burying the past

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

human interest

George Martin finished his miserable shift at the usual time and took the same bus that made 23 excruciating stops until it reached his station in the Gravesend section of Brooklyn. Then there was the 14-block walk in the blistering July heat until he reached the humble, bungalow style house he had inherited from his mother a few years before. The house was aging and crumbling much the way he was at 57-years old. He looked and felt a lot older than his years. Forty years of manual labor will do that to a man, as his craggy, weather-beaten face will attest to. After forty years, he didn't have much to show for it, staying as the same job he started as a teenager. The kind of job usually done by immigrants from Latin America and the Caribbean who were generally, much younger, faster and stronger than him. It was only a short matter of time when he couldn't do it anymore. Then he would have really nothing left, no family, friends, or money to live his few remaining years in dignity. “I may as well just end it now,” he thought to himself as he started the long trek from the bus station to his home. He already had the plan in place after he bought the gun on the street a week ago. This was going to be his last day on earth.

After entering his house, he turned on the light, closed the blinds, and took the revolver out of the top drawer of the credenza. He opened the chamber and checked to make sure he had a full complement of bullets. After all, he figured, the first bullet may misfire or he might flinch and miss his head even at point blank range. Better to have spare bullets so he wouldn’t have to get up and reload and maybe lose his nerve. He placed the revolver on the table next to the chair and sat down. Then he picked it up and pointed it at the side of his forehead, closed his eyes, and slowly squeezed the trigger. Buzzzzz! The door buzzer was always way too loud, and the unexpected noise jolted him out of the chair. His mother had made the buzzer extra loud as she was hard of hearing, and he never bothered figuring out how to lower the volume. After all, almost no one ever buzzed his door. Who the hell would be buzzing it now at 7 pm? George walked over to the window beside the door and peered out. There was a well-dressed young man standing in front of the door; it was not someone he recognized. George tapped on the window and gestured to the young stranger, but he could not hear what George was saying through the window. The young man pointed to the door and seemed to mouth “please.” George went back to the table and put the revolver back into the drawer. Then he walked back, reluctantly opened the front door, and said, “Yes?” “I’m so sorry to disturb you,” said the young man. “Are you George Martin?” George looked him up and down and replied. “Yes, I am. What do you want?” “I would like to talk with you for a few moments in private,” the man replied. “Talk with me about what?” George asked with a hint of irritation in his voice. “I can’t talk out here,” the main replied, nodding in the direction of his next-door neighbor who was sitting on his porch within earshot. “It’s something important, and I promise not to take up much of your time. Can I please come inside?” George shrugged, stood to the side, and stretched his arm out, pointing the way inside. “Fine. Suit yourself.”

The young man sat on the couch while George sat on the chair. “I’ll get right to the point,” the young man said. “My name is Ralph Mercado and I have reason to believe that you are my father.” George sat in stunned silence for a while, studying Ralphs’ face. Indeed, the shape of his face was very similar to his own, and he had the slightly hooked nose and the same kind of wavy, brown hair. In fact, Ralph was the spitting image of how George looked when he was in his early 20’s. George did briefly have a girlfriend named Veronica Mercado about 23 years ago, a Dominican beauty, with long flowing hair, and a model’s figure. She had a volatile temper and mood swings that made it impossible to maintain the relationship. George finally broke the awkward silence. “Is your mother Veronica? When Ralph nodded, George continued. “She never told me she was pregnant. I never knew she had a kid.” “My mother always told me that my father died so I never tried to find you,” Ralph said. “She didn’t want me to know you. Then after she passed away eight years ago, I Ivied with my aunt for a while, and she didn’t tell me anything about you. More recently I found evidence that you are alive, and from information I managed to piece together from other relatives I traced you to this address.” “I’m sorry to hear that your mom passed away, but what do you want from me?” George replied. “If you want money, I don’t have any.” “No, no, no,” Ralph practically shouted back. “I don’t want money. I just wanted to meet you and maybe have some sort of relationship. I’ll tell you what. I’ll write my name and phone number on a slip of paper, and if you want, you can call me sometime and we can talk or maybe meet somewhere. If you are not interested, that’s OK. You will never see or hear from me again. It’s entirely up to you.” Ralph wrote his number of a slip of paper, handed it to George, and started walking towards the door. He briefly stopped, turned around, and said, “It was nice meeting you. Perhaps we will talk again. Good night.” After Ralph left, George walked over to the drawer, looked at the revolver, and thought, “Can’t do it now. So much to think about. Maybe another day.”

George met Ralph at their preassigned location in a bar on Surf Avenue near where Ralph lived in Coney Island. It was a warm, humid day, but the gentle sea breeze provided some relief. George found Ralph sitting at a barstool in the back, sidled down next to him, and ordered two Heinekens. Ralph seemed glad that George showed up. George sounded so hesitant on the phone when he called that Sunday morning to arrange the meeting that that Ralph had his doubts. After making some small talk, George had a contrite expression on his face when he admitted he had a confession to make. “I lied when I said I didn’t know that Veronica was pregnant. She did tell me. I didn’t want a kid and I paid her to have an abortion. Obviously, she did not go through with it. I wonder what she did with my money.” Ralph had a disturbed look on his face. “Did my mother not want to have me?” he stammered. She showed me so much love and she was a religious Catholic who would not approve of abortion. She never missed a Sunday mass.” “She went back and forth on it,” George replied. One week she wanted to have the baby; the next week she did not. Back and forth, back and forth. I don’t know if you know this about your mom. I went with her to the psychiatrist because of her crazy mood swings – this was early in the relationship - and he diagnosed her as bipolar. She took her medication at first, but then she stopped because she said it made her sluggish. Later she had the delusion that there was nothing wrong with her, and maybe her moods were due to devil possession. She thought she could deal with it by praying and lighting candles in church. She even went to a woman who claimed she could cure her with an exorcism. Needless to say, none of this worked.” Ralph sat silently taking this all in. “Well,” he said, “she was certainly very moody, but she never told me about the diagnosis. Her religious views were kind of nutty, though I didn’t think she would go as far as seeing an exorcist. I’m glad you told me. Now I have to make a confession too. It’s not true that I don’t want anything from you. The truth is that I’m dying and I’m hoping you can save my life.” George looked shocked. Ralph looked like the picture of health. He was tall, muscular, and energetic; he seemed to exude good health. “What’s wrong?” George asked. “I have a congenital condition,” Ralph continued. “The result of this condition is that my kidneys are totally shot. If I don’t find a donor soon, I’ll be dead in 6 months. I can’t find a donor with a match and the waiting list is too long for me. I’m hoping you as my dad will be a match.” “But can’t you be kept alive with dialysis?” George replied. “Yes,” Ralph said, “but I refuse to live that way. If I don’t get a donor in 6 months, I’m refusing the dialysis. I won’t be hooked up to tubes for 3-4 times a week for years and years. I would rather die than live like that.” George put his arm around Ralph's neck and said, “Don’t worry son. I’ll go for the test, and if we are a match, I will donate my kidney. It’s the least I can do. You’re too young to die.”

George woke up in the recovery room still groggy from the anesthesia. The transplant surgery was scheduled just two weeks after finding out he was a suitable match to become a donor so there was little time to think about the operation beforehand. He was glad for that because he had made up his mind to be a donor and didn’t want to think of the consequences or what may go wrong. Now there was just the long wait to find out how the operation went. Finally, the surgeon walked in, looked down at the chart, and then at George's eyes. “Hello, Mr. Martin, how are you feeling?” the doctor said with a faint smile. George grimaced and said, “Very tired and a lot of pain on the lower right side of my back.” That’s normal,” answered the doctor. “The operation went very well. I expect that you will be up and out of here in three days.” “That’s great,” replied George. “How is Ralph doing?” He could see by the doctor's expression that something was wrong. The doctor’s smile faded and he hesitated before replying, as if to collect his thoughts before proceeding. “Ralph has some complications,” he started and paused again. His congenital condition has caused more problems than just with his kidneys so this is more difficult than the usual transplant. In addition, for some reason his body is rejecting the implant. We are doing the best we can with immunosuppressant drugs and we have to run some more tests to see what can be done. Right now, I just want you to rest as much as possible and we will give you updates as his condition changes.”

After George was released from the hospital, he would get daily updates from the hospital on Relph’s condition. His condition was touch and go; sometimes there were hopeful hints that there was improvement, and even when an infection set in, he seemed to respond well to antibiotics. But now it was a week later and the caller ID indicated the doctor was calling at an unusually early time, 7 AM. George had a lump in his throat as he picked up the phone. This couldn’t be good news. Indeed, it was not. Ralph, his only child, who only recently came into his life, had succumbed to an infection that had rapidly become septic. His aunt told him that Ralph requested cremation and that there was be a memorial service as soon as it could be arranged. Later he would learn that Ralph changed the beneficiary on his life insurance policy at work and that a check for one-hundred thousand dollars was on its way. That would be enough money for him to quit his job and finally retire with a modicum of dignity. “It’s strange,” Ralph thought to himself. “I couldn’t save my son’s life, but somehow in trying to save him I ended up saving myself instead.” He could feel the dread that plagued him for so many years lift from his shoulders. He slowly walked to the drawer where he kept his revolver, pulled out the gun, opened the chamber, took out the bullets, and dumped them in the trash can. Then he took it to his small backyard with a trowel and started digging a hole. When the hole was deep enough, he dropped the gun into it and covered it up. It felt like he was not just burying the gun, but burying the past as well. George got up from his crouch and slowly walked back to the house while wiping his hands from the dirt. There were many more miles to travel and a memorial to plan.


Submitted: July 05, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Larry-Lutsky. All rights reserved.

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