There's that kernel of wisdom about sometimes it being better not to know. Those letters hung heavy. I spent the weekend trying to work my way through them, trying to wrap my head around just how nasty things had gotten, or more correctly, just how vicious my mother could be. I shouldn't have been surprised, i had the same streak in me whether i wanted to admit it or not. Maybe it went back to that thing every child someday realizes, that there is a whole world to their parents that they know nothing about. As you get older you understand it but even then sometimes there are things that surprise you when they are revealed. Yet that question sat like a brick in the pit of my stomach, did he have a good life? knowing that the end was coming more into focus, would he look back and think he had wasted it or would he look back and think it was alright, that it was a good ride...
And so the weekend passed and i got the boyos off to school, i loaded up the car and off i went, back to my dad's old place to get to work again, it was my fourth week of travelling back and forth and the routine had somehow become comforting. There was a sense of purpose to what i was doing and i enjoyed the solitary nature of the work. Twice a day i'd make the drive over and hang out with my dad, bringing things he needed or asked for, we'd bullshit and watch the news and drink coffee. It was much like the old days and i could tell my dad enjoyed my visits. I'd spend a couple minutes asking how he felt and how we was doing and then we'd move on to the usual topics, like our phone conversations but in person. The work at his place was winding down and what i really needed him to do was take a trip back with me and give the final word on what he wanted and what was getting donated, tossed, or recycled.
For some reason i drove straight to his new place, the assisted living home, before heading to his old place. We had our usual conversation and i told him all we needed was to have him do a walk through and tell me what, if anything, he wanted. There wasn't much left at this point, i'd already moved a couple lamps, his television and it's stand, a small bookcase, the clothes he had asked for. The only other thing was to get his car moved but i figured i'd rope my sister into helping with that, then to my surprise he looked at me and said, shit kid why don't i go over today? I asked if he was up for it and if he could drive and he said the only reason they told him not to drive was because of the painkillers which he'd stopped taking. I laughed and said, that was the fucking reason? He grinned and nodded, i drove like that for fucking years! i said. We both had a good laugh and off we went.
Back at his old place he walked through, he'd lived there for close to twenty years, the last time he'd been there was the morning of his surgery and the last time he'd ever step foot in the place was right now. He ambled from room to room, there wasn't much he wanted, he went through his clothes and told me to donate most of them, asked if i could move a chest of drawers that might better suit his television, there were memories but he was keeping them to himself... and then in the back bedroom which had become the chamber of secrets he turned to me and said, there was this picture, not really a picture, like one of those things you have done for kids. I stood looking at him puzzled, a picture? No, he said, like a cut-out thing. A silhouette? i said. Yeah, that's it, one of those, about yay big, and he made a motion of a small frame with his hands. I tossed it, i said, i thought it was your brother's, figured he dumped it here and hadn't looked for it for twenty years. You sure? my dad said. Yeah, i said. Positive, he said. Yeah man, it was in this box, i didn't know who it was so i pitched it, i said. Good, he said and turned and walked back towards the kitchen.
My dad's old place was the typical West Side duplex, built in the Rust Belt's heyday and slowly crumbling. It was five rooms, from the front door you walked into the living room which connected to a dining room and small kitchen, to the right was a little hallway with a small bedroom to the right and left and a bathroom in the middle. He was standing in the doorway of the kitchen and i was leaning on an old dining room chair. That silhouette was a friend of mine, he said. She was good to me. She passed away from MS. She used to bring me food and was always worried about me, he trailed off. I laughed and said, Pops, i been around the block a few times and know firsthand that no woman just brings you food and leaves. He smiled at me. She was married, he continued, she had a son with special needs and needed her husband's insurance and his family's help. Then she was diagnosed. Let's just say the situation worked well for both of us. She passed away a couple years ago but we saw each other for close to thirteen years, his voice trailing off again. She was good to me though, he said. and i could tell that she was, could tell that my old man cared for her.
The reason he needed the silhouette disposed of was because of his current lady friend. Apparently the two women were friends and the old guy must have been making some notes when that young son used to hang around his place, his son not being the most faithful of companions to his teenage girlfriends, somehow they didn't know about each other. I remember years back when my dad had mentioned how if these two women ever found out about each other he'd be in deep shit. At the time i was just glad to hear he had women in his life because since the divorce he'd never really spoken of any relationships. Now it was out there and that cloud began to lift. His life was okay, in fact it had been more than okay. He got over my mother. There is no way he would have ever gotten married again so it was probably for the best that the Silhouette woman's situation was what it was. Like he said, it worked. We finished up with what would need moved and hung about the old place for a bit and then he got his car keys and walked out of the place that i realized had some fond memories for him.The black cloud was gone.
The last room to get cleaned out was my dad's bedroom. I was now staying in it when i was up there but now that he'd done his walk through and moved his clothes it was time. There was a an old cigar box in his dresser drawer. It was filled with old business cards and receipts, loose change, lost buttons, and one small press clipping, an obituary, for a woman named Ellen, she had passed away from MS. I studied that clipping for a long time, looking at the grainy black and white photo, now i knew her name. He worked with her for a time. Looking at her picture brought a smile to my face, sitting on the edge of my dad's bed i held the clipping and whispered, thank you Ellen, thank you for looking after him while you could and thank you for helping him heal. Then i kissed the clipping and placed it into the shredder.