I hadn’t spoken to my father for five years. That is, until today. There had been too much anger, too much hurt—just too much. I spent most of those five years alternating between exhaustion from my own anger, and relief that I hadn’t had to hash out the tougher aspects of our relationship. I had grown up outside ‘us,’ the ‘us’ being our little broken-off piece, our half a family after the divorce. “We’re in this together,” Dad had used to say, before the women became his life, the drinking wasn’t social anymore, and the sound of his angry voice would send me into a fearful tailspin. In those five years my life went on—not ever something that happens intentionally. I’m sure my father’s life did too—he grew older and perhaps even less firm in his convictions of his own correctness in how he raised my brother and me. He saw his mistakes for what they were. I imagine his hands have aged, and maybe, once or twice, he has actually cried. Yet I’m uncertain of all the changes in my father. I am only certain of the changes in myself. In any case, we have both grown, and we have done it in almost complete silence – like the way the tempo of an early rain shower. Only after the softer drops have fallen does the thunder become audible. Today it thundered: I got an e-mail.
My dearest Caroline,
Your mother says you are well; she gave me your address. Marjorie left. I have cancer. Please come. Your brother cannot because his youngest has the flu. I don’t think he would anyway. Do you remember your pink Reeboks I taught you how to tie? Do you remember anything good?
Your room is the way you left it. It’ll be us again. At least for a little while.
This is very hard for me to write, but I need you.
His brevity and directness didn’t surprise me. His expectation that my life could completely revolve around him at a moment’s notice, at the stroke of a key, didn’t either. In fact, these things were all too familiar. I thought over the word “cancer” a few times, just to see how it sounded inside my far-distant brain. I tested the image of me caring for a father I didn’t know. Our own disease-riddled soap opera, kicked off with a tearful reunion -the saga of the end. I couldn’t go, but I called.
“Yes, Caroline, it’s me.”
I hung up. I felt all those changes, each line forming in my face, each tooth edging out of place, my lips wanting to say words I shouldn’t. I wasn’t a child anymore, and that left me with no defense.
I called. We spoke. For now that will be enough.