he checks his mail the same time each day. leaning on a cane. right before lunch. right after a snack to take his blood pressure pill with. he drinks a quarter glass of his orange juice that he only bought to take his blood pressure pill with.
he limps to the elevator at the end of the hall. he is hoping to miss his neighbors. all like him. elderly. reduced to a talking voice on the phone if “loved ones” call. if they call. “ought of sight, out of mind.” he shakes off the feeling of missing people. he shakes off the feeling that anyone that used to love him, misses him. like this. old.
the elevator takes him to the lobby. all the mailboxes, identical to safe deposit boxes at the bank. not private. not separate. not individual. the number of the apartment etched in steel. not big enough to fit a packaged scarf that came as a christmas gift to stay warm with. only papers. bills. so many medical bills. brochures. to purchase a life plan with another funeral home. “a discount on the casket, on this one.”
he limps to the elevator with mail in his hand that he doesn’t need to read. “but it’s something. and something is better than nothing.”
he looks out the glass walls of the lobby. the elevator is on the fifth floor. it is as slow as the residents.
the sun is shining. he remembers that he would have opened his eyes to the sun on his face as a young man. he would get up and go. it never mattered where. just get out.
cyclists bike past. he sucks up his regret. he had his chance. his turn is almost over. he accepts it. the beep of the elevator sounds before the doors open. he goes to the second floor and the end of the hall. to his home where his bed, the stove, the fridge, his closet, recliner, and tv are all in the same room.
he sits and breathes letting his cane fall to the floor. every movement is more effort, stealing his breaths and sucking dry his strength. the sun tries to sneak in through the parking lot view window. he reaches over and pulls the curtains.
he thumbs through the letters. the brochure goes in the trash. the aarp magazine goes in the trash. three letters remain. a bill of his most recent refill of medications. a bill from the insurance company. a bigger envelope made to fit a greeting card. “i’m not going to no party.” he opens it to find an obituary instead of an invitation or greeting card.
he looks at the picture of the man trying to recognize him. he is older by twenty or thirty years. he looks at the envelope to see his own address. he reads the name. it is not familiar.
he checks the envelope. a post card sized note fall into his hand.
“this is your father. he passed away over the weekend. he would have wanted you to have this. he loved you. he never stopped loving you.”
he looks at the picture again. he sees nothing of himself in the man on the picture. he sees his name. they have the same first name. he reads the life of a stranger. his mothers name is listed as his wife that precedes him in death. his own name, with a different last name, is listed as oldest son.
he flips the pages. two pages are only pictures of the strange man. he sees his young mother beside a strange man holding a baby. he reads. that baby is him. that man, standing as tall beside his mother as he did before her death, is his father.
more pictures of him, all under age five. the tears seep from his eyes in slow streams. he recognizes himself.
he always thought his father dead. he loved a dead man that had been alive. he mourned a living man. he gave up on being a man himself since there wasn’t one around he could become.
his tears turn into sobs. his father was dead. it always meant that half of him was dead too! he could have been more. if she ever thought more of either of them. he tries to suck it up. he would never know the motivation for the lie his mother dangled before him every time he wanted the other half of him to be there. it is too late to question it.
he sobs, the tears spilling onto his old man mail. feeling younger than he had in a long time. releasing his path of pain. someone remembered him. he had a father. he was loved all this time by a man that he never stopped missing. he finds peace in knowing that man never stopped missing him.
his shoulders slump with the deeds of the afternoon done. he looks at the man holding the boy in the pages of pictures. there is no physical memory that he can touch from over sixty years ago. he fingers the face of his father on a printed page. his own kid face, a smile stretched across his face. his father’s face, the same wide smile. he smiles with tears in his eyes. “i guess some part of me remembered this. i never let you go,” he whispers. warmed by the sound of his voice that he gave away when he grew old.