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Illustration: Joel Bentley

William Henderson: My Father’s Father Dies at 8:07 a.m. on Monday, October 18, 2010
Illustration: Joel Bentley

 
 
 

I am at the home I once shared with my soon-to-be ex-wife, Holly, when my brother texts to let me know. Holly had invited me over for dinner. She had an ulterior motive. Our son, Avery, doesn’t let her shower in peace. Holly can lock herself in the bathroom, shower, and shave her legs if I am there.

Papa died, Lucas texts. Call me.

Avery is in a blue swing that hangs from the ceiling, and I swing him, and he laughs. He never met his great-grandfather.

I talk to Lucas, and Lucas is very matter of fact about our grandfather’s death. Lucas says he will buy me a plane ticket, if I want to come home for the funeral. He says our father wants me there.

I want to hang up and call you, or text you, or somehow tell you that my grandfather has died. That’s how I know that I don’t hate you. I want to hate you. I want to not love you. I want to not think about you or wonder about you. I want to not want you in my life. But I do, and I think I will most at moments like this.

Our relationship – my affair with you – ended 10 weeks ago. I last saw you 18 days ago.

I miss you.

I’m not allowed to tell anyone that I miss you.

 

My father’s father dies at 8:07 a.m. on Monday, October 18, 2010. I’ll think about coming to the funeral, I say, and then I ask my brother for our father’s phone number. Lucas says I shouldn’t tell him that Holly and I have separated, or that I had an affair. I haven’t talked to my father in years.

You might want to leave the gay part out, Lucas says.

I won’t lead with that, I say.

Lucas texts me my father’s phone number. I call. When my father answers, I say I am sorry and he says thank you. I ask about my grandmother and my father starts talking and I know that we will be on the phone for a while.

My father tells me that my grandfather, about three weeks before he passed, had said that he didn’t know why the good lord was keeping him here. This sentence was one of the last full sentences my grandfather said.

He wasn’t a Christian person, my father says. Still, my grandfather wanted someone to officiate at his funeral, and so he spent the last eight weeks of his life searching for a minister. The one he picked told my dad that my grandfather is in a better place. When my father tells me this, 13 hours have passed since my grandfather died. My father says what the minister said is bullshit.

In the end, my grandfather couldn’t talk because an oxygen mask was strapped to his face. He couldn’t write because he couldn’t move his hands. Sometimes he could move his head. My father slept in the hospital in a visitor’s room.

My father says he saw his father dead in his hospital bed about five minutes after he died. My father first noticed not hearing the sound of the machines breathing for my grandfather, and then he realized that the mask was off of Papa’s face and that his body was still. My grandmother was sitting there. She had been with her husband when he died.

My father’s father is the first of my grandparents to die. I haven’t seen my father’s parents since December 1998. I had wanted Holly to meet them. She met my father at the same time. Once my father and I stopped talking, I couldn’t continue talking to his parents. My grandparents didn’t understand the silence as much as my father could never understand me. They have not met Avery. They know nothing about the child Holly is pregnant with.

Holly and I have talked – had talked – about bringing Avery to visit his great-grandparents, but she and I didn’t want to risk a visit with my father. I don’t like my father much. Under different circumstances, I think my father would say that he didn’t much like his father.

Nevertheless, my conversation with my father turns nostalgic. He spent three days a week with his parents. He drove them to the post office and the grocery store and the pharmacy. Up until the last few years, my grandparents could drive places. As I talk to my father, he slips between past and present tense. I can’t tell him that I think he’s in shock. He says that he had been ready for his father’s death, and when it happened, he didn’t cry as much as say, okay, what’s next?

What’s next is I tell my father about how I’ve lived two lives for more than half a year. He says he had always thought about it—about having an affair—but had been too scared to try.

Did you use your real name with the person? my father asks.

I think he knows that I had an affair with a man because he doesn’t say she or her. Just the word person.

Of course I did, I say.

 

My father tells me my grandfather took 14 pills for breakfast. My father thinks the pills were keeping him alive. My father has a thyroid problem and borderline high blood pressure. My father talks to himself all of the time. I tell him I haven’t talked to myself since starting the pill to control my anxiety. My father doesn’t want to take pills. I think he doesn’t want to become his father. I don’t want to become my father, either.

My father’s father dies at 8:07 a.m. on Monday, October 18, 2010, and after I talk to my father, I talk to my brother again, and he asks me if I’m okay.

I tell my brother that I want to call you, but I know I can’t call you. You would have come to the funeral with me. You would have held my hand, and told me that I am going to be okay, and that crying in front of everyone is okay, and the fact that I never introduced my grandfather to Avery is okay, and that I don’t need to talk to my father at the funeral and that that is okay.

What would you have said about him? Lucas asks.

I would have said that this is D and he’s my partner.

There would have been a lot of grateful people, my brother says.

Grateful for what? I ask.

Because granny would have dropped over dead and other people would have too. You would have saved everybody the airfare for coming back, he says.

My father’s father dies at 8:07 a.m. on Monday, October 18, 2010, and I do not go to the funeral. Lucas texts me a picture from the funeral of our grandfather in his casket. My grandfather looks like himself, but he doesn’t look like himself. I could have gone to the funeral. Holly wouldn’t have come, and she wouldn’t have let me bring Avery, but I could have gone.

 

I am already in mourning. It started when we ended. I run in the morning and practice yoga at night. I meditate with a Buddhist monk. I attend different types of support groups. I avoid my reflection in mirrors; I do not want to see what death looks like.

 

 

 
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