Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Callous Silence Of Undeclared Affection: Part 2

Fig. 1. Ron Mueck - Dead Dad, 1996-7

'And then my father looked at me. For just a moment, our eyes met and I watched as he opened his mouth, as if to beckon me closer. I did step closer and placed my hands on the rail at the foot of his bed. I waited to hear what he was going to say to me. It was like the pause after a flash of lightning, before the thunder.

He opened his mouth and then I saw a certain resignation in his eyes and the fire in them dimmed, then vanished altogether. He closed his mouth and then his eyes. My father had changed his mind. He had decided that he had, in the end, nothing to say to me.

And I knew somehow these would be his last words. To my brother he had said, "You've been a good boy, a good son." And to me he'd said nothing. He would not, at the very end, give me even one word.

And standing there, I felt a sense of loss. Not for myself but for him. He had missed so much not knowing me. He had denied himself his greatest accomplishment - to just be a dad.

Uncle Bob roared with laughter in the next room. "All their kids were cross-eyed and I was scared to death of cross-eyed folks. I would beg John not to make me do it, but he would gleefully have me follow him right past that old house filled with cross-eyed kids. Crazy, I know it, I know it. But I still don't like cross-eyed people - they're spooky!"

For a while, I watched my father sleep. Briefly, he awoke and turned his face toward the window Though he could see only the room reflected back in the dark glass, he continued to stare. I saw him shiver, then a tiny cry - a whimper - escaped him. He seemed so utterly small. Only the hospice nurse hovered near him; everybody else was in the other room. I wondered, if he'd been a different man, would everyone now be gathered around his bed, photographs scattered on the thin blanket, his favourite music playing on the stereo, laughter in the air, hands touching him? My father was dying alone, just a few feet away from his family.

Later that evening, I left. During the drive home, I thought of my friend George, who had died so many years before. He, too, had wasted to nearly nothing, just a sliver of his former self, but somehow he'd retained every pound, every ounce of his being. George had died with his magnitude intact.

The boy whose photograph I studied as a child, who was raised by three doting teenage aunts in a small white house in Chickamauga, the boy who had a drugstore all to himself and loved the Andrews Sisters, who went to Catholic military school and studied Latin and became battalion commander, who was a preacher and then a philosopher, who married my mother and terrified me so fully that I could think only of pushing him off a cliff, this man who had tumbled backward down his stairs and never healed, was, at last, dead.

I was free of him.'

Augusten Burroughs (from A Wolf At The Table)