I am like a cat on the couch rubbing
my face–nose, mouth, cheeks–across
the blue velvet. This couch is my father’s
money, a small forgotten-about portion
left to the three kids he had first
and left first. No, he didn’t forget us
but he didn’t remember us either, not the way
the phone company he’d worked for through all
its identity crises had remembered that once,
possibly with a blue pen, my father had signed
our names and his name on company insurance documents.
My father’s money, too, bought the giltwood, caneback
chairs dressed in golden yellow upholstery and a blue,
white, and gold bracelet. And some bottles of wine
and several ice cream cones and a pound of unground
coffee. It may even have bought something hanging
in my small closet though I don’t remember now
and even if I were to push the hangers one by
one down the painted rail, I couldn’t be sure
I’d recognize my father. I am not a cat and the coffee
is long spent and the chairs are only chairs and my father
was a little too surprised when I wore a pretty black dress
and red lipstick to see him in the hospital his last
Christmas. And even when I scroll through my bank statement
sometimes and look for the small portion of the small portion
I’ve stuck into savings I see a little grace, I see a little
security, I do not see my father.
*I wrote this draft on September 6 after writing my morning pages when I didn’t really think I’d been thinking about my father at all.
This morning two friends of mine called to wish me “happy birthday,” and I nearly burst into tears. When they called, I was in the middle of reading my sister’s texts updating my middle brother and me about my father’s condition. Why is it that when we’re heartbroken and most need to be loved, that it’s actually the most painful time to be loved? That when that protective layer is pockmarked and wounded by grief, even the kindest, most well-meaning of wishes becomes an abrasion.
This morning I felt ridiculous and even somewhat petty reading everyone’s lovely birthday wishes—some of which made me actually laugh out loud—as they populated my Facebook wall. Because I’m connected via social media to many people at work, there was a steady of cacophony of “Happy Birthday” as I ran into people in the halls. I didn’t quite know what to say. I said thank you, of course, but I felt as if I needed to qualify that thank you. “Thanks for remembering, but I’m not sure I’m allowed to celebrate and be happy when my father is dying such an unkind death.”
I briefly though about canceling my plans to have dinner with a small group of friends after work, and throughout the day I kept incanting under my breath, “It’s okay if you cry at dinner; they’re your friends.”
I did decide, ultimately, to not cancel dinner. And I did let myself fully enjoy the well wishes. Love hurts. But finally, I’m learning, that’s not a good reason to run away from it. And if we don’t learn to bear the hurts, maybe we never learn to fully bear the joy of love either.
Day to day I don’t know if my father
is hurtling toward twilight or dawn
is just a long time coming.
His mouth is full of stops and starts
and we try to decipher the new
language of words he can’t remember.
We measure him in half-cups and sips.
We pray the steady rise and fall of him
like a rosary of relief and longing.
We memorize each knot of his spine
like a rosary of bone and moaning.
We do not know if we should pray
for an end or a beginning.
We pray instead in icepacks
and extra pillows and cans of nutritions.
We pray not with knees pressed to the ground
nor with tongues busy with sacred groanings.
We pray instead with hands busy with
the work of my father. We pray as if
he is not sand, he is not air.
We pray as if the benediction of our
hands on the sags and folds of him is enough.