I remember when I took your tiny finger and put it in my wedding band. Your first step. Your first bicycle ride, into the side of a car. I remember when you shaved your eyebrows. Your first rollercoaster – you were terrified but didn’t want to show that. I wanted to wrap you up in my protective arms. Our nightly Wheel of Fortune competition and your plan to marry Vanna White. The mismatched shoes you wore every day in seventh grade.
Sometimes I reassure myself that it’s all still here, but mostly I just sink deep into my mind. It seems at times that we shared the same space for only a moment or two. Maybe family love gives air but not substance, only noticeable in its ruthless absence rather than in its blessed presence.
Even with as little time as you have spent with me through your adult years, I know that you have had a fine life. So have I, despite some sacrifices and setbacks, to be sure. I wonder how you felt observing the man that I became while you were becoming the man that you are. If you noticed at all.
I had some time to think about you on the ride home from my final treatment today. I recall now things I wish I’d never said. How hard would it have been to say some kinder words instead. I ponder, as the sun sinks like a stone. The house is dark as it can be, and all is silent, as empty as I am, the dread I live with almost more than living will allow.
I’d like to call it all back, and write a different ending, but this is the way of life, a precarious balance between hell and hallowed ground. Perhaps the less I say about it the better. Maybe we just make it up as we go along. Perhaps I lost my sense of where I wanted to be. Or maybe I was already there. Perhaps this is the place. I drift in and out of thought.
It is all I can do to keep from weeping, to feel that life was just manageable happenstance, that I was simply superfluous, that nothing was truly wrong, and that I have plenty of time to make good. That soon I won’t be merely a face in a picture, a memory of what was, and – maybe – what could have been.
It’s singular that an old man must tell a young man this, that we can only hope for mercy as we near our end, when what we need is courage. I could use some mercy now. I don’t know if I deserve it but I need it, so that at the moment when death opens my door, I will put away my wandering thoughts and step out.