One day short of a week since my dad died. It was unreal to realize that much time had passed so quickly.
That day a year ago I was crouched on the floor of a hospital room, trying to block out his death rattle and finally crying when it stopped. Then driving back to the Clear Lake house listening to Nights in White Satin. This year I was teaching four classes of high school Latin. He’s missed two major milestones of my life: graduation from college, and beginning my career in Classics. And the milestones will only continue to pile on — marriage, children. He won’t be there to witness any of them.
He finally told me about two years ago that he was proud of my choice to study Classics. He had wanted me to go into something marketable — pharmaceuticals, business, whatever. He used to say to me, “What use will you be to me when I’m old and in a nursing home? What will you do, read me books?” Well, Dad, as things turned out I couldn’t even do that for you.
Mostly I just sat there. I held his hand sometimes. I talked a little bit. I know everyone says that they can hear you, even if they don’t show signs of it. But still, I wasn’t comfortable talking to him. I wish now I had said more.
The only time he was awake was when I first walked in to the hospital room. He opened his eyes for a moment, murmured my name, and closed them again. But when he said my name it was almost sad. I couldn’t figure out if he was happy I had come, or felt guilty that he had dragged me away from my semester abroad.
The other few times he woke up in pain, trying to get to the bathroom. He didn’t want to go in the bed, but he couldn’t move. He would start moaning and clutching the blankets, staring at me with imploring, blue eyes. Eyes he gave me. But all I could do was call for a nurse and leave the room while they changed him. Finally I asked if they could increase his morphine. They had lowered it so he would be awake while I was there. It was just too painful to watch my dad — my strong, stubborn, crazy dad — be in so much pain.
So I sat and I watched. I was silent. And after a while so was he.
I’m planning to get a tattoo of a tree like the one we used to rest under during one of our long bike rides around our neighborhood in Katy. The tree was in a cul-de-sac of an unfinished street. This giant had a wide, strong trunk and heavy, leafy branches, some of which bent all the way down and touched the ground. Almost like it was making sure its foundation, its source, its life, was still there.
We could never find the tree if we purposefully looked for it. It would only appear suddenly, without warning, and we would rest. It was a hidden part of the neighborhood. I still dream about it.
We also used to ride across the bayou. There was an old, rickety bridge and my dad would only let us ride our bikes across one at a time. On the other side was a small forest and a dilapidated wooden house with a wrap-around porch. There was a rocking chair on the porch, and I swear one time I saw it moving, although the weather was calm and no leaves were stirring.
My dad told us it was haunted.
There may not really have been a rocking chair, or even a house with a wrap-around porch, but that’s how I remember it so that’s how it exists for me. In one universe, at least, there’s an old house with a lonely occupant rocking back and forth and an old oak tree still reaching for the ground.