Redcurrants in cherry yoghurt, eaten quietly to not wake my cousin in the other room. Another day to spend with you Dad, to simply be there with you, for you. Walk to the car, and stop to clean the tiny pattern of footprints off the windscreen where a pine marten has run across the car overnight.
Drive out of the village the back way – up the Hauptstraße and to the roundabout, where a memory surfaces of seeing this place twenty years before as we crept along in a blizzard and listened to the snowflakes ceaseless tiny fury against the little car you drove. A moment that was barely anything, just a postcard of something I saw reignited for a moment because…
Because I miss the old you, for all your faults and failings. I miss the man I knew when I was little, a man who seemed to be a god. There was nothing you could not lift, nothing you did not see and know. Your work roughened hands picking me up to show me something, or to hold on to me climbing down a slippery path or tousling my hair when I first rode my bike, and my pride so strong it threatened to burst out of my chest.
I miss the man who could do nothing right when I was a teenager. There was nothing you understood or could see properly. I couldn’t comprehend how you could be that way, have the gall to try and tell me about my girlfriends, my friends, my habits, and my attitude. Of course I was wrong about all that, but what was there to do?
And now at that intersection, as I remember for a millisecond the colour of snow under sodium lights I want to ignore the left turn that will take me to you in the hospital, and contemplate driving straight ahead instead, up to the Autobahn, and see if I can drive far enough and fast enough to reverse time, heal pain, outrun grief.
But I turn left to see you, because I need to see you. There’s still so much hope. Doctors are still talking about recovery, healing, home. You’ve started using an e-cigarette, and stopped drinking as much. There is a prosthesis to be fitted – maybe you won’t be in a wheelchair for the rest of your life. There’s life and there’s hope.
I park at the free parking lot near the old cemetery. It’s quite a long walk here, but it’s too early to visit you anyway. Old weathered archangels rise next to simple granite slabs. Rusted iron fences surround some plots like tiny gardens, a crude parody of a home for those who may never come home again. A chestnut tree unfurls lace delicate foliage to the brightening sky, a weary rose nods lethargically in the morning breeze and somewhere nearby a bird chirrups. What good is that final restful journey of the dying for those left behind? How will I be this altruistic about the end of your suffering when that child inside is crying I want my daddy?
I get to the hospital and you are sleeping along with everyone else in the ward. I sit and watch you, watch your chest rise and fall. You sleep and I watch, and I wait and I hope.
You’re dead and the world keeps spinning. There was no real recovery from that time for you. You struggled along for year or so and then suddenly deteriorated and then died. Some days I feel so sad it’s as though I am a balloon untethered in an infinite cold sky. Often your memory is barely a part of my consciousness, the way a pebble under water causes an imperceptible ripple in a fast stream. Everything is right where it belongs, and knowing how lucky I have been makes me grateful for today, but I still yearn for more of what there was before.
There can be no more time with you, except in my memory. You tried to be a good man, and for the most part, I think you succeeded. What good does that assessment do for anyone? None at all, as far as I can see.
But now it is my turn. Like it or not I am building before with my own family, every day. Every day. From up here in this clear blue sky I can see a man, he plays with his children, he loves his wife. He tries to be kind and patient to those he meets and knows. He looks a lot like me, but I can’t recall ever being so young. Yet a thread connects us together, like a child holding a balloon tightly as they sleep.
I will hold on for all that will be after.