“I like your sweater.” I said after a couple of hours of catching up on our lives. After all, we haven’t seen each other since I left years ago.
“You do? Then I’ll leave it here for you to have.” He replied before he exhaled a smoky cloud from his cigarette.”Oh no no, thank you. It looks nice on you.”
“I see you still haven’t quit.” Half joking, knowing well that’s never going to happen. I’ve always hated smoking.
“I’m too old to quit. Besides, what would life be if we couldn’t enjoy a thing or two?”
It seemed as if we were studying each other. As if we were seeing each other for the first time. I couldn’t help but notice even at his age his hair almost all black except some gray here and there pushing through around his ears. But I also noticed his eyes somewhat yellow. Is he sick? But as soon as the thought entered my mind I dismissed it just as fast. Who am I to question, I haven’t seen him in years. This is perhaps how older people look. The black becomes gray, the smooth becomes wrinkled, the white becomes yellowish. I didn’t ask him about his health. After all, it was him who traveled all the way from Europe after a friend placed an emergency phone call about my poor state of health and being. After all, it was me who was in a desperate condition, at the lowest point of my life. I was angry about my friend calling when I learned my father was coming. I felt horrible. I was ashamed for my life not turning the way I wished, for failing my parents, my self. I didn’t want to talk to anybody, especially my parents. I knew there would be questions to which I had no answers. How was I supposed to explain how I felt, who would understand?
We continued to explore each other’s expressions, facial features, almost staring, wondering if we were the same people. We both wanted to know so much more than what was said but we both hesitated to ask. My dad was searching the path in my eyes, wondering why it was so dark. After all, I was his little Princess, his little tomboy, a little adventurer embarking on the whole wide world, so full of hope. She traveled on her own, she explored, she lived in different countries, never asking for anything, she always seemed upbeat when she called. I was always so proud of her, showing people the photograph in my wallet – that’s my girl. Why would she believe otherwise? What had happened to her along the way? He thought.
The questions remained unanswered. There are times in our lives when it’s better not to know.
A couple of days later my friends organized a birthday party for me. I was in no mood to celebrate but my dad was in town, I mean in country, and it was partly a show for him, how much they loved me, and so I agreed. We looked like a bunch of people having a wonderful time. If a stranger looked in over the fence, he’d have wished to be a part of the festivities. I must admit, it was nice. Sitting around my friend’s pool, barbecuing, enjoying some nice champagne my dad brought all the way from Europe, blowing candles out on my cake. It was my 25th birthday and my friends made sure I’d remember it. At one point they said “Smile” to take a picture of me. I didn’t even care if my dad was in it. I was so low. But fortunately he pulled himself near, put arms around my shoulders and smiled. How grateful I am for the moment, for it’s the last memory printed on paper that I will ever have of me and my father together. If it were up to my stubborn, wounded self I would have no physical recollection of him ever visiting me.
My dad was diagnosed with cancer not too long after he left for home and after it metastasized all over his body he died five months after the diagnosis. I always wondered if his yellowish eye color gave that away to me, but I cannot be sure. I didn’t dare to ask. Needless to say I never saw him again. So, in retrospect, my lowest time in life brought us together. It wasn’t the dream visit one would wish for, but without it I would have not seen my dad before he passed. Time, timing, and circumstance…a curious thought.
“Are you all packed?” I asked as we were gathering his belongings, all his gifts and memorabilia to take home.
“Yes. All done.” Was his somewhat saddened reply.
As we took the inevitable drive to LAX we had difficulty speaking. Our throats full of unanswered questions, regrets, pain and unexpressed tears. Did we know we wouldn’t see each other again? Did we hope there would be a more joyful opportunity for our family to unite again? We didn’t say much, just watching the moving traffic, the time passing, the clouds lowering, the airport approaching. Somehow we both knew.
When I returned from the airport I was filled with mixed emotions, exhausted. I wanted to cry. I walked straight upstairs to my bedroom and as I opened the door I saw my dad’s sweater neatly folded on the bed. The tears broke all barriers and just rushed out free and wild. There was no way of stopping them nor did I wish to as I kneeled down with my face buried in the sweater, wishing everything was different.
As it turns out, we never know when the last moment is in fact the last. I didn’t want to take a picture with my dad as I felt so low, yet, thanks to his action, that is the only and last one I have from his trip and treasure it as if it were gold. Keep your loved ones close to your heart and be grateful if they want to be near you, near to your heart, a part of your life.
IN CHRISTMAS SPIRIT OF REMEMBERING THE DEAR ONES IN OUR LIVES
Love & Peace
By Sharka Waite