One Last Cup of Coffee

In nine days, he will be dead.

Today, of course, He is dead. But he is not yet dead. That will come in another nine days. Until then, understand that a cigar might be confused with a hot dog. As in, from the hospital bed in my parents’ living room, “Tommy, can you get me a hot dog?”

“Sure, Dad.” Hands dying father a cigar. Lights it for him. Sticks around to ensure he doesn’t start a house fire.

I think that I’ve inherited his obsession, if you want to call it that, with the concept of the wallet. As we left the house on Pickett Street that last day, him barely coherent, the rest of us knowing that the ambulance ride he was about to take would be his last, he asked me, fervently — if somewhat incoherently, a la hot dogs v. cigars — if I had his wallet. I assured him that I did. I stand now on the subway home from work, the 4/5, the most crowded line in America, occasionally bending my right knee, to press my ass cheek to my thigh, just to make sure that my wallet is still there.

Christ didn’t rise again, but Christ, I wish my father would.

Last days are difficult. Hell, last months are. I remember sleeping in the attic of my parents’ home, my father bellowing for me to come down and empty his dehydrated, orange piss cup. One of the nurses told us to give him ice chips at the end. To quench his thirst with a straw as he slowly lost his mind to all of the cancer inside.

My mother told me that my father said he was scared. Anyone on their deathbed has a right to say that, but he never told me. Stoic and dispassionate until he’d come undone completely. “Last scene of all, that ends this strange eventful history, is second childishness and mere oblivion, sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”

The irony of the Shakespeare there is that it’s supposed to have come from a charlatan, Jacques. Much like Polonius’s famous advice to Laertes is meant both as a knock on cliche and a ridicule of a fool, Shakespeare had a way of giving his most ridiculous characters some of his best lines. After all, “This above all, to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not be false to any other man,” is pretty fucking good advice.

I knew, when he couldn’t even finish a PBR, that he was done for. I was glad that we got time to smoke some cancer-joints together and chat. But he was no longer true to himself. He was oblivion.

My father was Irish-American, and in this regard he kept most of his advice to himself. My mother recently told me — angrily — that we, as a people, don’t air our dirty linen to the rest of the world, or some such Irish aphorism. So my father is not the kind of person who would ever have a blog. He was the kind of person who would read yours and then one night, at dinner, after a glass of wine or five, tell you that your travel writing was “better than most of the goddamn travel writing I’ve read.”

And maybe that would be the most sacred compliment you’d ever receive from him. Even if you were your father’s son.

We had a few conversations in those last days of coherence, before he started calling cigars “hot dogs,” that I’ll both never forget and never remember. I’ll never forget them because, aside from a few other instances in my adulthood, we’d never been so frank with one another, and I’ll never remember them because they’re mine as I decide to shape the memory of them. They are mine. I might tell you almost everything, but that’s because it’s almost and not everything.

One more thing, though. I didn’t want to become an adult. I didn’t ask for any of this. My father gave it to me. It’s a gift. It’s a gift I would give back in a heartbeat, but it’s a gift.

In three days He will be risen. In nine days, he will be dead.

Pray to God.

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