though I felt it was a decidedly awkward thing to say.
“Your dad doesn’t have long, Andersen,” Tim told me as he drove through crowded streets. He didn’t bother to wait for me to buckle up and instead I buried my face into the passenger chair. It sounded like he was bumping into pedestrian trying to get through. In fact, it was the night before I started writing this blog. I was beaten, maybe drugged, and that was the worst moment of all was this: “You need to start saying good-bye to him.”
“Your dad is really responding to his treatment,” Tim said now, his arm across my father.
“Well enough to speak for myself,” Dad said kindly. He always speaks kindly, even when I want him to be mad, when he should lash out. I looked at him last night and wondered if he isn’t the reason I’m so weak, why I run instead of standing up for myself. “How’s work, Andersen?” I was still dressed for it, the worst-looking of the three.
“Don’t call me ‘Andersen’.” Dad looked down and Tim stopped himself from speaking up. I used the moment to take a big drink, close my eyes and think. “Work is good, Dad. Thank you for asking.”
“What do you do at the museum?” Tim asked, adjusting his position in the chair and clearing his throat.
“It’s sort of janitorial, I guess. I do a lot of cleaning. I help them set up new exhibits, store old ones.”
“It sounds like it keeps you out of trouble,” Tim said. Keeps me out of trouble, I wedged my teeth into my lower lip. Tim caught my father’s eye before standing, “I’m going to go to the bathroom before the food gets here.”
The wine stain setting into my father’s sleeve, looked like old blood against the fibers of the shirt. He had never bothered to even wipe it off. “What’s going on?” he asked. My glass was empty and I pushed it to the end of the table. “I want us to have a good night.”
“We just got here. Why aren’t we having a good night?”
“That’s so funny. That’s exactly what I was about to say.”
My volume lowered, but my voice became more forceful, the way you might imagine a librarian might sound chewing out a couple of kids. “Why does he have to be here? Why couldn’t we have just done it the two of us?”
“This is a celebration. He’s happy for you. He wants to be here.” For so long my Dad has been struggling to keep his eyes open, hardly able to stay awake or walk from one end of the hall to the other without leaning against the wall. “You’re my son. He loves you, too.”
“This is all going to be over soon,” Tim told me. I don’t think he looked straight at me that whole ride. He was driving my Dad’s car, the one he had since I was ten. Tim owned it now. Nothing inside of it was familiar. “When your Dad is gone,” he said, “we won’t have to bother with each other anymore.”
At the other side of the restaurant, I saw Tim step out of the bathroom. My dad’s eyes were open. He was holding himself up for the first time in as long as I could remember. And I didn’t feel like smiling, but I did. Dad was alive and trying to make the best present possible.
“Okay, Dad,” was all I needed to say.
Though I admit I was troubled he never bothered to clean that wine off his sleeve. He loved that shirt.
On the plus side: I finally figured out how I can make the rest of Dad’s life better.