The sun was setting, the evening cold biting at my skin, the wind and I in constant combat. My feet had become robotic, their steps in perfect rhythm, thumping to the constant music in my head.
My dad and I never had a good relationship. We were polar opposites. He loved quiet, while I loved noise. I liked dancing, while he liked the world still and calm. To this day, I still didn’t understand him. How can you go through life without the constant need to move? My legs shook under tables, and my thoughts were put into form so quickly that they were nearly incomprehensible.
His mental decline hadn’t helped, either. Ten years ago, he was diagnosed with Schizophrenia. This meant the occasional hallucination, and outbursts of anger caused by a figment of his imagination. My visits, which used to contain at least a bit of joy, had become utterly devoid of any happiness. His frail body and mouth surrounded by frown lines were foreign ground to me. His screams haunted my dreams.
Furthermore, his speech had also taken a turn for the worse. Nobody in the world can decipher it anymore, not even me. Sometimes I missed the days when my father was young. I missed hearing his gruff voice, and the sound of his feet thumping up to my bedroom to tell me to keep the music down. Even being the subject of his anger was better than being the onlooker of his terror.
It was nearly two in the morning by the time I arrived at his doorstep. It took three tedious rings of the bell and six knuckle- breaking knocks on a large mass of solid wood before the door in front of me flung inward to reveal a young woman clothed in a simple blue dress with gray hairs already sprouting from her head. She wore an impatient frown on her face that resembled the one that I had seen on my father so many times before.
“Can I help you?”, she asked me, not a twinge of kindness seeping into her voice.
I assumed the worst. My father had probably died while I was on my way, and no one had been able to reach me. He hated the sound of phones, and demanded that I left mine at home. This cold lady was probably the coroner.
“Can I help you?”, she repeated.
“I-I-I… I’m the son”, I stammered. Her face softened a little.
“Your dad had a heart attack this morning, and the doctors have decided that he can’t come home. They plan to move him to a nursing home once he’s well enough.” My eyes widened involuntarily.
“A-a nursing home? No way. M-m-my dad said he would rather d-d-die than live in one of those places.”
“And your dad will die if he doesn’t.”
I shut my eyes for a moment. There was a tiny war going on inside my head. Should I tell the doctors that I could take care of him? I had read up on this topic in case something like this happened, and found that if a patient or family member (when the patient is unable to speak for themselves) demands that the patient leave the hospital, the doctors could not interfere in any way other than arguing. If the answer was no, I was risking the safety of not only myself, but of the nurses that were taking care of him. I wanted the best for my dad, though.
My lip was beginning to ache, and I realized I had been biting it. My eyelids parted, and my mouth opened.
“OK”, I said.
My father left for the nursing home two weeks later. While he was there, I visited frequently. Eventually, his anger at me for not fighting harder for his “freedom” subsided. When I left for long periods of time, he would hole himself up in his room and refuse to come out for hours at a time. Not even the nurses knew what he was doing.
My father died at the age of 93 from heart disease after being in the nursing home for eight years. In his last will and testament, he left but one thing to me.
It was a small, yellow, crinkled paper. On it, in handwriting that was clearly that of one of the nurses, he wrote this:
I could write a thousand pages to tell you how very sorry I am. I could use all the words in the dictionary to explain my regret. I can’t think that much anymore, though, so, instead, I will tell you why.
I was around 17 when World War II began, and no more than 18 when I enlisted. Now, I had never had a good childhood. My father was always beating on me, calling me names and all that. The funny thing was, his words cut deeper than his whip ever did. Anyways, I was in the war for five years. During that time, I saw many things. I saw sadness. Disease. Death. And never, ever, ever, did I see a moment of happiness. That’s the reason I hated your stomping, and your drums. Every crash, every bang, reminded my of my friends and the bayonetts that shot ‘em.
When the war ended, I took the nearest train up to New Jersey, ready to start a new life there, away from all the fighting. That was where I met your mother.
When I first saw her in that bar, I knew I had never seen anyone so beautiful in my entire life. Her hair was pinned in a bun, and her faces covered under layers of makeup, but I could see how pretty she really was under all that. Well, it turned out she loved me too, and we were married two months later.
It was no surprise when she left me only a couple years after that. Her parents had never approved of me. See, I was a serious drinker. And your mom, well, she didn’t have the same kind of upbringing I did. I was about forty by that time, but no smarter than I was at eighteen. So when your mom left a baby at my doorstep seven months later, I decided that I would take care of it.
I loved you with all my heart. I poured my heart and soul into you. I just didn’t know how to show it. It certainly didn’t help one bit when I was diagnosed with misophonia. Misophonia makes you hate noise, but that ain’t no excuse for what I did and who I was. I just wanted to tell you how sorry I am. If I could take it back, and do it all again, I would be better. I would let you sing and dance and jump. I would let you have a good childhood. I would never, ever yell at you. And If I could go back even further, I would never have drunk. Maybe then you would know your mother. Above all, though, I am so sorry that I wasn’t the father that I should have been.
Your Very Apologetic Father
Trying to hold myself together, I left the room that I had been in for the last hour, and took one final trip to the nursing home.
I went on foot, the way I always did when I visited my father, and got there around 7pm. When I arrived, I rung the bell, the same way that I had eight years ago, except on a different building. When the door swung inward, the same cold looking nurse that I had seen so long ago stared back at me. Her hair had more gray, and her frown lines were more prominent, but she was still the same.
“I just have one question”, I said to her. She stared at me for a little bit, and I realized she was waiting for me to ask it.
“Was it you that helped my dad write that letter?”
“Perhaps”, she replied.
“How did you do it? Even I couldn’t understand my dad.”
“That’s a secret.”
We shared a moment of silence, and then she turned and walked away, leaving the large double doors to swing in my face. I said my final goodbyes, and went home, never once looking back.