I walked around my good intentions/and found there were none/I blame my father for the wasted years, we hardly talked/I never thought I would forget this hate/then a phone call made me realize I’m wrong…

The nightmares come often; I just don’t talk about them. I don’t write about them. There are no entries in my journal or one this page. I mentioned them on Twitter a few times, but not anymore. A nightmare is only as strong as you let it, right? It’s a repetition of that night, almost a year ago. There are alterations. A director’s cut. Alternative scenes and endings. In one of them, the others await for me. In another, none of them are there. One plays out like the night did, only she doesn’t make out of the OR. And darker still, I wasn’t on vacation. And he wasn’t with me that night.

I’m not stranger to nightmares. At a young age, I was plagued with sleep paralysis. And if you’ve never experienced that, I envy you.

When she was in the hospital, I’d put Shaun to bed and wait until I knew for certain he was asleep. Then I’d lie there and cry. Or I’d cry in the shower. Or I’d sit in the chair and cry. As the nights wound up, after the funerals, after the time spent in her room in the ICU, things started to even out. The mourning was still there, but the smiles at work weren’t false anymore. At least, not all of them.

Because that’s the thing about nightmares. When you live them. When you live with them. If you live within them. You have to put on a smile otherwise others will know.

I walked around my room no thinking/just sinking in this box/I blame myself for being too much like somebody else/I never thought I would just bend this way/then a phone call made me realize I’m wrong.

“My dad is dying.” Do you know how strange it is to type those words? In my adult life, I don’t think I ever referred to him as Dad. Father, sure. Javier, always. But Dad? I can’t remember the last time I called him by that name. I know I was a kid.

He’d been sick for a while now. Mom informed me of his doctor visits. When things with his leg to a serious turn, we spoke about the possibility of amputation. Things have a way of progressing. Symptoms and sickness have the tendency of getting worse.

I avoided visiting him in the hospital until last Friday when Mom told me his heart rate wasn’t improving. The leg, amputated. His heart stopped a couple of times before the surgery.

“Look who came to visit you today,” my mom said as we walked into his room in the ICU. Room 10. Jeanna stayed in Room 4 last year.

My father searched my face for some recognition. Something that would give him a hint. Of course he wouldn’t recognize me. It’s been at least a decade since the last time we saw each other. I’m older now. Wider. Tired.

“It’s Willie,” she told him. “He came to visit you today.”

And there it is. It’s weak, but it’s there. The flicker of light in his eyes. The twitch of his lips as he tries to smile.

They were transporting him to the hospice that night. There would be a room made up for him for his final days. It’s where I saw him today. But the smile was gone. Not that he wasn’t glad to see us. No, I’m sure he appreciates that. It’s just that finality of it is hitting him, I’m sure.

I sat by his bed, not saying anything. Just taking it in. I scroll for the picture of Shaun on my phone. Jeanna sent it earlier. Before I arrived at the hospice. Before I saw the look of defeat on my father’s face. He has his first pet goldfish. Seth and San, he called them. And a part of me wants this to be a normal father and son moment. One of those moments on TV when the torch is passed down.

“Hey look, Dad. It’s Shaun. His first pet goldfish. Remember the goldfish we had when I was that age?”

And that’s when it sinks in. Because, yeah, we had goldfish. Yeah, for a time, we lived under the same roof. But I can’t conjure up the memories we shared together. Sure, I remember the anger. The drunkenness. The shouting. The leaving. I remember running after a rusty Dodge pick up because I thought, for a second, that it was him. Because most of our father/son relationship was me stealing glances of him from afar.

I tried to remember putting my hands on both his cheeks and just looking into his eyes, exploring what lies beneath much in the way Shaun does with me. I tried remembering lying in bed with him, slowly falling asleep, or just talking about whatever popped into my child mind. But there’s nothing there. Just an empty void.

And it’s not anger that I feel now. And I wonder if it ever was anger that I felt. Perhaps my teenage brain misinformed me. And maybe my twenty-something brain didn’t comprehend that I couldn’t forgive someone who I was never angry with.

I just know that I’m not ready to lose him permanently.

And I if I don’t make it known that I’ve loved you all along/Just like sunny days that we ignore/Because we’re all dumb and jaded/And I hope to god I figure out…