The last time I spoke to my father was before the operation. I listened and waited from a world away. Listened and waited on the other end of the planet. Watched from afar. Heard snippets and updates and results.
He lay in beds connected to tubes and machines cracked open like an egg. All humpty dumpty stitched up by a miracle doctor. Trickles of oxygen and iron, bags of plasma and platelets, a human hyrdroponic project. Others gathered by the door. Others pressed my mother’s hand. I was on the far side of the globe, with a hemisphere, six time zones, two oceans and a continent between us.
I called tonight. I’d waited and wondered. Reread emails looking for clues. Now, it was time.
The nurses’ station put me through.
I heard his voice, hello, hello and heard him wonder who could be calling. The room with a phone is new. I tried to say my name. I breathed all ragged and wordless there in the twilight. Finally, I dragged out just a whisper, it’s me Dad, Ben. Heard his voice break and him cry like a child his voice fragile and pitched high and tight.
You’re making me cry, he finally said and I was so choked no words could come out at all.
And there we were, me walking round the garden under the palms, barefoot in the early summer dusk, him lying in a bed looking out through rain streaked windows on a grey, grimy fall day, a world apart, connected by a fall of tears, father and son.
The words came slowly for both of us. I pressed the phone close to bring him nearer. all the other times I call, I fill the void with bright chatter and in a little while he’d call my mother and pass the phone on to her. I’ll find out from mom, he’d say, she's been busy. This time I waited and listened.
The big things were easy, the small things have been hard, he says. The surgeon was a miracle worker. I thought of the odds when my mother first wrote. How so much hung on the faith in one pair of hands.
I think we’re on the other side of it now, he says. It’s been two trips back to the hospital and tests and scans. Six weeks and more since he left the house, left home. Six weeks since they left their life behind and entered the uncertain world of ICUs and nursing care. Late night scares and emergency calls, and questions with only maybes for answers. I had a rough night the other day, he says, but I think we’re on the other side of it now.
His voice becomes firm, regains strength.
It’s been an, adventure, he says softly. I think of the nurses and tubes and charts and how walking across the room is the length of his scope and smile. I can hear the whimsy in him choosing the word, feel it stretched by his smile. Strength like a baton passed with a smile. I breathe in that strength and smile under the first stars. For a moment comrades in arms.
I'm writing the story, dedicating it to my children, he says proud now. And it’s like I’m back in their kitchen in July, bags packed in the car, ready to leave and cross all those oceans and time zones and continents, and he hugs me close and he is solid against me and the rest of what he says is lost in the muffled press of us together. Just like the rest of what he says now is lost in the press of emotion. And I feel it. Feel his love for me and my love for him and it’s bright and sharp and it hurts.
I can’t wait to read it, I tell him.
I’ll see you on the island in June, he says. His voice breaks, hopeful and sure and asking all at once.
I’ll be there Dad.