5
min

The Last Words

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JT Greene

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“Derek!”

I could hear humming and some familiar voice, but I just couldn’t put it together.

“Derek!” My father. He was calling for me.

“Finally, I have your attention! Could you just get me something to eat!” I know I need to get up and do something but all I can think about is twenty years ago, when I was six years old.

I’m in my room, crying till my eyes are red and swollen. There is sobbing coming from my mother, downstairs. We’ve been through this, many times. Dad is usually gone, but then returns with anger and is here long enough to pack, then leave again. This time seems to be worse somehow. I’m not sure if it’s how loud Dad is, or what he’s saying but it just seems worse. Trying to block out the sound, I wipe the tears from my face, but it seems impossible, there are always more to replace them. I sit up and look at myself in the mirror. ??? ????? ????? ?? ????. ??’? ???? ??? ????? ??? ???? ?????? ??? ??????????. ?? ???? ?? ?????? ???? ??? ??? ? ???? ????? ????, ??? ?? ??? ?????. ?? ???? ?’? ?? ??????, ??? ? ???? ???’? ??? ???? ??? ??????? ????? ? ???? ??? ??? ????. ?????????? ????? ?? ?? ???? ?? ????????? ???? ?? ???????, ?????? ?? ??????’? ????? ????. ????? ?? ? ?????? ???? ??? ?? ??????’? ?? ?? ????? ??? ??? ????. ? ???? ???’? ???? ??? ?? ??? ??.

It is quiet again, so I creep downstairs to see if Dad is gone. I don’t see him anywhere, but mom is sitting at the kitchen table crying into her folded arms. I walk over to give her a hug. “Stop” she says. She looks at me with a blank face. “Just go back to your room, I can’t look at you right now.” I walk up the stairs and sit on my bed. ? ?????? ?? ? ??? ???? ???? ??? ??????? ??? ??? ???? ?? ???? ????? ?? ???? ???????? ??? ??????????. ??? ??? ???? ??????? ?????????? ???? ???? ?????, ??? ????? ??? ????? ?? ???. ??? ??? ??? ???? ???? ??????? ???. ????’? ????. ? ???’? ????? ? ????? ??? ???????? ??????, ??? ?’? ???? ?? ??? ???? ??? ?? ??? ????? ??? ???? ??? ?????. ?’?? ???? ??? ???? ??? ? ?????. ?’? ???? ?? ?????.

“Derek!” I snap back to the present. The sound of dad’s screaming hasn’t changed in twenty years. Except now, it’s not returned with sobbing and begging. No, that hasn’t happened since that night. The night mom took that chef’s knife and slit her wrists after cutting the vegetables. Now, it’s just me to listen to the screaming, the demands. I’m not the skinny little kid anymore. Although, even as a grown man, my dad still seems to hate me. Inside, I’m still scared and my stomach queasy. I have so much anger, but I can’t let it control me because I don’t want to be like this man. They say he’s dying so I must take care of him. There isn’t much I can do, but what little I can, is more than he deserves. If I were honest with him, I would tell him it’s all his fault. Her sadness. Her frailty, and her death.

Sitting by the hospital bed, I see my father struggling to live. He looks far older than his age. Lost in my own thoughts I realize he was saying something. “I just want something to eat!”

“Dad, you know the doctors have you on a liquid diet.” I tell him again.

“I’m dying anyway so why does it matter? Why can’t I live the rest of my life eating real food?”

“I’ll go ask them again and see if there are any changes.”

After speaking with a nurse about any change for his diet, I take a walk just for a break. My plan was to go outside but instead I go to the pediatric floor. My mom was a nurse here. I can’t remember much, although I do remember this was the happiest she’d ever been. She would sometimes bring me to the hospital to sit at the nurse’s station until her shift was over. It was always so bright and cheerful. Pictures and bright colors painted all over the walls. All the doctors and nurses would wear the little stuffed animals on their stethoscope. The best part was every time I looked at my mom while at the hospital, she was smiling. She didn’t do that at home. Now, as I stand here as a man, it doesn’t seem quite so happy. The place and people looked the same, but it’s different. Now, I realize the reason they are here. To take care of sick or dying children. I get back on the elevator to go to dad’s room. On the way, all I can think about is, this was her happy place, and mine. Now, it’s being contaminated by my dad, taking the last bit of happiness I had left.

“I’m not hungry anymore.” Dad says as I walk into his room.

“Did they give you something to eat?”

“No, but the doctor did come by. Derek, I need to talk to you about how things happened years ago.”

“Well, dad, you’ve had twenty years to talk about it. Now, I just want to know what the doctor said.”

“He said I have cancer and am going to die.” He says almost sarcastically. “You knew that. Derek, I’ve lived with this cancer for over twenty years. I was diagnosed almost a year before your mom died. I didn’t tell you earlier because I didn’t want you to be afraid.”

“??????? You didn’t want me to be afraid? So, screaming and arguing with Mom, leaving all the time, burying her, and leaving me with a relative was supposed to keep me from being afraid?” I jump to my feet ready to get out. Just need to be anywhere but here.

“Derek! Please wait! Please, just give me a chance to explain myself.” He screams. He takes a struggled breath and as much as I want him to suffer for the pain he’s caused, I sit and try to be calm.

“I knew your mother was pregnant before we were married, and I wanted to be a father to you. I thought I was prepared, but I soon found out that I had no idea how to be a father, let alone a good father. I never had one myself, he left when I was just a baby. That’s not a good excuse, but it’s all I have. Your mom did a lot, raising you and dealing with me. I just didn’t know how to handle it all. There were times I would try harder than others, but every time I looked at you I was reminded that you weren’t mine, biologically, and it just seemed to set me off.”

“So, this is my fault? You knew she was pregnant when you married her. You also knew that her child would be a different skin color than either of you. Why, knowing those things would you marry her?” The sheer audacity of what this man was telling me was more than my brain could handle. Years of anger that I’d kept down were all coming back to the surface.

“Because I loved her. She was the only stable thing in my life. Once I met her I knew I needed her, regardless of whatever issues.”

“??????? Me being the ??????"

“Son, that is not how I meant that. I loved you, I still do. I just didn’t know how to convey it.”

We sat in silence for a few minutes, each trying to calm our emotions.
Dad spoke first, “That day, the day she died, we had a particularly bad argument, about things that just didn’t matter. I guess she just couldn’t take anymore of how our life had been. It’s my fault, Derek. I know that. I had to leave because I just couldn’t face you with that knowledge. I am truly sorry for all that has happened and not stepping up to be the father you deserved.”

Really listening to what he was saying, I realize I have a choice. Forgive this person that doesn’t deserve it, so he can die peacefully, or leave and let him die in his own fair judgement.

I take a deep breath. “Dad, what you did was horrible. It has caused pain in every aspect of my life, even when I’m not thinking about it, it’s still there. Saying that, I don’t want our last words to each other to be of hate.” I close my eyes, trying to hold the emotions in check. “So, I forgive you.” A moment passes, and I open my eyes. Dad is lying still, his eyes staring blankly toward the ceiling. The nurses ran in as the monitor squealed from the absence of a heartbeat. He was gone.

Standing at Dad’s graveside, I think of all the things that could have been said. Now I realize, that while he may have been a terrible father in life, he had forced a great lesson in death. How to admit your failures and have the courage to forgive those that hurt you.

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Image of JT Greene
JT Greene · ago
I apologize to anyone reading this, as it is now unfinished.
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Image of JT Greene
JT Greene · ago
For whatever reason, the words in italics show up as “?”

I guess that takes me out of the running.

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