He said that for the last time when he was dying of cancer. It was a mercifully short progression from diagnosis, pancreatic cancer, to hospice home care.
Six months, not much time to dwell on anything much. My father opted out of chemo the first time he ended up in the emergency room from a bad reaction. He told me, that’s not how I want to go, laying helpless on a hospital bed pissing and shitting myself. He had been an nurse, seen and dealt his share of pity to dying men. Didn’t want to be any part of it himself.
Near the end the cancer deep in his liver and brain, he would only have moments of lucidity. Still he would wake up and ask us to help him to the toilet. His inner diginity a strong force.
It was one of those lucid moments when he made that pronouncement about enjoying the journey. Curious, I asked him what was his destination, being at the end, I wondered where he was headed all these years and if he felt he made it there. I never really gave it much thought. I guess it was to get here, right now to talk to you. He then said, you were always too occupied with the destination, never taking your eyes off it and that worries me. Loosen up take a breath before it’s too late. As he said it I knew it was true.
My son had died just nine months previous and I was still deep in grief. So much so that he hid his cancer from me, only telling me a few weeks ago, feeling guilty to add to my grief. He had admitted while telling me the news, that he had prayed to god for the first time in many years that he would never have to witness another of his grandchildren or children die before him. He said, I guess god had a sense of humor after all.
Sitting at his side I was suddenly struck with the memory of my late son, spending countless hours at the dinner table going over endless homework telling my son that it was important to get good grades because that’s how you got into a good school and got a good job.
The day he died I struggled to remember the last words I had spoken to him, were they kind? Were they not? The last time I hugged him, the last time I said I loved him. Was he scared at the end as he lay dying in his crumpled car. Did he call out to me or his mother?
Wiping a tear, I looked at my dad and said you’re right. But it was a fraction too late, he was gone again back into a toxic cancer induced haze, catatonic.
That was the last coherent words he spoke to me. He died two days later.
Today I’m sitting on a beach in Southern California, the sound of surf and squealing kids washing over me. I feel invisible, watching from outside the walls of paradise. My life on a downward spiral of depression and self pity.
I’m here for a funeral, my best friend from college. He killed himself. I felt guilty and angry at the same time. Guilty for not realizing he was so lost, angry that he had done it leaving two boys to grow up alone.
Having thought of ending my life countless times. The death of my son, and father and my divorce, made life seem oppressively heavy. I longed to let loose my grip on this world. I thought of it often, but the only thing that kept me from following through was the thought of my other boys and the journey yet traveled.
There had to be more. I just needed to get back on the road, make a conscious effort to become visible again.
Just then a little voice said, what are you doing? Looking down I saw a little girl in an orange one piece her soft brown hair ratted Into tendrils from the salt water. She held a bucket and shielded her eyes as she looked up to me sitting on the seawall.
Looking for the path, I said. What path she asked, looking down the slope of the beach and out to sea. Catching myself, I said, if you look long enough you can see dolphins, look real close you can see them jump. Turning she looked out towards the sea scanning intently. Just then her mother came up and said as she took the little girls hand, I’m sorry, she knows better than to bother strangers. Turning to leave, she said please stay with us and don’t talk to strangers. I said to her back, I’m Ray, and you are?
Turning, she smiled and said Anna, and this is Jessie. I said pleased to meet you Anna and Jessie. Now we are not strangers.
Looking at the nice woman she had her daughters soft curly hair and trim figure. You have a very nice little girl, very respectful, and she wasn’t bothering me. She made me feel visible.
Anna looked at me closer as if to decide if I was serious and smiled and said, well that’s good because now I see you too.
© The Autobiography of Mr. Perfect, 2014