Six Hundred Words About My Dad

“It’s not good,” my mother says on the phone. The next call, it’s worse. I’m on a train to Philadelphia where the worst will be happening over the Thanksgiving holiday.
He’s not looking good, my father. His small wire-rimmed glasses, which would be thick as Coke bottle bottoms if it weren’t for advanced technology, are on the hospital room counter. He grimaces through his breathing tube, eyes never to open again. I unfold and put on his glasses. He’s as blurry through them as he is when I remove them, where tears impede my vision as much as his lenses.
– – –
Not long ago my dad was diagnosed with bladder cancer, but underwent a series of intravenous treatments that, although they left him weak and groggy, seemed to be doing their job. His voice on the phone sounded weak and small, but I knew it would only take time for that voice to match his burly body again and for him to be laughing the laugh I’d come to love since he came into my life 40 years ago. We joked around that this was bullshit. Cancer should know better than to try to take down my Jerry Garcia lookalike dad.
– – –
We had thought he had beaten this thing. But the weekend before Thanksgiving, his body started to swell, a biopsy was performed, and he stayed overnight at the hospital. That Sunday, his blood pressure dropped perilously low and he was put under sedation. He never learned that his body was riddled with the most aggressive lymphoma the doctors had ever seen and that, given a pre-existing heart condition, there was nothing they could do except keep him as comfortable as possible. Instead, there he lay in a bed that was far from the comfort of home and his goofy dog.
– – –
So here I am at his bedside, with waterfall face. Stroking his thick forearms, the fine hair on his temples, touching my lips to the top of his head, which has never looked more innocent or vulnerable. I press my lips against his ear and whisper, “You’re a crazy old fuck, Daddy, you know that? Thank you for marrying my mom. I don’t have soccer player legs and you know it.” If he can hear me at all, I know he’s laughing inside his head. I tell him over and over that I love him, something I rarely said aloud.
– – –
A day or so before his hospitalization, we talked on the phone. “What the fuck are you doing over there, Daddy?” I said. “I know. It’s bullshit,” he said. His voice was weak, but he laughed, and I could imagine his smile peaking from behind the gray and white shrubbery of his beard. Right before we hung up I said, “Love you,” words I can’t remember ever saying to him.
My mother told me, on Thanksgiving night, that he told her about it. Clueless idiot that I am, I had no idea it would have meant so much to him.
– – –
I dread the first time someone inevitably says my dad is “in a better place”. I dread the torrent of rage I’ll feel, the overwhelming sadness, the excruciating pain in my brain, heart and soul, thinking that anywhere but here — with us, being a pain in everyone’s ass, sticking his fingers in the food before it’s done cooking, watching endlessly stupid TV, entering a room and uttering inanities — is the better place for him to be. His body is ashes, his energy has joined the galaxy, cosmos, or whateverthefuck. And I just want him back, chewing chocolate-covered cherries forever.