Rickety Bridge

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic
An intimate look into the mind of man losing his father.

Submitted: September 18, 2013

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Submitted: September 18, 2013

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Rickety Bridge

By William Sibley

 

My father passed away at 11:58 p.m. on New Year’s Eve of 2007. Just moments before people would kiss and make resolutions, he took his last breath. As Barack Obama was celebrating his looming presidency with friends and family, my father made a few noises like a snore, and then he stopped breathing. I was holding his right hand. My mother was holding his left. My uncle F.C., my father’s brother, was clutching my shoulders, he trying hard not to buckle under the weight of it all.

There was no suspicion in my father’s death. He was seventy-three, he had previously undergone multiple heart procedures, and he was on blood thinners. The stroke that hit him Christmas morning flooded his brain with blood that refused to coagulate and stop bleeding. He was unconscious and would not wake up. The result was a shunt in his head to relieve the pressure and a lengthy holiday spent by his bedside as the doctors tried, in the most gentle of ways, to inform us that he was not coming back.

In a room full of my family, I looked the doctor in the eyes and said, “If he isn’t coming back, he doesn’t want to stay like this.” We made the decision to pull the plug, and then we just waited.

There is a huge difference in waiting for someone you hope will pull through and waiting for someone you know will die. It reminds me of a song by Broken Bells called “The Ghost Inside” in which James Mercer says, “Just like a whiskey bottle drained on the floor, she’s got no future just a lot to endure.” You can’t imagine what you will be doing in a year after this person, who lies before you alive, dies. All my friends were planning their big New Year’s parties, and I knew they did it with heavy hearts, but also with a sense of routine, as if paper hats and champagne could somehow ward off the chill of death that loomed so close to them. I hope they called their parents and wished them a Happy New Year’s.

We pulled my father off the machines that morning and knew it was just a matter of hours. Resigned, I went home for the first time in a week and showered. I then bought myself a new suit to bury my father. I told the man at the tailor that it was for a funeral and he said, “Sorry for your loss.”

“I will be too,” I said, and he doesn’t catch my use of future tense.

The entire day is an exercise in the futility of fighting against overwhelming sadness. I have never felt so alone.

I was not close to my father early in my life. To be perfectly honest, there was abuse in my home - sexual abuse - not directed at me, but my sister. This abuse happened at his hands and I knew about it from an early age. The distance between us had become an ocean by the time I was a young man. I hated him for what he had done and for the wreck he had made of our family.

He was, however, my father. As I grew older I understood that as a man I needed to understand the other parts of this person that did not involve his terrible crime. I began trying to mend the bridge.

At first, this process was daunting. As we would talk, I would realize how much of a racist and bigot he actually was. It became difficult to find things to talk about that I didn’t fundamentally disagree with him over. It was a practice in patience, for us both I’m sure.

Friends who knew about our relationship, and who were close enough to me to know about my father’s crimes against my sister, would ask me why I was bothering, as if somehow my getting to know him was a collusion of sorts. Part of me still wonders if my sister thinks this as well, even now that he is gone. It was a hard thing to explain to people who had no knowledge of my situation. The answer was simple to me. It had occurred to me one Thanksgiving, years before his death.

We were all standing around this plump turkey and there was a lively air in the house. No one was fighting or hating each other particularly hard that day, and my father was actually telling me a joke that didn’t involve the N word. We both laughed, and at the same time we did this tiny motion with our hands - where you snap with each thumb and forefinger before slapping an open hand against a closed fist, like Curly in the Three Stooges.

My heart raced, and I didn’t know why. As I put it together later, it all seemed quite natural to me. If I had acquired this one tiny mannerism from him, a thing I had watched him do my entire life, could I have acquired something else? Could I have inherited the thing that I had hated him for? The thought shook me to my core.

My rediscovery of my father before he passed had nothing to do with my sister or his crime against her. It was imperative that I find parts of him that shone through the dirt. If I could find those, I could make the decision that those shinier attributes were the ones that I came from.  I could decide that I didn’t come from that dark place. I could say that I was made of cleaner things. We shared the same name and I was busy trying to make up to myself the things he had failed to do, so that name would no longer carry such a long and heavy shadow.

I finally found a subtle generosity in him that I had not previously seen. A woman across the street from us had fallen on hard times, and my father secretly bought her house for twice its worth so she could move closer to her children and retire. The house was in such shabby condition that we tore it down. He paid all that money for something he knew he would demolish. He helped me buy a home in a way that allowed me to pay very little, and within a few years I was debt free.

I did not share his work ethic. He was of that generation that rises at four a.m. and works until six p.m.. I can’t do that. I don’t identify with it. But this one thing, this subtle generosity, was something we shared.

The sadness of this is that I realized it on New Year’s Eve, 2007, around six p.m. I sat and wept quietly in a chair in the corner of the room where he lay dying, having finally crossed a rickety bridge.


© Copyright 2020 William Sibley. All rights reserved.

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