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A Dying Man's Redemption
“I hate you.”
She says. She’s shaking with fury. Her lips quiver with everything she feels but cannot put to words. I say nothing. I don’t blame her. She has every right to hate me. I notice she’s wearing her mother’s coat, the thick green one with corduroy cuffs and big brown buttons. She looks like her mother, with those snapping dark green eyes full of that same vitality and frustration.
“I can’t even stand to look at you.”
She tells me, in that biting bitter tone. But she can’t tear her eyes away. I know that she’s afraid if she looks away I’ll stop breathing. By watching me, somehow she keeps this frail heart pumping, her mother’s eyes daring me to just try and die. She won’t let me die if she can help it. But she can’t.
“I can’t believe you’d be so moronic and…stupid!”
She rages, finally turning to pace back and forth. I notice a wet umbrella leaning against the door. Its green, like her coat, and old, some of the rods are bent and twisted. But it still works, so she keeps it. That’s what tortures her. She’s so pragmatic and yet she loves me, which is anything but.
“You’re a selfish bastard, you know that?”
She snarls. I don’t answer, because she’s right. And I do know. I was never good enough to her. Yet I accepted all that wide eyed innocent love, telling myself it was alright. I wonder if I blink will Anika be there, with those haunting eyes she shares with her daughter, to berate me, then take me to the places she told me about where the dead go. Heaven and Hell, that’s it. But even Heaven would be Hell without my daughter.
“I really hate you.”
She mutters, swiping the moisture from her face with a closed fist. I taught her to be strong. That you can’t trust anyone in this world. Not even your father. She sends me fiery glares. The mocking beep of the heart monitor only seems to incite her more. She’s starting to wear down though; her rage is boiling away and leaving her with that familiar hollow feeling. Every time I see her, she gets that empty feeling.
“You’re such an ass. After all you put Ma and me through…now this.”
She whispers. I can practically feel the raw pain in those deep bleeding wounds. I put them there. I know I did and they scorch my soul, like a flame thrower. She’s right again. I put her and Anika through the ringer and gave them ash and dust as rewards. I wonder if she goes home to her husband and cries to him about the days she had nothing to eat; no shoes on her feet, cuz Daddy loved the bottle more.
“I don’t even know why I came.”
She states coldly, voice like iron. But she’s lying. She knows exactly why she came, and she knows it. Her hands fall limply at her sides and she looks at the monitors. Looks at anything but me. She came because she loves me, or she used to. Some part of her is still that heartbroken little girl in pigtails, waiting for me to making everything all better. I didn’t She came so I didn’t have to die alone. But she’s too proud to admit it. Good.
“You didn’t even come to Ma’s funeral. Or the wake. Or the mass.”
She argues, sitting in the uncomfortable plastic chair by my bedside. Her fingers push the blond hair from her face. Anika loved braiding that soft angel blond hair while she sang songs in her native Slavic. She’s still right. I didn’t go to any of my wife’s death services. I was passed out, drunk off my ass and high as a kite for a week. I don’t even remember where I was, but I remember one thing. I wasn’t where I should have been.
She demands. It’s not a request, it’s an order. She wants to hear pitiful excuses and slanted explanations, some grand reason behind it all, some true purpose. She wants her dad to be a hero. Always did. I look away. I’m not. And I never was.
“Thomas wanted to come.”
She admits. Of course he would. My grandson is just like his mother. Even has her sparkling green eyes. He has that serious look, he knows hard truths. He has food and shoes, but he knows his parents struggle with the bills. That I should have helped. I’m glad he didn’t come see me like this. I already wrote a little note for him, had the nurse mail it today. Maybe he’ll understand. Probably not.
“So did Xavier.”
She bites her lip, rubbing her wedding ring. My daughter married a fine man. I didn’t go to the wedding. I didn’t give her away. How could I? I never accepted her in the first place. I feel something tug at my nerves, a certain coldness, a numbness. I’m dying. But I’m used to that.
“Do you regret it at all? Leaving us? Hurting us? Becoming…this?”
She begs. Still trying to make me redeemable. I wish I could be redeemed. If anyone could do it, it’d be her. She finally takes my papery thin hand in her’s. She hates me. Can barely stand me. Would love to hit me across the face and storm out. She loves me. Wishes I was there for her. Would love to help me and bring me home to Xavier and Thomas. She can’t. The numbing cold has taken my feet and legs.
“You made me miserable.”
She admits. She’s crying openly now. She has a right too. I feel those tiny blue tears on my skin, and they make me feel more alive than any of the heroin needles. Which is how I got HIV in the first place. Didn’t tell a soul. Now it’s AIDS. It’s been eating at my body for years. I didn’t even care.
“But…I love you, Dad.”
I wish I’d done it all differently. I wish I’d been the father she needed, the hero she wanted. I wish I’d seen this all coming and told Anika not to drive in the rain at night. Told my daughter I love her more. But I can’t fix my life, or Anika’s death. I can do one thing though, for my daughter.
“I’m sorry. I...I love you, babygirl.”
I rasp, with all the air I have in my lungs. The cold is everywhere but my hand. The hand she holds. Anika appears and it seems she’s forgiven me too. She takes my other hand. I have my girls again. The joy is enough to make me smile again. I never thought I’d smile again.
“I love you too dad. And I forgive you. Is mom here?”
She asks hopefully. I feel the peace and tranquility only she could give me flowing through my veins, easing the pain of the chilling cold. I look at Anika. She smiles at me, nods upward, and those floating gossamer wings she always dream of drift into sight. She’s come to take me away. How wonderful. I don’t deserve any of it. But it’s wonderful. I nod to my baby girl; Anika’s here. My daughter clutches my hand and presses it to her face. Tears run like rivers and she smiles brokenly.
“You can let go now daddy. Go with Ma. I love you.”
She whispers. I summon each and every cell of strength my body ever had, and I feel Anika’s help. I kiss my daughter’s forehead with a murmured “I love you” and fall back gently into the bed. I hear chiming bells, sweet soft and exhilarating and the cold is shoved back, replaced by a feeling of light and joy as I take Anika’s other hand and soar with her to that other place.
I am free.