In past years, be it d-day, his would-be birthday, or some other day of significance in the day and the life of Tom, YaYa and I have made a point to sit down and read a bit of his writing. In this way, we honor him for the one thing in life that he was truly proud of.
I have always been careful not to read too many from the later years as one particular topic became all to prevalent in both his life and, therefore, his writing. That topic was death and grieving. And although it was something that he had been struggling with since before we first met, it seemed that every 6 months or so someone close to him was either fighting for their lives or had just lost their battle.
By the time he hit his 40s, it seemed that every month he was getting pulled under by undertow of grief: aftershocks from one loss or another. Sadly, the man I’d fallen in love with, years prior, seemed to have lost his zest for life. If only he knew just how much we all love him. If only he could have seen how much his life was worth. If he had, would he have been able to detect the numerous tumors that were eating away at his bones and brains? I don’t know. I only know that he left a whole lot of unfinished business behind.
The following piece was one that he was in the process of writing in the days just prior to us discovering his ugly fate. As you can see by the last few passages, we had no idea what devastating blow was about to hit our world. Due to the quick progression of his Cancer, he was never able to go back to this article to finish it or even to correctly document the true reason for his pain.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of my father’s death, and I remain struck by the impact he continues to have in all of our lives.
This is the third winter in our new home, and in some respects we are still settling in. The furniture we promised to buy when we first moved in has only recently arrived, and the walls of both the family room and the living room have yet to be graced with pictures or paintings.
I waited until virtually all the furniture had been moved in from our old house before I asked my son to help me move the bookcase.
The bookcase had been in the family since I was a very small boy. It may have preceded me. At some point I recall that I was told that it was built for my father by one of the neighbor’s on our street, Mr. Barr. I don’t know anything about Mr. Barr except that he drove a ’57 T-Bird, and it was the coolest car I had ever seen.
In my little mind, the bookcase was the signature piece of furniture of the family. It defined us, for better and for worse.
I remember some of the titles, enough to remain dumbfounded.
· The Strange Death of Marilyn Monroe.
· The J Edgar Hoover Story
· Our Crowd
· The 1967 Gun Digest
· The Fulton J Sheen Story
· Our Catholic Faith
· The Naked Ape by Desmond Morris
· The Time-Life Books Series – Time, Matter, Space, The Body…
· The Funk and Wagnall’s Encyclopedia: A-E
· The Stigmata of Padre Pio
· None Dare Call it Conspiracy
· The Crusader Series
· The Lives of the Saints
· The Rockefeller’s
I tripped and stumbled on the porch steps, and the bookcase crashed to the ground in three pieces.
In this third winter in our new home, this winter of new furniture, and perhaps of wall hangings, I think of my father almost every night. The shelves of the bookcase are cut up in the garage, and I bring in a piece every night there is a fire in the fireplace, and remember and perhaps let go a little more of my ties to our strange, shared past.
Once I heard that in the old days, when people prayed the Rosary, long before rosary beads became fashionable, they used to rub a rose petal between their thumb and index finger as they prayed, believing the fragrance of the rose would lift their prayer to Mary and to Jesus.
I sort of believe the same thing happens with my burning of the bookcase. With each shelf, a little more of father’s energy, tied up like Celtic knot work, loosens and rises up through the chimney to return to his repairing soul, wherever it may be.
I thought it would be a triumph of sorts, refinishing the bookcase and having it up in the family room, filled with books by Chomsky and Steinbeck, literature and the occult. A transcendence of sorts, perhaps a balancing of the karma, I don’t know.
In the end he may have been right about the Commies and the Israelis. They seem a mess. But on the other hand, Iraq looks like our own little Palestine. This is not the US my father promised me.
When I was a boy, I saw The Birth of a Nation a dozen times. My father was an anti-communist crusader and he showed this film to groups of people all over the Los Angeles area. He was sold on the promise of America, the potential, but the reality was quite another thing. I was forever trying to make sense of the convoluted logic.
There are a number of things that remind me of my father, and sometimes I am a little miffed as it seems I am destined to repeat some of his experiences, and in terms of aging and degeneration, this leaves me less that completely thrilled.
When I stand up from a chair, it is generally a two step process; I make it about halfway up and then I have to brace my lower back with my left hand and take a breath and finish the rest of the process, until I am completely vertical.
My boss finds this very amusing. He likes to call me into his office when someone else is there and then beg their indulgence on my behalf, “Let’s wait till the old-timer sits down again. My cubicle is right in front of his office. This is great sport.
Recently, I pinched a nerve in my neck and it has been plaguing me for about a month now. I soldier my way through the workday, and as soon as I get home, I lie in the bathtub and soak my neck and shoulder in hot water. It’s a temporary reprieve. When it is time to sleep, however, I have not found a way to position myself that will let me sleep without going into great pain. I cannot sleep on either side, my back or stomach, and so I am learning to sleep sitting up. I spend a lot of time awake in the middle of the night, moving from the bed to the floor, to the recliner downstairs, to the couch, and back to the bed and the floor.
There is a kind of dullness and tiredness which accompanies me each day. I often think of my father’s insomnia in those stretches between 12:30 and 4:30 in the morning when I ache for sleep, hoping that I can maintain some sense of cogency the following day as I turn up for work again.
I wear a foam neck brace when I am working on the computer at work and when I sleep to help keep the neck straight and to prevent some pinching. I have been wearing it a work for about two weeks. Today when my boss called me in for a little sport, he asked if I hurt my back, since I was wearing a brace.
I was impressed.
So I skipped my weekly 1-1 with the boss today so I could go to the chiropractor. The chiropractor sold me a blowup neck brace. I think I could have bought a full body blowup doll for less money and probably had more fun.
It’s another one of those things in common with my father that I wish I didn’t have. In the 80’s he had problems with his neck, and they had a little different version of do it yourself traction then. My father had a device that hung from the top of a door and had a pulley attached to it. On one end of the pulley was a strap to go around his head and chin, and on the other end of the pulley was a bag of water. The bag of water created enough pull on the rope that my dad sat up real straight, back against the door, sitting on a flower print kitchen chair.
Well, he never did use that neck brace. The night after he received it was the night I drove him to the Emergency Room following a stroke — the first of many strokes caused by a collection of tumors in his brain. Twenty-one days later, he was gone, and all unfinished work was left behind.
I can only hope and pray that he has rediscovered the happiness that he lost along with those whom he loved for they will now be reunited.