“And all of a sudden, cold air ran straight up my crotch. My pants had fell to the ground, belt and all!” Daddy slapped his titanium-replaced knee and hooted his amusement as family members around his straight-backed chair cracked up.
I belly-laughed. He wasn’t lying.
Me, him, and Mama, rushing up to the front doors of their church for 11 A.M. Sunday service. He’d paid the price that morning for not paying attention, for notching his belt a few holes shy of where it needed to be (but lucked out big time because we were last up the sidewalk and people’s backs were turned).
I mean, can you imagine, sauntering along behind the man who sired you, minding your own business, deep in thought, a hymn on the organ inside greeting your ears, cars whizzing by on the road and BOOM — you’re staring at the back of your sire’s nether regions, bare legs, and tighty whities. You’re sitting through church. You can’t UN-SEE it. You know the preacher thinks you and your dad and your mom are clinging to each other because you’re all overcome with the Spirit, when the truth is none of you can stop convulsing with laughter over Daddy’s pants sliding straight to his ankles on the street, God help us.
Nine years ago. A priceless memory.
Folks hollering at something on the TV in the living room hauled me back into the present.
Auntie’s dining room, set up for buffet-style eating this Thanksgiving night, enveloped us all in bright warmth, laughter, and delicious aromas. Brown sugar. Nutmeg. Sage, and thyme. Relatives of all ages milled about, sat and ate, wandered room to room, beverages in hand, watched sports and movies on the 65-inch. Daddy caught my eye across the casual distance between our chairs and grinned his contentment at me, making me almost bust a gut again.
“What happened, Uncle? What did you do then?” One of my cousins plopped down next to him with a plate of food on her lap.
Daddy shrugged and drained his red plastic cup of fruit punch. “Pulled ’em up and kept walking. Cars honked at my pretty legs, but I didn’t pay ’em no never mind.”
Laughter in various forms traveled the room again in response.
Having done his duty as patriarch of the night’s festivities — blessed the feast with prayer — and having had his fill of tasty holiday fare, Daddy was in full relaxation mode now. Auntie and cousin sat in dining room chairs on either side of him, chowing down. Bro hovered in the door between the dining room and the kitchen, to Daddy’s left, happy and full as a tick on a hound.
Though I was having a nice time, I barely tasted the honeyed ham in my mouth, the little bit that I’d allowed myself to have.
Only the four of us knew about his alarming episodes from earlier in the week, and we were watching him like Eagles on an Orc (yes, I am a Tolkien person). But, the father I knew never left. Stone Face stayed away. Our joint surveillance eased up, a bit at a time as the evening wore on, until we stopped our hovering and it felt like any other Thanksgiving.
Like most years, the party didn’t break up until late.
Unlike most years, I didn’t want to go home. I tried not to let dread creep back up into my throat, but it was no use.
I did not want to go.
Supercalifragilistic. The perfect description for the next two weeks.
The new neurologist I picked out offered Daddy a December 10 appointment. I took it. Score!
I expected the days to that appointment to inch by like snails in a race, but they didn’t. Maybe because Daddy stayed so active, so into the things that made him him and I found myself fascinated anew. It wasn’t that he hadn’t fascinated me before — the parts of me that came from my father always intrigued me, unmistakable as they are. We both write, freak out over clutter, fold laundry the same way, eat around a dinner plate counterclockwise, have bad eyes, can’t help smoothing wrinkles out of any blanket, towel, or comforter we see, love Korean culture, love crossword puzzles, love special writing pens, love James Bond. We’re unapologetic introverts. (I could never bowl or bake like him though, the undisputed king of homemade banana pudding from scratch, five-layer cakes, and American Bowling Congress championship patches.)
Looking back to 2011… the day I realized how similar our separate writing spaces were. That was Dad’s on your left, and mine on your right. Book(s). Pad or notebook in longhand. Pen. Sparse. 😏
My brain busied itself taking detailed mental snapshots of my father around the house while pretending to have no real reason to do so. And, it seemed he was doing the same with me. Several times a day, I’d look up from something to find Daddy there, watching over me. “Hey, good lookin’. Don’t pay me no never mind. Just making sure you’re okay,” he’d say.
Two days before his doctor appointment, late Saturday night, I was more than okay as I turned in.
Help for Daddy waited within reach. His stone face was nothing but a bad memory. All was quiet on the Western Front.
Why wouldn’t I be?
Something dense and unyielding slammed down on my head, violent enough to make me see sparks against black, clubbing me out of a dead sleep. I flailed my arms to protect myself, tried to focus my eyes, and got hit again. Whatever it was drove the knuckles on my hand into my temple when it came down that second time.
Purple pain made me scream. I couldn’t think.
I heard my brother thudding down the hall towards my room, yelling, “Dad! Dad, no!”
I forced my way up and out of bed, gulping air, defensive hands still flailing, and collided with my 6-foot tall, 200-pound father.