“Nor Bid the Stars Farewell” Part 1
Rain beat on the windshield as John drove his silver KIA Spectra home. Silence permeated his car except for the constant muffled rhythm from the pelting rain. Tears fogged up his glasses making it difficult to see through the already smeared glass. He hadn’t spoken to his parents in years so he was unsure why he felt this much sadness. When his mother passed away a year ago, he hadn’t shed a tear. He felt sorry for her but felt no remorse. Her antics had nearly torn his family apart. But this funeral pierced his soul. Since he was eight, his father had guilted and manipulated him into feeling sorry for him. He had cultivated in his son a fixed manipulation so as to never feel alone. But when John’s first son was born, this exploitation back fired.
He had gone to his father’s apartment to speak with him. The moment the door opened, the stench of stale tobacco and warm beer wafted into his nostrils. An uneasiness crept into his heart, for he knew the next few moments were not going to be pleasant. He had come to request of his father to no longer indulge in alcohol around him. He had wished to bring the matter up for years but the hole in his heart created by his father always compelled him to remain silent. This time he was doing it for his son. The transformation into a father overshadowed his dependence on his own. The moment he broached the subject, his heart raced. He knew how his father would react. He had seen him in this mood many times before when the slightest discontent would throw him into a rage.
“Dad, I have something important I wanted to talk about.”
“Hmm? What’s up?”
“Well. I’ve wanted to say this for years but… well… I’ve never been comfortable around you when you drink.”
His father’s countenance immediately fell.
“And now that I’m married, I have to safe guard the future of my kids. I want them to know their grandfather, but I do not want them to see you or be around you when you’re drunk.”
His father sat silent for a moment before responding.
“This is my house. How dare you come into my house and tell me how to live. You don’t want to be around me anymore? Fine. Don’t. But I’m going to do what makes me happy!”
“Just get out of here if you don’t want to be around me! It’s not like you will ever have kids anyway!”
At this point John knew that remaining there was fruitless. He turned to leave, but stopped himself. With tears in his eyes and a lump in his throat, he tossed a picture frame with the word Grandfather on it and said, “By the way, we already are.” That was the last time he had seen his father alive.
But even after they stopped speaking, guilt still flooded his mind occasionally, guilt for the two of them not speaking, guilt for leaving him alone to deal with his alcoholism, and guilt for not letting his sons grow up to know their grandfather. He knew he had made the right choice, but he could not ignore the constant nagging feeling. Today he had buried his father. He never had a chance to right these wrongs, these injustices, these chasms between them. Now, there was no turning back.
His sister and brother had come to the funeral. They too had not spoken in years. It seemed the whole rift between his parents had caused a ripple effect in every other relationship. People either presumed to know the issues from the lies his parents spread about him and hated him for it, or they learned the truth and stuck by his side. They said little to him making only passing commentary when needed.
The funeral had been somber and lonely and few people attended. The pastor was brief. Each child said a few words mentioning his love of football and fondness for cooking. Then everyone departed for their own lives. His father had left strict instructions not to make a big fuss over him. He had even gone as far as to be asked to be cremated. It was the one issue the three siblings agreed on. They could not follow this wish. All of them had a deep held belief that bodies should return to the ground in the form of burial. John’s brother voiced concern about depriving a man of his last wishes, and that it would somehow condemn them. But in the end he agreed to the choice. They did, however, place the urn of his beloved mother in the coffin with him.
The rain began as soon as the coffin was lowered into the ground. John lingered behind even as his brother, sister, and family headed home without him. Something inside him would not allow him to pull away from the gravesite. Maybe he knew he would never visit this place again, just as he had not been back to his mother’s grave. As he stood at the edge of the hole, watching the rain pound the coffin slowly into the ground, anger, resentment, bitterness, guilt, sadness, pity all burst forth from him at once. He reeled over from the shock as large tears streamed from his hazel eyes. It was like a torrent he could not control matching the storm around him. He cried and cried until every emotion inside had nowhere else to go but out. For a good thirty minutes he wept by his father’s grave. Finally, with a great effort, he composed himself enough to regain control of his breathing, picked himself off the waterlogged ground, and headed for his car.
Now, he was driving home and the tears that came through were not for his father, but for his sons. He imagined them burying him and feeling a greater sense of loss than he was experiencing. For John, he had had twenty years to distance himself from his father. He couldn’t imagine what it would be like for his kids with whom he had a greater relationship than he did his father. He only saw the pain and heartbreak on their precious faces. He was only a few blocks away now, but he didn’t know if he could look his wife in the eyes or receive his boys the way they deserved. He just wanted to be alone.
He parked the car in the driveway and slowly got out. He trudged up the front walkway feeling every drop of water on his black suit which he had purchased for the occasion. Inside he could hear the laughter of his boys completely oblivious to the daze he found himself in now. They were probably rolling around wrestling. He heard the lovely voice of his wife rise above the laughter cautioning them to take it easy. He pushed on the latch to the door and heard the familiar creak as it opened into a home of love and warmth, the kind of home he did not grow up in.
Two pairs of little feet raced towards him. Four arms wrapped around his legs and immediately the pain in his heart caused him to weep once again. Quickly, his wife ran to him to pull the boys off. She bade them play with their toys and closed the door. She wrapped her loving arms around his neck as he buried his head deep into her neck and cried. She didn’t say a word, only held him. Little voices asking, “Are you okay, dad-dad?” floated up to him. John wiped his eyes and squat down to their level. He looked them both in the eye as they asked again, “Are you okay, daddy?”
“Yeah, boys. I’m okay.”
Then he grabbed them and pulled them as tightly into him as he could. He whispered in their ears, “I love you both so very much.” No father ever held more love for his sons than in that moment. He stood up, and they ran off to play some other imaginary game. He maneuvered into the bedroom where he stepped out of his wet suit and put on a plain, blue tee-shirt and jeans. He moved back into the living and noticed the stack of documents for his father’s possessions sitting on the counter.
Though they hadn’t spoken in years, his dad had never removed him as the beneficiary, almost as a last jab at him. This meant that John was forced to take care of his arrangements. In a week, he had to decide whether to sell the furniture in his father’s apartment or keep it. But he wasn’t in the mood to deal with any of it. All he wanted was a cold beer.
Drinking had never been his thing. In fact, due to his father’s alcoholism, John had refused to touch the stuff for most of his life. But in the last few weeks since he learned the news of his father’s passing, he had grown a desire for the drink. His wife hadn’t said anything because she knew he was grieving, but this was the second case this week. Fears of a growing problem welled up in her. She wanted to mention the subject, but now was not the time. All she wanted was to comfort him in his time of need. She knew the separation between him and his parents had always bothered him even though he always denied it. She watched as he opened the can, took a sip, and sat down with it on the couch just as she had seen his father do once. She prayed he would not fall into the same trap his father had. She walked up behind him and placed her hand on the back of his neck to play with his hair. She felt him relax into her hand.
Feeling discontented with the drink in his hand, he stood and set it on the kitchen counter. Returning to the living room, he wrapped his arms around his wife’s waist and kissed her neck. He secretly wished the kids were asleep so he could lose himself in her embrace. Suddenly, one of the boys asked loudly, “Buggy?” It was their special way of asking to watch a movie on the couch and cuddle.
“I think that’s a great idea,” his wife said.
The four of them settled onto the couch as a familiar children’s title played on the screen. After watching the opening title, John’s wife opened up the computer to check her social media. Surprised, she leaned over and whispered, “Honey, I just received an email from some woman in Florida. She says you two have the same last name and is wanting to know if you are related.”
He thought deeply about this. He knew his father had been born in Florida, but other than that he knew very little about his father’s family. All he knew came from bits and pieces of drunken stories. He had always been curious about his ancestry, and how true those stories were. He very much wanted to know if a relation existed. Oh, how he wished he could still ask his parents. He leaned over to his wife and replied softly, “Let’s respond and see what comes of it.”