First time I killed my father, I’d just turned 20. In some whirlwind of inspiration fueled by Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son, I penned a short story I’d later call “David.”
He died again after writing an incomplete story about a man getting dressed for his father’s funeral. And again, later that year, about a man who remembers his father moments before he receives a phone call with the news of his passing. Oddly, both stories were titled (the first being a working title) after Bob Dylan songs.
A few years ago, during the throes of depression, I started planning a story about a man who returns home after his father’s death. I might have drafted the first few chapters, but nothing came of it. Mostly, because I realized that I seemed to pull my inspiration from the Jonathan Tropper novel, This Is Where I Leave You.
However, none of these writings prepared me for the actuality of it.
The day I learned my father was dying, we were eating at Burger King. My mother, after all these years, still doesn’t know how to broach the subject of death with me. So she does it awkwardly and quickly.
I took it in. Ingested it as I ate the Chicken Parmesan BK was still pimping. I’d known the man’s health wasn’t good. It wasn’t even ok, I think. But I expected him to come around. To live through this as he had everything else before. I didn’t even take into consideration his age.
“How long does he have?” I asked.
“Just a matter of time until his heart gives up,” she said.
I nodded. Whatever I felt up to that moment, slipped from me. I felt numb. Felt exhausted. Felt more like a version of me I hadn’t expected to encounter that day. Or ever. But I kept my face straight. Bottled that shit up nice and tight. I wouldn’t allow myself to feel until later that night.
When he smiled at me in his room at the MICU, it was the first pang of regret I felt about our distanced relationship. The years we spent estranged marred by self-pity and hardheadedness, vanished. And the reality of it set in.
My father was dying.
He passed away on 15 July. We arrived to the hospice after I got out of work. I walked to his room as my mom signed in the visitor’s log. I pushed open the door to his room and that’s when I noticed the sound. Or lack thereof. It took all I had not to drop the food and milkshake I held in my hand.
There my father lay, on his bed, with the TV on. The breathing machine that had been connected to him for a little over a week now stood silent in its corner. The empty crawled its way through my mind. The adrenaline pulsed. As my mother and nieces got close to the room, I looked at her.
“His machine is off,” I said. “Why would they turn off his machine?”
There wasn’t a doubt in my mind. I held the answer. I just didn’t believe. My father passed away sometime between the time I got out of work, picked up my dinner, and arrived at the hospice.
My father and I didn’t have a relationship. I went years without seeing him, without talking to him. We were more strangers than family at times. And I think that’s what hurts the most. Neither of us budged from our fixed places.
The Sunday before he died, I had a few moments alone with him. I leaned in close and I spoke. And while I won’t share with you in great detail, I will allow a few words to be printed here. “It’s ok if you have to go. I’ll be ok. We’ll be ok.”